Fermilab welcomes new Office of Communication Director

Katie Yurkewicz, former U.S. LHC Communicator, takes over as Director of the Office of Communication at Fermilab on Jan. 10.

Katie Yurkewicz, who has worked for the past four years as the U.S. LHC communicator, will become the new director of Fermilab’s Office of Communication on Jan. 10. She replaces Judy Jackson, who will reitre in February after heading the office for 15 years.

After receiving her Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Michigan State University, Yurkewicz decided not to follow the traditional research or teaching career paths. She moved to Fermilab in 2003 to join her husband, Adam, a DZero physicist, and decided to pursue science writing. Jackson hired her to write several articles for Fermilab Today and FermiNews as a freelancer and then hired her as an intern. Realizing her talent for communication and passion for science writing, Jackson offered her a position as the first communicator for computing grid projects spearheaded by the U.S. particle physics community, and founding editor for the newsletter that became International Science Grid This Week. In 2006, Yurkewicz moved to CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and became the first U.S. LHC communicator.

Jackson said that having a communicator funded by the U.S. and based at CERN was an experiment by Fermilab, CERN, DOE and NSF, born of a strong communication partnership between the two laboratories. Yurkewicz, she said, made the experiment a complete success.

“She’s very levelheaded and has been a great strategic thinker throughout our media events,” said James Gillies, CERN’s head of communication. “She’s a great choice for Fermilab’s office, but we’re sorry to see her go.”

Over the past four years of media swirl surrounding the LHC startup, Yurkewicz has been responsible for coordinating LHC communication in the United States, handling CERN’s queries from U.S. media, training U.S. LHC scientists to communicate with the media, and writing articles about the LHC. She also co-organized the Angels & Demons lecture series, which took advantage of the Hollywood spotlight to promote the LHC and particle physics.

“Her skills were forged in the fire,” Jackson said. “She was involved in the greatest particle physics moment in recent years. I have no doubt she will succeed in this role.”

Although she will miss the mountains of the French countryside, Yurkewicz is excited to return to Fermilab.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of communicating all the aspects of the way we do science,” Yurkewicz said. “With the eyes of the nation and the world on particle physics and physicists, it’s an excellent opportunity to tell the story of the day-to-day work of the scientists, engineers, technicians and administrators at our laboratory.”

Jackson said that Yurkewicz has a good understanding of the importance of science communication.

“Fermilab produces world-class science because of the efforts of laboratory staff and users working and communicating, together,” Yurkewicz said. “I’m excited about continuing, improving and enhancing communication within our diverse laboratory community, as well as between our laboratory and our neighbors.”

— Sara Reardon