Jefferson Lab finds its man Mont

Hugh Montgomery

Hugh Montgomery, a British nuclear physicist selected from more than 50 candidates, takes over as lab director Sept. 2.

Replacing the head of a world-renowned nuclear physics facility is no easy feat.

When Christoph Leemann announced his desire to retire in 2007 as director of the Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, better known as Jefferson Lab, a 13-member global search committee was dispatched to scour the planet for his replacement.

An initial list of 50 possible candidates was eventually narrowed to two.

“We identified a pair that we wanted to pursue aggressively and we landed Mont,” said Jerry Draayer, president and CEO of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, one of the two parties that manages and operates Jefferson Lab for the DOE.

Mont is the preferred moniker of Hugh Montgomery who was announced last week as Leemann’s successor.

“He prefers to go by Mont,” Draayer said, “which tells you something about him. He’s very comfortable in his own skin”

When his tenure begins on Sept. 2, Montgomery, a British nuclear physicist, will take over a 162-acre lab that operates with a more than $100 million annual budget, nearly 700 workers and a $600 million accelerator.

Draayer said Montgomery will face challenges but is well-equipped for the task.

Montgomery has been associate director for research at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, better known as Fermilab, since 2002. There he manages a group of about 800 people, also under the umbrella of the DOE.

“He has very deep experience in dealing with DOE.,” Draayer said. “And that is no small matter at Jefferson Lab.”

Draayer said Montgomery, as a British citizen heading a U.S.-funded lab, will deal with American politicians.

“He will look to SURA to help him with ’Hill relations,’” Draayer said.

SURA is confident that Montgomery is “one we’d like to take up to Congress to speak,” Draayer said.

A smooth British accent may be just icing on the nuclear physics-laden curriculum vitae. “It doesn’t hurt,” Draayer said jokingly.

Jokes aside, politics, now more than ever, play a role in the existence of facilities such as Jefferson Lab.

“There are always challenges and particularly in this political climate, the lab is being challenged all the time,” Draayer said.

Budget crunches across all government lines are something Montgomery will have to watch as the lab is in the early stages of a $310 million dollar scientific and structural upgrade that will include doubling the power of its Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility.

The upgrade, known as the 12GeV (gigaelectron volt) upgrade, entails constructing a new 100,000-square-foot experimental hall, refurbishing an existing 89,000-square-foot facility and the addressing the need for 50 new employees. It will take place over eight or nine years with full construction likely to begin in 2009 and end by fiscal year 2016.

That project will stay on track in terms of funding as it is a priority of President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. But future funding for increased personnel could take hits, something the lab is used to dealing with, Draayer said.

“They could be faced with a crunch in terms of can they hang on to everybody,” he said.

Montgomery will be Jefferson Lab’s third director in its 24-year existence. The lab is operated by Jefferson Science Associates LLC, a joint venture between SURA and CSC Applied Technologies. Montgomery also will serve as president of JSA.

Leemann, who announced his intention to retire last summer after 22 years at the lab and who has been director since 2000, will officially retire when Montgomery’s tenure begins.

 

Story posted with permission from Inside Business, The Hampton Roads Business Journal