Distinguished Physicist Michael Witherell Appointed Director of Fermilab

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Batavia, Ill.—Universities Research Association, Inc., which operates the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has named Michael Witherell, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a distinguished career in experimental particle physics, to succeed Fermilab Director John Peoples, Jr., on July 1.

Congratulating Dr. Witherell on his appointment, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson noted that Dr. Witherell is a leader in his field and will be taking on the directorship of the Laboratory at a time of extraordinary opportunities for new discoveries in the fundamental nature of matter.

“We here at the Department of Energy look forward to working closely with Dr. Witherell to ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in particle physics research,” Secretary Richardson said.

The search for a new director began last year, when Dr. Peoples announced his intention to return to research on June 30, 1999. Universities Research Association, Inc., subsequently formed a committee of respected physicists to canvas the world for candidates.

URA President Fred Bernthal commented that with Dr. Witherell’s broad knowledge and experience, “he is a perfect choice to lead the Lab and the high-energy physics community into the next millennium.”

Dr. Bernthal added, “The URA Trustees and the Fermilab Board of Overseers are especially grateful to Professor George Trilling, chair of the Search Committee, and his committee colleagues for their thorough and conscientious effort in helping us reach this very successful outcome.”

Dr. Witherell earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1973 and has since pursued an academic career, conducting experiments at every major particle physics laboratory in the country, including Fermilab. He was an assistant professor at Princeton University from 1975 to 1981 and then moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was appointed professor in 1986.

Dr. Witherell’s work in the 1980s on an experiment at Fermilab studying charm quarks brought him the prestigious W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics in 1990. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences last year, one of the highest honors accorded a scientist in the United States. In electing Dr. Witherell, the Academy noted his pioneering work in the application of two new technologies to the study of particle physics: silicon vertex detectors and high-speed data acquisition systems. Both technologies, now far more advanced, are extensively employed at Fermilab and other high-energy physics laboratories to study the fundamental structure of matter. Dr. Witherell’s work, the Academy wrote, “profoundly influenced all subsequent experiments aimed at the study of heavy-quark states.”

More recently, Dr. Witherell’s research has focused on understanding the source of the asymmetry between matter and antimatter known as CP violation. Since 1993, Dr. Witherell has been working on the design and construction of the BaBar experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. The experiment, to begin operating this year, will measure the asymmetry in decays of B mesons, particles composed of a B and an anti-B. Although CP violation was first discovered in neutral kaons, scientists expect to gain further insight into the phenomenon by studying B particles.

Over the last three years, Dr. Witherell has also been chair of the High-Energy Physics Advisory Panel, which advises the U.S. Department of Energy on funding priorities for particle physics research.

“I’m very excited about becoming the director of Fermilab,” said Dr. Witherell. “Scientists working here over the last thirty years have made discoveries that have changed our understanding of how the physical world operates, and I look forward to the new physics that will emerge from the experiments we are planning and building today.”

“I am very happy that Mike Witherell will be charting Fermilab’s course into the next century,” said Dr. Peoples. “Mike brings the kind of leadership and vision that will secure opportunities for our Lab to participate in discoveries making fundamental changes in our understanding of the universe at the smallest and largest scales.”

Universities Research Association, Inc., is a not-for-profit consortium of 89 research universities that serves as a contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy.

For more information, call Fermilab’s Public Affairs Office at (630) 840-3351.