Mechanical engineering alum Dan Boyer ’14 PhD is a 2021 recipient of the prestigious U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Award.

Boyer, who was advised by Professor Eugenio Schuster as a doctoral student at Lehigh, is a scientist at the DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). Boyer develops innovative artificial intelligence machine learning methods to produce real-time adjustments to the plasma that fuels fusion reactions in devices known as spherical tokamaks.

Spherical tokamaks are compact fusion facilities, such as the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U) at PPPL, that produce high-pressure plasmas—essential ingredients for fusion reactions—with relatively low and cost-effective magnetic fields. This capability makes spherical tokamaks a potential model for future fusion facilities.

Boyer’s five-year award was among 83 recently granted by the DOE Office of Science to support critical research at U.S. universities and national laboratories. For national lab winners, the awards carry grants of $500,000 per year. The awardees “show exceptional potential to help us tackle America’s toughest challenges and secure our economic competitiveness for decades to come,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

“Receiving the award is very exciting,” Boyer said. “It will support myself and other researchers to build on initial progress in accelerating predictive models with machine learning methods. The tools we will be developing will help operators leverage simulations and previous experimental results to optimize the performance of upcoming experiments. This will help NSTX-U achieve its research goals more rapidly.”

“Dan has made great strides in employing machine learning methods for characterizing profiles of both the thermal plasma and the energetic particles that heat the plasma,” said Stan Kaye, head of research on the NSTX-U. “The scope of work in Dan’s award will be of tremendous benefit for operating tokamaks in both safe and performance-optimized regimes.”

While a graduate student in Schuster’s Plasma Control Group, Boyer designed and tested algorithms to optimize the power produced by nuclear fusion reactors, assisted students during office hours, and conducted research at CEA Cadarache, a leading research center for atomic and alternative energy systems in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, France. 

He received the DOE Fusion Energy Science Postdoctoral Research Program Award while at Lethigh and joined PPPL following the completion of his PhD in mechanical engineering. 

“We continue to actively collaborate with Dan,” said Schuster,” with many of our present students working closely with him.” 

Dan Boyer

Dan Boyer received his PhD in mechanical engineering from the Rossin College in 2014. (Credit: Amber Boyer/Courtesy of DOE Science News Source)

Eugenio Schuster

Eugenio Schuster, professor, mechanical engineering and mechanics