Today at Berkeley Lab

Lab Director Shares Highlights of His First Six Months

witherellcropped2Earlier this year, I joined Berkeley Lab as its eighth director.  Now that I’ve been here for six months, I thought it would be a good time to write a short column about my first impressions.

When I see old friends, they inevitably ask me how I like it here, and I tell them that I love it.  Some of the world’s most talented researchers work at Berkeley Lab, and all of them are committed to solving big, important scientific problems. We have a corps of dedicated people who are finding operational solutions that can make that research advance more quickly. I enjoy working with all of these people, and I can’t imagine a better institution to lead.

For me, the highlights of this period involved assessments of our plans for the future. On June 9, John Hemminger, the chair of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, told the committee that a special panel to look at future facilities gave top grades to our Advanced Light Source Upgrade. As a result, we are preparing to launch the next step: developing the conceptual design. Another highlight, as I reported in my last column, was July 15, when we presented the Annual Laboratory Plan to the DOE Office of Science, and Cherry Murray, Director of the Office of Science, gave us a strong endorsement of our strategic initiatives and of our plan to renew the facilities on the Lab’s main site.

So much has happened since March: five of our young scientists won the prestigious DOE Early Career Research Award; pioneering energy efficiency researcher Art Rosenfeld was given the Tang Prize in Sustainable Development; and Wim Leemans received the IEEE Particle Accelerator Science and Technology Award.  Four LBNL researchers were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and four more were elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

I want to mention two persistent challenges that we need to address together. One is the large number of major maintenance projects we need to work through, including the project to clean up the Old Town site to get ready for the next generation of facilities. Another is the need to work together to insure that all of our colleagues feel welcome at our Lab and are given full credit for what they bring to it.

The primary lesson I have learned over the last six months is how dedicated the people who work here are to the mission of the Laboratory. “Bringing science solutions to the world” – that really is why people – including me – join Berkeley Lab. We focus on the mission, working together to solve the great energy and environmental challenges of our time.