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December 6, 2007 - Persis S. Drell Named Fourth Director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Date Issued: December 6, 2007


  • Melinda Lee, Communications Officer, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center: 1 (650) 926-8703,


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Persis Drell

      Persis Drell
(Image courtesy of Diana Rogers.
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Menlo Park, CA—Persis S. Drell has been named director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), effective immediately, Stanford University President John Hennessy announced Thursday. Drell, a professor of physics at SLAC, has held a series of senior positions at the laboratory since 2002 and has served as acting director since September. Stanford University operates SLAC on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science.

Supportive of Drell's appointment, U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said he was pleased to have such a qualified individual leading SLAC, furthering departmental support for breakthroughs in science and technology so the nation remains at the forefront of innovation and continues to lead the world in basic energy sciences.

Drell's appointment as director follows an international search and interview process conducted by a committee appointed by President Hennessy. The committee began its work in March 2007, when former Director Jonathan Dorfan announced his intention to step down.

"The provost and I are extremely pleased that, after some considerable effort, we have prevailed upon Persis Drell to accept this position," Hennessy said. "We firmly believe that there is no more qualified person to take the helm of SLAC. Persis is a renowned researcher who knows the history and workings of the lab like few others do. We have supreme confidence in her abilities both as a scientist and a manager who has worked closely with SLAC researchers and the Department of Energy. We are grateful she has chosen to step forward and lead SLAC at a time when the scientific research pursued there is of critical importance to the university and the nation."

Drell, 51, becomes the fourth director of SLAC since its inception in 1962. The late Wolfgang "Pief" Panofsky, SLAC's founding director, served from 1961 to 1984. Nobel Prize laureate Burton Richter was director from 1984 to 1999. Jonathan Dorfan was the third SLAC director and served from 1999 until earlier this year.

"Persis Drell is a distinguished and accomplished scientist who has graciously agreed to serve as director of DOE's Stanford Linear Accelerator Center at this promising juncture in its history," DOE Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach said. "I congratulate Stanford University for making this worthy selection and thank Dr. Drell for agreeing to accept this appointment. She is uniquely qualified to lead SLAC as it embarks on one of the most exciting and challenging transitions ever undertaken by a DOE national lab, a transition that will see many changes in scientific focus and capabilities opening important new scientific opportunities at the laboratory. During Dr. Drell's tenure as acting director, we have been impressed by both her vision of 'one lab' and her committed efforts to lead SLAC to achieve that vision. Now we look forward to working with Persis Drell and Stanford University as SLAC evolves to continue as a world leader in new areas of science and accelerator technology."

Throughout its history, SLAC has been internationally recognized for research and the operation of major user facilities in particle physics and synchrotron radiation science. Six scientists have received Nobel Prizes for discoveries they made while working at SLAC. Current research and scientific user facilities are in areas of photon science, particle physics and particle astrophysics and cosmology. SLAC is home to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and the BaBar collaboration. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the world's first X-ray free electron laser, is currently under construction at SLAC. The LCLS will explore uncharted frontiers in imaging the structure and dynamics of matter. The joint SLAC-Stanford institutes—the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, the X-ray Laboratory for Advanced Materials and the Photon Ultrafast Laser Science and Engineering Center—are world class research centers in their disciplines.

"SLAC was built with a single purpose: to probe the fundamental structure of matter with the world's largest electron accelerator," Drell said. "Fields of science and the laboratory programs have advanced remarkably in 45 years, but the principles of scientific excellence have not changed. The linac is now being retooled to be the injector for the world's first X-ray free electron laser: the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). The science delivered by LCLS, along with programs in particle physics, photon science and particle astrophysics and cosmology will ensure frontier science from the laboratory for decades to come. My goal as director is to position the laboratory to make a smooth transition to these exciting future scientific programs and continue the tradition of outstanding scientific achievement at the lab."

Director Emeritus Jonathan Dorfan said he was thrilled that Drell had accepted the directorship.

"She is exactly the right person to lead SLAC through the current period of transition while ensuring that the laboratory capitalizes expeditiously on the exceptional science opportunities at hand," Dorfan said.

Director Emeritus Burton Richter noted, "I have followed Persis' career ever since she was a postdoc and tried for years to recruit her for SLAC and Stanford. I was delighted when she finally came here in 2002. Her performance makes me certain that she will be an outstanding lab director."

Drell has a long association with SLAC, Stanford and DOE. She is the daughter of Professor Emeritus Sidney Drell—an eminent theorist, longtime member of the SLAC faculty and, for many years, deputy director of SLAC. Her brother, Daniel W. Drell, is a program manager at the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science.

As a physics professor at Cornell for 14 years, Drell studied the bottom and charm quarks in order to measure the parameters of the weak interaction between fundamental particles. She also served as the deputy director of Cornell's Laboratory of Nuclear Studies and as chair of the Synchrotron Radiation Committee there.

In 2002, Drell joined SLAC as a professor and associate director for the Research Division. In 2004 and 2005 she also served as deputy project manager for the Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope. In 2005, she became a deputy director for SLAC and director for Particle and Particle Astrophysics and, in 2007, accepted the position of acting laboratory director.

Drell has been recognized for her scientific achievements and leadership and has received, among other honors, a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2002 she was included in Discover magazine's 50 Most Important Women in Science.

Drell is married to an accelerator physicist, James Welch. They have three children, ages 13, 16 and 20. She earned a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and completed her doctorate in atomic physics at the University of California-Berkeley.

The DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the nation and helps ensure U.S. world leadership across a broad range of scientific disciplines. The Office of Science supports a diverse portfolio of research at more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide, manages 10 world-class national laboratories with unmatched capabilities for solving complex interdisciplinary scientific problems, and builds and operates the world's finest suite of scientific facilities and instruments used annually by more than 21,500 researchers to extend the frontiers of all areas of science.

SLAC employs more than 1,600 scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff and has an annual budget of $325 million.


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