Robert A. Ellis, Jr.

February 7, 2020

The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Robert A. Ellis Jr. Dr. Ellis was considered a pioneer in modern experimental plasma physics. His legacy lives on at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in his research and in his son.

Robert A. Ellis was born on 1924. He received his bachelor's degree from Fisk in 1948 and his master's degree from Yale in 1949. After receiving his master's degree in physics from Yale, Ellis taught at Tennessee A&I, later known as Tennessee State University. He then went to earn his doctorate at the University of Iowa. During his doctoral studies, his advisor attempted to pursuade him to seek a position at a research institution, but his commitment to black education and his loyalty to Tennessee A&I led him back to that institution. He returned to Tennessee State as a full professor in the physics department.

In 1956, Dr. Ellis went to Princeton to join Project Matterhorn, a small group working on controlleed fustion. Project Matterhorn would later become known as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). He became a key member of the team studying the magnetic confinement and heating of plasma in stellarators. Their published papers on the B-l and B-3 devices were the first to document ohmic heating, anomalous transport across the magnetic field, radiofrequency plasma heating at the lower-hybrid frequency, and nonlinear cyclotron harmonic interactions. From 1972 to 1976 Bob was group leader for the Adiabatic Toroidal Compressor tokamak at Princeton. In 1988 Bob was appointed head of experimental projects at PPPL, putting him in charge of all non-TFTR experimental work. He held that position until his death in 1989.

During his later years, Bob devoted much of his time to furthering international collaboration in science. In 1969 he spent six months at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novo- sibirsk, USSR, and from 1971 to 1973 he was foreign secretary of the Advi- sory Committee on the USSR and Eastern Europe of the National Acad- emy of Sciences. From 1976 to 1978 he was a member of the Science Advisory Committee for the NASA Research Laboratories. After that, he served for two years as head of the physics section of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. In 1984 Bob became the US representative to the Commission on Plasma Physics of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.

Legacy - Bob Ellis


Possibly Dr. Ellis' most important contribution to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is not an experiment or a policy, but a person. Bob Ellis, the son of Dr. Robert Ellis Jr., is the chief engineer at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Dr. Ellis frequently took his son from their home in Princeton to the Laboratory. The younger Ellis was by his father’s side watching experiments on the Model B Stellarator and the Adiabatic Toroidal Compressor, as well as TFTR. When Bob Ellis got older, he graduated from Princeton University in 1979 with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1998. Ellis has spent almost four decades designing and overseeing construction of components of some of the world’s biggest fusion experiments, from PPPL’s Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) and the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U),  to the Joint European Torus in England and the Korean Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) fusion reactor in South Korea.