UCSB Physics Chair Named Head of Berkeley Laboratory

Michael Witherell to Lead Renowned Federal-Funded Research Lab

The University of California Board of Regents appointed Michael Witherell, vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara, as the new director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Thursday. Witherell is the former director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the largest particle physics laboratory in the country, and is currently the Presidential Chair in Physics at UCSB.

Michael Witherell
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Photo by Majed

Michael Witherell

Since 1931, the University of California has managed Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through its Office of Science. The laboratory has been the recipient of 13 Nobel Prizes and 13 National Medals of Science. As the eighth director of the lab, Witherell will oversee approximately 3,200 employees with access to an estimated $790-million budget. Witherell will receive an annual salary of $440,000, funded by a DOE contract.

“Berkeley Lab is one of the world’s outstanding laboratories for science and technology,” said Witherell in a press release. “It provides both solutions for the greatest technological challenges facing the nation and scientific discoveries that are worthy of Nobel Prizes. I cannot imagine a more rewarding job than leading this great lab.”

Witherell first came to UCSB in 1981 as an assistant professor of physics from Princeton University. In 2005, Witherell rejoined the UCSB faculty as vice chancellor for research. He also supervises interdisciplinary research institutes in marine science, earth science, neuroscience, social sciences, and ethnic studies. The Board of Regents selected Witherell acting on a joint recommendation from UC President Janet Napolitano and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

“Michael Witherell is a proven leader with exceptional scientific credentials,” said Napolitano in a 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.” Witherell will be replacing Director Paul Alivisatos, who will be stepping down after a six-year tenure in the lab.

“It has been my distinct pleasure to serve as Berkeley Lab’s director,” said Alivisatos in a press 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.”

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