Jeff Lab director plans retirement

Christoph Leemann, who has managed the federal site since 2001, will work until his successor is announced.

NEWPORT NEWS -- The director of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility is stepping down as head of the advanced research center on Jefferson Avenue.

Christoph Leemann, who has been at the helm at what's commonly called Jefferson Lab for more than six years, said Thursday that he planned to retire, pending the hiring of a new director.

Leemann is a native of Switzerland who came to the U.S. in 1970 for a position at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California. He arrived in Newport News in 1985, when the Department of Energy was building Jefferson Lab. He became director in 2001.

Scientists at Jefferson Lab, or Jeff Lab, study the fundamental makeup of matter and conduct applied research with free-electron lasers.

The lab employs about 700 in Newport News and serves as a research center for more than 2,000 scientists worldwide.

Leemann said managing the site demanded a breadth of knowledge.

"You learn where the buck stops," he said. "That's the key difference. There are certain situations where you're on your own by yourself and you have to make the right call."

The Energy Department inked a new contract in 2006 with Jefferson Science Associates to manage the lab. Leemann also will step down as director of that group, which is a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association and CSC Applied Technologies.

Leemann said that with the 2006 contract signed, the lab was looking forward to its next big effort: a $306 million project to build an experiment station and to double the lab's research machine energy.

Leemann said that when the project was completed, likely in 2015, Jeff Lab would be on the cutting edge in research on the quark level of the atom.

"It will allow us to resolve smaller detail, to really shed light on the nucleus structure of the atom," he said. "For pursuit of that type of physics, we would be at the forefront."

In a statement, John T. Casteen - president of the University of Virginia and Jefferson Science Associates chairman - praised Leemann's leadership during the transition to a new management contract last year and on the expansion plans.

"This expansion," Casteen said, "will guarantee that the lab will continue to be an effective research center for the next generation."