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Stanford Report, May 1, 2002

Renowned physicist Persis Drell joins SLAC as associate director for research


Persis S. Drell is the new associate director of the research division at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. She comes to SLAC from Cornell, where she has been a physics professor since 1988.

"As director of research for the laboratory, I am responsible for the current and future health of the research program," says Drell. "My responsibility is to manage the research program to ensure that it is productive, healthy and producing world-class science -- which it is certainly doing -- and I have to make sure it continues to do so. I husband research resources and facilitate the decision-making processes helping to guide the research process with the division faculty and staff."

SLAC Director Jonathan Dorfan says, "Persis brings fresh new perspectives to the laboratory. Her leadership will be invaluable as we shape and implement our exciting future."

Drell has a long association with SLAC and Stanford. "I grew up right here on the Stanford campus," says Drell. "My parents' house is right next to what is now the Law School parking lot. Back then, it was a nice row of houses and I was just another faculty brat." Persis Drell is the daughter of Professor Emeritus Sidney Drell -- eminent theorist, a longtime member of the Stanford faculty and, for many years, deputy director of SLAC.

After growing up just down the road from SLAC, Drell received her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College, completed her doctorate in atomic physics at the University of California-Berkeley in 1983, switched fields to particle physics and then did her postdoctoral work in high-energy physics at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

As a physics professor at Cornell, 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. While at Cornell, Drell served on the SLAC Program Advisory Committee from 1993 to 1995 and is currently chair of the SLAC Scientific Policy Committee.

Drell's new responsibilities include, among others, overseeing BABAR -- the world's largest collaborative physics experiment, aimed at understanding why matter is more prevalent in the universe than is antimatter -- and building SLAC's particle astrophysics research through close collaboration with the Physics and Applied Physics departments at Stanford.

"BABAR is a magnificent, successful experiment and collaboration," says Drell. "The research division has to do everything it can to help it continue to thrive. Looking into the future with the collaboration, we must decide how much BABAR data is enough. A plan is in place for upgrading the machine and the detector through to the latter part of the decade. Is that plan long enough? Should we consider further upgrades? What does the physics demand? Those are questions we in the division will have to answer."

Growing astrophysics research at SLAC is also a source of excitement, she says. "The GLAST project [Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope] in particular -- a discovery-class instrument that will map the gamma ray sky with a unique combination of energy and position resolution -- is in the building phase and will produce beautiful science for the future. We also have the Pehong and Adele Chen Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology Institute at Stanford University and with whom we must jointly answer the question, 'What will be the future of the particle astrophysics program here at Stanford?'"

The third major effort in the division, Drell notes, is the next-generation linear collider. The 20-mile-long machine will smash subatomic particles into their antimatter counterparts to create exotic new particles and is expected to answer fundamental questions about the behavior of matter and the origins of the universe.

"It was only in the last year that an international consensus developed within the high-energy physics community that a next-generation, high-energy linear collider is the highest, top priority next machine for the field. We are just starting to move forward with this consensus. SLAC is playing a leadership role in this effort."

She concludes, "These are exciting opportunities and I think SLAC Director Dorfan is doing a superb job at leading the lab. The opportunity to work with him, and learn from him, was certainly a very attractive part of what brought me here."