Nuclear Science Division Staff
The Nuclear Science Division has administrative offices in Building 50, Room 4037. NSD, along with the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division, the Physics Division, and the Engineering Division make up the Physical Sciences.
Phone Number: (510) 486-5146
Fax: (510) 486-6003
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Nuclear Science Division
1 Cyclotron Road
Berkeley, CA 94720-8153
Please Note: The mail stop must be replaced by the mail stop of the intended recipient.
Volker Koch, NSD Director (Interim)
Barbara Jacak Steps Down as NSD Director in Return to Research
Longtime nuclear theorist Volker Koch is acting director
Barbara Jacak, a faculty senior scientist who for the past six years led Berkeley Lab’s Nuclear Science Division (NSD), has left that role to devote more time to scientific research, and in particular to R&D for the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) project, which will be built at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Jacak is also maintaining her academic duties as a physics professor at UC Berkeley.
Volker Koch, a theorist and senior physicist in Berkeley Lab’s Nuclear Science Division (NSD) who has previously served as the division’s program head for Nuclear Theory and deputy director for Low Energy Nuclear Science, has stepped in to serve as its acting director, effective Feb. 1, 2021. A committee will be formed to hire a permanent replacement for the position.
"Under Barbara's leadership NSD has prospered, and she will now be able to turn her full attention to the next generation Electron-Ion Collider project,” said Natalie Roe, Physical Sciences Area director. "I’m grateful that Volker has agreed to take over as interim division director, and know he will keep a steady hand on the tiller."
Manager role offered variety
Jacak, who described her management approach as, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said she was happy to find the director position to be very engaging. While her own research interests have revolved around heavy-ion collisions and studies of the so-called “subatomic soup” of the quark-gluon plasma (QGP) unleashed from atomic nuclei in these ultrahigh-temperature events, her time as director exposed her to the breadth of nuclear science research taking place at Berkeley Lab and in experiments involving Berkeley Lab around the globe.
A past role as a spokesperson for the international collaboration in a QGP experiment called PHENIX at Brookhaven Lab’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider also helped prepare her for the role in management at Berkeley Lab, she said.
“I thought being director was interesting and fun, and I really enjoyed learning a lot of other aspects of nuclear physics,” Jacak said. “What do people do to understand nuclear structure? Is the neutrino its own antiparticle? How does gamma-ray-tracking work? There are all of these other aspects of nuclear physics we do in NSD that I knew only a little bit about.” She added, “As a manager, it became the cool stuff that we do. That experience is very helpful when we go back to doing our own research in our own corner of the field.”
She said that she felt compelled not to serve too long in the division director role. “I think it’s really important for these (management) types of jobs to be rotated around to different people,” she said. “It brings a new energy and somewhat different focus. I think an institution is healthiest if they get that shot of change every now and then.”
Excitement over the fast-developing EIC
While Jacak did find some time to participate in QGP research while serving as NSD director, she half-joked that her research career had been relegated to nights and weekends because of the demands of serving as division director.
Her excitement about the EIC project, and the fact that the project is already advancing – its first DOE milestone, known as CD-0, was in January 2020, and its construction will take about a decade – definitely prompted Jacak to consider a return to research at this time. “I expected it would be built,” she said, but not to be at this stage yet. Jacak will also spend some time on the ALICE Experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and a successor experiment to PHENIX called sPHENIX that is expected to begin taking data in 2023 – Berkeley Lab will assemble a detector component for it called a silicon pixel vertex tracker.
Berkeley Lab researchers have been involved in a variety of R&D efforts to support the construction of the EIC, too. Jacak and collaborators from five other UC institutions had received a UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives award in 2019 to develop a consortium working on EIC projects. That consortium was tasked with designing and building two detector systems for the EIC, with access to computing resources at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), and substantial contributions by students. The team just got notice that it will receive another four years of support from the UC Office of the President.
Academic aspect of job has its own rewards
Working with students as a UC professor and at Berkeley Lab has been a rewarding aspect of her work, she said. “We are the most academic of the national labs, with our close proximity to and connection with UC Berkeley. We have a lot of faculty senior scientists and a lot of postdocs, and undergrad and grad students. I have enjoyed working with students immensely.”
Prior to her time at Berkeley Lab, Jacak taught for 18 years at Stony Brook University in New York, and before that spent 12 years as a scientific staff member in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Physics Division. A San Francisco Bay Area native, she received her bachelor’s degree in science at UC Berkeley and her doctorate at Michigan State University.
Jacak said she is encouraged by the diversity in the student population she sees coming through Berkeley Lab and campus these days. “I think it’s a real strength for us.”
A vision for the next science device
Koch should have a smooth transition into his role as acting division director, Jacak said, as he is well-known across NSD and knows Berkeley Lab well. “He’s ready to hit the ground running,” she said.
Past experience overseeing the science program at Berkeley Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron and running the division’s theory program gave Koch experience in management, and he said he doesn’t expect any surprises in his transition to the new role.
“I see my role in keeping things afloat and keeping things together,” Koch said, noting that Jacak’s hands-off management style was welcome to him. “She certainly didn’t micromanage us,” he said.
“I want to run this as a team,” Koch said, “and to try to get all the ideas on the table. I think that will create a productive and healthy environment for everyone.”
Koch arrived at Berkeley Lab in 1995 as a divisional fellow after obtaining undergraduate and doctoral degrees in physics from the University of Giessen in Germany, and after serving from 1990-94 as a visiting assistant professor at Stony Brook University. He was promoted to senior physicist at Berkeley Lab in 1999. Koch specializes in theories relating to heavy-ion collisions and strongly interacting matter.
He noted that Berkeley Lab has always been a breeding ground for “all kinds of accelerators” and “innovative instrumentation,” and he would like to see that legacy carried on within NSD. “Maybe we can invent the next ‘gadget’ – we can start and seed the next thing,” he said.
Getting back to face-to-face communication
Koch also said he looks forward to the time when person-to-person discussions can resume as a normal part of collaboration and brainstorming at Berkeley Lab. “People need to be together in the coffee breaks and actually talking to one another,” he said, noting that some researchers and staff are getting burnt out on Zoom-based web meetings.
These are exciting times for the nuclear science field, with the beginning stages of the EIC, he noted, and also with the realization of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University, which is a nuclear science facility and the U.S. Department of Energy’s newest user facility.
FRIB, which will launch next year, will incorporate GRETA, a 3D Gamma-Ray Detector that Berkeley Lab has a lead role in.
Also in the near future, there will be a decision to down-select the next-gen neutrinoless beta decay experiment, which the Lab will play a role in.
Division Office Staff
Scientific Administrative/Operations Staff