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DPP was established in 1959. The first elected Chair was Melvin B. Gottlieb, Princeton University. Each year since 1975 the James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics (est. 1975) is presented at the Annual Meeting, along with the Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research (est. 1981), and the Marshall N. Rosenbluth Outstanding Doctoral Thesis in Plasma Physics Award (est. 1985 as the Simon Ramo Award). The Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service was established in 1994 by DPP and the Forum on Physics and Society, and is presented at an APS meeting annually.
Nominees and award and office holders are expected to meet standards of professional conduct and integrity as described in the APS Ethics Guidelines. Violations of these standards may disqualify people from consideration or lead to revocation of honors or removal from office.