ORNL Director Zacharia to Retire

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Dr. Thomas Zacharia

Dr. Thomas Zacharia announced his retiremnt as director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the end of 2022, the culmination of a 35-year career at the science and energy laboratory.

The news follows another significant upper management change at the lab last month — the retirement of  Dr. Jeff A. Nichols as associate laboratory director for ORNL’s Computing and Computational Sciences, a post he had held since 2009, replaced by former director of the Exascale Computing Project and longtime DOE labs veteran, Doug Kothe.

Rumors of Zacharia’s retirement have circulated the DOE and labs communities for several weeks. Speculation on his successor has focused two possible candidates, Susan Hubbard and Alan Icenhour, both of ORNL, along with rumors that UT-Batelle, the management contractor that manages the lab, may bring in a new leader from outside of ORNL. UT-Battelle — a partnership of the University of Tennessee and Battelle Memorial Institute — said its board of governors will conduct the search for the next lab director.

Hubbard is deputy for science and technology at Oak Ridge with responsibilities across computing and computational sciences, materials science, environmental and biological research, energy science and technology, isotope research and development, fission and fusion energy, neutron sciences and national security sciences, according to her profile on the Oak Ridge site. She also is ORNL’s chief research liaison with the University of Tennessee, other national laboratories, and institutional partners. She formerly was associate lab director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she oversaw the earth and environmental sciences area.

Susan Hubbard

Icenhour is ORNL’s deputy for laboratory operations with responsibility for coordinating operations and support functions: facilities operations; environment, safety, and health; business operations; security; human resources; communications; and technology transfer. He joined ORNL in 1990 as an engineer and served most recently as associate laboratory director for the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate. He led the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate from 2014 until the isotopes directorate was formed in October 2020, and he has held other leadership positions and was senior technical adviser to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Alan Icenhour

“As the chief operating officer, Icenhour leads the formulation and implementation of cross-cutting operation plans and integrated facility strategies to enable ORNL’s missions,” stated the lab on his ORNL profile page.

Zacharia has served as laboratory director since July 2017, overseeing the lab’s $2.5 billion research portfolio and staff of nearly 6,000. In his tenure as lab director, Zacharia led growth in ORNL’s staff and portfolio, established new research initiatives and guided the lab through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

According to Oak Ridge, milestones in Zacharia’s tenure as director include:

  • Continued deployment of a series of leadership-class supercomputers; the latest, Frontier, broke the exascale barrier with a speed in excess of a quintillion calculations per second and premiered at No. 1 on the world TOP500 list in May
  • Advanced world-leading neutron research through the Proton Power Upgrade at Spallation Neutron Source and launch of Second Target Station project
  • Established and ledmulti-institutional research efforts, including the Exascale Computing Project, Quantum Science Center and Center for BioEnergy Innovation
  • Partnered with the University of Tennessee to establish the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute to help develop the industries and workforce of the future
  • Led US contributions to the international ITER project and launched the Materials Plasma Exposure Experiment to support development of fusion energy
  • Invested in isotope research and production capabilities, including the Stable Isotope Production Facility and Stable Isotope Production and Research Center
  • Focused attention on the application of science to national security challenges with creation of a new National Security Sciences Directorate

“I am very optimistic about ORNL’s future and in its pursuit of excellence—to be among the premier research institutions in the world,” Zacharia said in a message to staff members. “I am very proud that mission and service continue to define ORNL on the eve of its 80th anniversary. We are stewards of an amazing legacy, and there comes a time when we all must pass that responsibility along.

“When people ask me what I will miss most, there is no doubt it is our staff, who have always been our most distinguishing strength,” Zacharia continued. “The breadth of talent of our people and their dedication to cutting-edge research is awe-inspiring. We have an amazing and talented team that will continue to lead and propel this institution forward.”

Zacharia joined ORNL in 1987 as a postdoctoral researcher and rose through a series of leadership positions in computing, including establishment of the Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate in 2001. Before being named ORNL director, he served as Deputy for Science and Technology, overseeing all of the Laboratory’s R&D programs.

“An incredible leader, extraordinary collaborator and powerhouse innovator, Thomas is leaving a profound impact on ORNL and the world,” said Randy Boyd, University of Tennessee system president and chairman of the UT-Battelle board of governors. UT-Battelle operates ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.