Newswise — Rob Sheneman, a staff member at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) for 27 years who has led PPPL’s award-winning environmental and sustainability programs for two decades, has been named the Environment, Safety and Health (ES&H) director and chief safety officer effective immediately. 

Sheneman becomes permanent in the role after he was named acting head last month. He previously was deputy head of the department.

“We are thrilled that Rob has accepted the position, effective immediately,” Steve Cowley, PPPL director, and Craig Ferguson, deputy director for operations and chief operating officer, said in an email to staff announcing the appointment. “We can’t think of anyone better for this demanding and challenging role. Rob has continually shown his thorough grasp of ES&H issues and tasks, and his ability to lead, manage, and ensure our compliance is well demonstrated. Please join us in congratulating Rob on his new role.”

Said Sheneman: “I am really excited. We have very important research to accomplish our mission in service to the nation, and to do that, we need to improve our campus to support the expansion of our research portfolio. That will take several years, and I am happy to be part of that and to play a leadership role.”

Sheneman oversees a 60-member department that is charged with protecting the safety and health of PPPL staff, contractors, students and visitors during a time of growth at the Lab. The Laboratory has expanded its research mission and has hired more than 100 people over the past year, and is planning to construct a new building, the Princeton Plasma Innovation Center (PPIC), to provide cutting-edge laboratories and office space. With PPIC and other projects on the horizon, the ES&H Department will face increased work to ensure the safety of all.

Head of Environmental Services

Sheneman previously was deputy head of the department when he assumed leadership of the Environmental Services Division in 2009. He led PPPL’s environmental compliance, waste management and sustainability programs. PPPL has achieved international ISO certification for its environmental management system since 2011. The Laboratory has won numerous awards for its environmental and sustainability programs, including a DOE Sustainability Award in 2020 for its innovative program to employ a greener water treatment method for treating non-potable water.

Joined Laboratory in 1994

Sheneman joined the Laboratory in 1994 as leader of a project to clean up soil and groundwater contamination on PPPL’s campus to comply with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations. He became head of the Environmental Restoration/Waste Management Division in 2001 and led that group until 2004. He led the combined Material & Environmental Services Division from 2004-2009, when he created the Lab's current export management and compliance program. He has been responsible for export control compliance ever since.

As head of PPPL’s environmental program, Sheneman has led PPPL’s programs to comply with the DOE and Princeton University requirements – consistently exceeding federal requirements for reducing waste through recycling, reusing and composting. “We’ve always tried to stick to the decisions that make the most business sense,” Sheneman said. “It’s better for us, it’s better for the environment and generally speaking, it’s less expensive.”

In addition to his duties as head of Environmental Services, Sheneman has taken part in planning and participating in emergency planning as part of PPPL’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). As planning section chief, Sheneman was one of numerous staff members on the EOC who helped oversee the Laboratory from March to June of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

Sheneman graduated from the University of Rochester with bachelor’s degrees in biology and geology. He worked as a field geologist and later a senior geologist and project manager for several national and international engineering firms in the Philadelphia area: BCM Engineers, Black & Veatch, and Harding Lawson Associates. Among the large projects he managed was as project lead for a multimillion-dollar U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup investigation. He is a certified Professional Geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) and an Export Compliance Professional with the Export Compliance Training Institute. 

Guide dog training

Sheneman is well known to coworkers for bringing puppies to work – all in training as guide dogs. He and his wife, Margaret, along with their four sons, have volunteered through the local 4-H Club with Seeing Eye Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey, since 2007. They recently received a new guide dog to train, Hurricane, an 8-week-old black Labrador puppy, their 19th guide dog. It will join Lulu, a 14-month-old black Labrador, and their family dog, Pippi, also a black Lab. “Our job is basic obedience and socialization … the more things they’re exposed to, the more likely they are to be successful,” Sheneman said.

Sheneman and Margaret, an elementary school music teacher, met in college and have been married for 34 years. They live in Flemington and have four adult sons: David, a doctor in residency in Denver, who is married to Danielle, who is also a doctor; Matthew, a doctor in residency in emergency medicine at Wright Patterson Air Force Base; Andrew, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and his wife Kayla, and 2-year-old daughter Madelyn; and Ben, who just graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in integrated physiology and is starting a research fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to fostering guide dogs, Sheneman is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys biking, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, backpacking and skiing. He has been volunteer scout leader for over 25 years, and recently became a member of the ski patrol at Camelback Mountain in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

Sheneman said he is happy to contribute to PPPL’s mission. “I just feel extraordinarily fortunate to be part of it,” he said. “The Laboratory has allowed me to step into new challenges, to have the opportunity to learn new things, and to make sure the Laboratory is successful, and that’s very rewarding from a career perspective. You feel like you’re contributing to important work.”

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit