Today at Berkeley Lab

Alivisatos Legacy: Building an Ecosystem for Science and Innovation

Alivisatos108Under the leadership of Paul Alivisatos since 2009, Berkeley Lab has greatly advanced research at the intersection of biological, energy, and environmental sciences. At the onset of his directorship, there were no plans for an emerging biosciences campus at the heart of Berkeley Lab, no Wang Hall, or Chu Hall, no General Purpose Laboratory building or FLEXLAB, or centers such as JCAP and the Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies. Not only has Alivisatos overseen infrastructure and programmatic growth, he has championed restructured leadership, diversity and leadership development, employee recognition, and industrial outreach. On March 1, he leaves this legacy for Berkeley Lab and becomes Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Berkeley.

“Paul was a fantastic director with all the qualities I didn’t have,” said former Director Steve Chu. “Whereas I was flappable, he is always calm and unflappable…he was a great deputy and great director. He also took fundraising to the next level at Berkeley Lab. Paul was able to cobble together funds for a lot of projects, working tirelessly behind the scenes.”

Before taking the helm at Berkeley Lab, Alivisatos pioneered the development of quantum dots with biological, luminescent display, and energy applications, often using powerful photon and electron probes. He was the founding director of the Molecular Foundry and the Kavli NanoSciences Institute and continues to lead a strong research group as the Samsung Distinguished Professor of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at UC Berkeley.

“Paul’s leadership across many fields of science will have a lasting impact on the Lab,” said Advanced Light Source Director Roger Falcone. “His specific support for the work at the Advanced Light Source has made a real difference in our ability to provide research opportunities for thousands of scientists from around the world.” Added Physics Director Natalie Roe, “Paul has been an enthusiastic supporter of great science in every area of the Lab. His support was essential for the DESI project, which will bring new precision to the study of dark energy and the fundamental properties of the Universe.”

Alivisatos placed an emphasis on extending Berkeley Lab’s positive impact—on the world and within the neighborhood, taking important measures to build relations with industry, aggressively pursue energy grand challenges by competing for new integrated research centers, and establishing a Community Advisory Group.

In 2010, Alivisatos created the Community Advisory Group to provide advice from key stakeholders on issues important to the community, such as the long term stewardship of the site and the impact the lab has on the community through its daily operations. The CAG has provided an invaluable forum for impactful, constructive discussion and has helped to transform Berkeley Lab’s relationship with the community.

Among his many accomplishments are the establishment of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis with Caltech, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research with Argonne National Laboratory, and two Energy Frontier Research Centers. He also led a number of other infrastructure improvements including the Berkeley Lab Guest House, the Advanced Light Source’s User Support Building, and the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit. He has also begun the process of consolidating off-site biosciences facilities to an Integrative Genomics Building that will break ground later this year.

In 2014 he established a new Innovation and Partnerships Office with the goal of better serving investigators and creating a welcoming “one stop” environment for industry partners. That year he also worked with the Energy Technologies Area to create the “Cyclotron Road” research program to further expand Berkeley Lab’s energy technology research for entrepreneurs. Earlier, he helped launch the Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies to foster technologies that will advance sustainable methods to fight global poverty.

Alivisatos has championed laboratory-wide activities to develop future leaders and made major strides forward with an inclusive leadership team. Early in his tenure he established the Emerging Leaders program and other leadership development programs, and numerous alumni from these programs have gone on to lead divisions, facilities, and important scientific and operational programs at the Lab. He also launched a diversity and inclusion initiative and made 16 senior leadership appointments from Division Director levels to the Chief Financial Officer and Associate Laboratory Directors. Of these, four are ethnic minorities and eight are women, making Berkeley Lab the national laboratory with perhaps the most diverse leadership team.

Complementing these efforts, in 2011 Alivisatos initiated a Laboratory-wide recognition program: the Director’s Awards for Exceptional Achievement, the Berkeley Lab Prize, and a Lifetime Achievement Award. Alivisatos also reactivated the Professional Awards Committee and submitted a number of nominations recommended by the committee, resulting in four Lawrence Awards and two Fermi Awards, among many other prizes.

Alivisatos himself has been recognized for his research with numerous awards including the Wolf Prize in Chemistry and the Linus Pauling Medal. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and was recently chosen to receive the National Medal of Science, the nation’s top scientific honor, and the internationally recognized Dan David Prize.

“What I appreciated most was Paul’s working style,” said Horst Simon, who was the lab’s deputy director and worked closely with Alivisatos during most of his term as director. “Paul was very thoughtful and deliberate, and carefully examined difficult issues before coming to the right conclusion. He was also very inclusive, trying to integrate different points of view, and he always took a collaborative approach.” This approach served Alivisatos very well while he was Chair of the National Laboratory Directors Conference (NLDC). Under his leadership the different labs came increasingly to see themselves integrated as a national system.

Alivisatos is known nationally and locally for fostering an adaptable “ecosystem for science and innovation.” While evolving this landscape, he once said that change is good. “Science is a dynamic environment, so keep in mind when you pick a problem to study that the world can change and you’d better be prepared to change with it.”