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New Argonne director hopes for advancements inside, outside lab

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 4:19 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:41 a.m. CDT
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Peter Littlewood started this month as the director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory is under new leadership after the appointment of Peter Littlewood as its new laboratory director.

Littlewood is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago and was the associate laboratory director for physical sciences and engineering at Argonne.

He recently discussed what he expects as the leader of one of the U.S. government's foremost research facilities.

Farnham: Is being the director of Argonne something you always wanted to do or an opportunity that presented itself?

Littlewood: I don't think I was expecting to be doing this. I came to Argonne three years ago … The reason I wanted to come to Argonne is to tackle problems with energy and sustainability. It's a tremendous opportunity to be able to lead more than 1,000 scientists in this lab and be able to lead people to these important ends.

Farnham: What do you see as your primary responsibility as director?

Littlewood: Argonne does two big classes of things. One is we run big facilities for the nation … this is supporting science across the nation. One primary responsibility is to do that and do that well and to push that technology to be better and better.

The other side of what we do is what we call mission-driven science … Increasingly important to us is engaging with local businesses. We're a big employer of businesses in the local community. We're also working with local and Chicago businesses to help them get that technology out in the marketplace. But we also see ourselves as having an important place in engaging in science education … My main role is to try and be very supportive of the great work that is done by colleagues.

Farnham: What are some of the challenges you will face?

Littlewood: There are a number. It's an uncertain budgetary environment … I think Argonne is in fact in very good shape … Another challenge for us is work place development, and one for us in particular is developing a more diverse workforce … That's one of the reasons we do so much work with development.

Farnham: What are you most excited about being able to do?

Littlewood: One of the most exciting things is the ability to influence the debate about important programs that are really going to change the world … You have the feeling that we are doing things here that are literally going to change the planet.

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More about Peter Littlewood

Age: 58

Education: Doctorate in physics from University of Cambridge

Residence: Chicago

Hometown: South London, England

Hobbies: Music and theater

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