JLab Mourns Loss of Colleague and Former Theory Center Director, Mike Pennington

Jefferson Lab

May 24, 2018

Michael Pennington: 1946 - 2018


Headshot of Michael Pennington
Michael Pennington

As Associate Director of Jefferson Lab for Theoretical and Computational Physics from 2010 – 2016, Mike Pennington exercised major influence on the evolution of and trajectory of the Theoretical and Computational Physics group.

Mike came to Jefferson Lab at the zenith of a distinguished and broad career. Prior to joining Jefferson Lab in July 2010, he had been a professor of mathematical sciences and physics and dean for Educational Outreach at the Durham University in England. Mike began his career at Durham University in 1978 and held many leadership positions, including serving as head of the Department of Physics from 1999-2003, chair of the Physics Teaching & Learning Committee from 1999-2001 and chair of the University IT Strategy Working Group from 2007-2008. He was named dean for Educational Outreach in 2008.

Mike received a bachelor’s degree in mathematical physics in 1968 from the University of Edinburgh. He received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1971 from Westfield College, University of London. His research focus was in the theoretical and phenomenological study of the strong nuclear force, and he had more than 185 publications to his credit.

In his career, Mike served a variety of international science groups, including participation as a member of the CERN SPS Committee and as a member of the DAΦNE Physics Working Group in Frascati, Italy. Mike also served as a member of Jefferson Lab’s Program Advisory Committee, a panel that reviews and selects experiments conducted at the laboratory.

Mike was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Adelaide from 1998-1999 and was a visiting scientist and Fulbright Scholar in the High Energy Theory group at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY. He also had been a fellow in the Theory Division at CERN, a research associate at Rutherford Laboratory in England, and a physicist in the high-energy theory group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, CA. In 2009, he was named an Outstanding Referee by the American Physical Society, of which he was a Fellow (2014).

Mike Pennington’s influence on Jefferson Lab rested on his ability to communicate. There were many who responded to his encouragement to pursue subtle but productive directions. He enjoyed collaborations with most of the experiments across the world that played roles in spectroscopy, from Beijing to Tsukuba, Stanford to Newport News, and Darmstadt to Frascati. If they would have had their way, he would have been teaching at all their spring, summer, fall, and winter schools.

We would joke that he was creating a Jefferson Lab hegemony by stealth. Within the Jefferson Lab theory community, he was adept at exploiting flexibility; retirements led to bridge appointments or joint appointments to expand the effective size of the Jefferson Lab theory group quite substantially. An excellent example is how Mike facilitated the establishment of the Joint Physics Analysis Center (JPAC) to enhance the collaborative efforts of the JLab Theory Center in the realm of hadronic spectroscopy.

For us, his friends at Jefferson Lab, hearing of his passing on May 23 was a body blow, and we extend our condolences to his widow, Patricia. We will sorely miss his jovial attitude, gentle encouragement and collegial fellowship. Mike Pennington’s professional contributions to Jefferson Lab are a testament to his far-reaching influence, his ability to mentor rising colleagues, and his drive to create a forward-looking, hearty theoretical program. There is no doubt that his contributions to the lab, and to the field of nuclear physics, will stand far into the future.

By Hugh Montgomery, former Jefferson Lab Director (2008-2017)


Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. JSA is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. (SURA).

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science