Jefferson Lab Chief Named Top Scientist

Grunder honored for his efforts to advance physics

Hermann Grunder, the energetic physicist who oversaw the creation of a national research laboratory in the heart of Newport News, was named Virginia's top scientist for 1998 Monday.

CEBAF, the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility, was in the blueprint stage when Grunder, 66, became its director in 1985. The facility, since renamed Jefferson Lab, is now used by 1,200 scientists from worldwide to explore the components of atoms.

The Outstanding Scientist of the Year award is presented by the state and the Science Museum of Virginia. They also give a lifetime-achievement award in science, an outstanding-industrialist award and a new award for someone who has improved public understanding of science.

Grunder and the other award winners were introduced to the House of Delegates and the Senate.

"It's a moving experience," he said afterward. "It's nice looking at all the faces of the delegates and seeing how many are familiar. A lot of good will there."

Grunder was chosen for the honor by a committee representing the various sciences from throughout Virginia. The committee picked Grunder from a strong field of about two dozen applicants, said Chairman Joel Levine of the NASA Langley Research Center. A scientist's entire career - including research results, publications and participation in professional groups - is considered.

"There's so much good science going on in the Commonwealth of Virginia that any one of 10 or 12 of our applicants could win," said Levine, an atmospheric scientist who won the award in 1987.

Not only does Grunder direct a world-class laboratory, Levine said, he is a top-flight scientist who contributed greatly to his field before he came to Virginia.

Grunder is a Swiss native who came to the United States to work with nuclear physics equipment at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California in 1959. He earned his physics Ph.D. in Switzerland in 1967, then returned to Lawrence Berkeley and applied for U.S. citizenship as soon as he became eligible.

Grunder was a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley for 12 years before getting into administration. He had risen to deputy director when he was asked to guide construction of the new physics lab in Newport News.

Grunder's first significant decision at CEBAF was to radically change the accelerator's design, incorporating the superconducting technology that's now the accelerator's trademark. Grunder is now credited with taking a successful gamble that made Jefferson Lab unique among accelerators.

Most of the $600 million that built the lab came from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Energy provides the lab's $69 million annual operating budget.

Grunder is the second person affiliated with Jefferson Lab to win the outstanding-scientist award. James McCarthy, the University of Virginia physicist who conceived of CEBAF, was one of two scientists to share the first award in 1985.

The science and industrialist awards will be presented March 23 at a $125-a-plate black-tie dinner in the Science Museum of Virginia.

Richard Stradling can be reached at 247-7420.

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The founder of a Virginia Beach computer company was named Virginia's Outstanding Industrialist for 1998 on Monday.

Richard Tien-Ren Cheng was a professor at Old Dominion University when he started Eastern Computers Inc. in 1980. ECI became the first company to make multilingual microcomputers and now has operations in 26 states, Germany and China.

Meanwhile, the first Beverly Orndorff Award for Exceptional Service to Public Understanding of Science was given to .... Beverly Orndorff. Orndorff was the science and medicine reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 37 years until he retired last year.

Both awards were given by the state and the Science Museum of Virginia.