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Two fusion energy sector leaders join ORNL

Howard Wilson and Gary Staebler
Howard Wilson and Gary Staebler

Two fusion energy leaders have joined the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the Fusion and Fission Energy and Science Directorate, or FFESD.

Howard Wilson and Gary Staebler moved into new roles with ORNL’s Fusion Energy Division. They bring unique and thorough scientific expertise as well as extensive understanding of and familiarity with the fusion energy sector. 

“Howard and Gary  join a fusion energy team who are essential to ORNL’s pursuit of the scientific basis and the associated technologies required to deliver the promise of fusion energy systems,” said Mickey Wade, associate laboratory director for FFESD.

“ORNL seeks to bring together fusion science and technology to enable development of cost effective and clean fusion energy,” said Phil Snyder, interim director of the Fusion Energy Division. “Howard and Gary are thought leaders in the field, and understand what’s needed to take fusion research to the next level, and to coordinate large teams and partnerships effectively. We’re excited to have them join our talented fusion energy team.”

Howard Wilson has been named Fusion Pilot Plant R&D Lead. He will oversee the development of ORNL’s fusion physics and technology R&D program in support of delivering a compact and economical fusion pilot plant.

Wilson received his doctorate in theoretical particle physics from the University of Cambridge in 1988, before establishing a career in fusion energy as a theoretical plasma physicist at the UK Atomic Energy Authority. In 2005, he moved to University of York and was appointed as full professor to establish a fusion research and training program in the UK academic community. In 2011, he won funding to establish the York Plasma Institute, serving as its first director to bring together research and education across fusion energy, low-temperature plasmas and laser plasma interactions. Wilson also served as research director for the UK Atomic Energy Authority Fusion Program and led the establishment of the UK’s STEP fusion pilot plant program as interim director.

Wilson is a fellow of the UK Institute of Physics, and has received several awards including the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2011 and the APS John Dawson Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research in 2013. His research interests include the theory of pedestal and edge localized mode physics, turbulence and transport and core plasma stability. Wilson’s expertise also includes the design of fusion devices, either as volume neutron sources or for power, with a focus on the spherical tokamak concept. 

Gary Staebler serves as leader for FED’s Plasma Theory and Modeling groupThis group delivers the theoretical foundation and state-of-the-art simulation and modeling capabilities to resolve critical issues and to inform the design and operation of ITER and future fusion devices. The group’s vision is to perform high-impact research as an integral part of the Fusion Energy Division, be the world leader in integrated simulation for fusion and apply ORNL’s core strength in computing to the benefit of fusion energy.

Staebler previously worked with General Atomics for more than 35 years, most recently as manager of the Kinetic Theory Group. He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2011 for his leadership role in developing the trapped gyro-Landau fluid equations and establishing that a quasilinear transport theory model based on these provides an accurate model of nonlinear gyrokinetic turbulence simulations. 

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit