UC appoints Michael Witherell as new director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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The UC Board of Regents appointed Michael Witherell, current vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara, as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Thursday.

Witherell is a highly distinguished physicist who, in 2004, received the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Gold Award, the highest honorary award given by the Department of Energy. He previously served as the director of the DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in northern Illinois, and he will begin his tenure as the eighth director of the DOE-funded Berkeley Lab on March 1.

“I have a long, long history with the University of California, and there’s no better place to do research in the world,” Witherell said. “As director of Berkeley Lab, I’ll be focused on creating the facilities and partnerships to help us stay at the top.”

UC President Janet Napolitano — who originally nominated Witherell for the position — extolled Witherell’s qualifications for the position in a press release Thursday.

“Michael Witherell is a proven leader with exceptional scientific credentials,” Napolitano said in the press release. “The attributes and experience he brings to us will enable the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to continue to thrive as one of the world’s premier labs.”

The Berkeley Lab director’s responsibilities include carrying out the laboratory’s goals and overall vision, along with serving as a management liaison with the university, DOE and other public and private agencies. The director heads a workforce of more than 4,000 staff members.

The outgoing director of Berkeley Lab, Paul Alivisatos, offered his parting thoughts in the release.

“It has been my distinct pleasure to serve as Berkeley Lab’s director,” Alivisatos said in the release. “The dedicated scientists working at the lab are changing the world for the better, and I’m thankful to have been part of that. I know that Michael Witherell is the right person to take the lab into its next phase of scientific discovery.”

Though Alivisatos will be leaving his position at the Berkeley Lab, he will be taking on a new role as campus vice chancellor for research.

For Witherell, the next phase of discovery centers on the pioneering soft x-ray science being performed at the laboratory’s facility. Witherell said he plans to collaborate with the DOE to improve the facility, ensuring that the technology remains up to date for years to come.

“The Berkeley Lab is unique in its ability to use science to address important real-world challenges, such as applying genomics to improve health and combat disease, while at the same time possessing the tools to make grand discoveries about the universe worthy of Nobel prizes,” Witherell said.

Logan Goldberg is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact him at [email protected].