Lia Merminga, a world-renowned physicist and scientific leader, has been named director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, beginning April 18.
Merminga will be the eighth director of Fermilab, a 6,800-acre facility in Batavia, Illinois, that is the world’s top particle physics and accelerator laboratory. The objective of Fermilab is to shed fresh light on our knowledge of the cosmos, from the tiniest building blocks of matter to the deepest mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
The statement was made by University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos on April 5 in his position as head of the board of directors of Fermi Research Alliance, LLC, which manages the facility for the US Department of Energy.
Merminga will take over for Nigel Lockyer, who announced his resignation as lab director in September following an eight-year career. She is the first female director of Fermilab.
“Lia brings to this critical role an exceptional track record of success, a passion for science, a demonstrated ability to execute major projects, a focus on the talent and diversity of the Fermilab community, and a strong commitment to the national and global high-energy physics communities,” Alivisatos said. “We am thankful to Nigel for his leadership of Fermilab and for his long record of fostering and enhancing international cooperation, which is critical for promoting scientific discovery on a global scale.” I am excited to collaborate with Lia as she leads America’s particle physics and accelerator laboratory into a new age of investigating basic issues of matter, energy, space, and time for the benefit of everyone.”
Merminga originally arrived to Fermilab in 1987 as a student in the newly founded graduate program in accelerator physics, where she finished her Ph.D. thesis on the Tevatron, which was commissioned as a collider at the time. She graduated as the program’s second student.
“Fermilab has provided me with a really satisfying job.” I like the institution and am thrilled about the prospect of giving back to the lab.” Merminga said this. “Following the vision of the 2014 Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5), Fermilab, along with its national and international partners, embarked on a truly ambitious array of construction projects that, when completed, will secure US leadership in the global particle physics program for decades to come.” LBNF/DUNE is the first globally designed, built, and managed mega-science project on American territory. As director of Fermilab, my goal is to successfully complete this profound and compelling vision while continuing to deliver groundbreaking science and technology innovation, enabling the new P5 strategy, and realizing the lab’s full potential in workforce development and diversity, lab operations, and regional, national, and international partnerships.”
Merminga is currently the director of Fermilab’s Proton Improvement Plan II, or PIP-II project, which will enable the world’s most intense high-energy neutrino beam to the flagship Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment and drive a broad physics research program.
Neutrino physics has a new home
Merminga will oversee the lab as it evolves to become the world’s foremost neutrino research center. Neutrinos are almost invisible particles that fly through most matter without leaving a trace, yet they are considered to carry crucial insights about the underlying nature of the cosmos, as well as hints to our galaxy.
The worldwide Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment are the laboratory’s current flagship programs. Neutrinos will be used by DUNE scientists to address some of the most important mysteries about our cosmos. The LBNF, which will be housed at Fermilab and the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, will generate the world’s most powerful neutrino beam, which will be directed to large underground detectors 800 miles distant. More than 1,400 scientists from more than 35 nations are participating in the DUNE experiment, sharing expertise and creating components of the project. The neutrino beam will be powered by Fermilab’s PIP-II accelerator.
“Lia Merminga is a brilliant accelerator physicist.” “She effectively directed the PIP-II project, an international effort aimed at providing the world’s most powerful neutrino beam,” stated Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of CERN and a member of the search committee. “Over the last decades, Fermilab and CERN have developed a very tight relationship.” I am looking forward to working with Lia in the next years to assist present and future high-energy physics programs, building on the great partnership I had with the departing director, Nigel Lockyer.”
Fermilab is extensively engaged in research at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, serving as the US headquarters for the CMS experiment at the LHC, as well as conducting cutting-edge research in dark matter and dark energy. Through centers and partnerships like as the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center, one of five national quantum science centers, the laboratory is utilizing its expertise in accelerator and sensor technologies to improve quantum information science.
“Lia will bring to Fermilab not just her scientific and leadership competence, but also her ability to promote knowledge and support of physics to a larger audience,” stated Walter Massey, head of the search committee.
Merminga has spent her career working to strengthen the regional and national scientific ecosystems via outreach and deeper engagement with premier research universities, community colleges, and K-12 educational institutions, as well as major industry partners. She is the first woman to run Fermilab and has received praise for her emphasis on talent development as well as diversity, equality, and inclusion. Merminga has held positions of significant scientific leadership, most recently at Fermilab, and before at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, TRIUMF in Vancouver, Canada, and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia. Merminga was appointed after a search conducted by a team of worldwide scientific experts.
“Lia wowed the search committee with her extraordinary skills and love for Fermilab’s research and people,” said David Gross, a search committee member and past president of the American Physical Society.
“We look forward to her term as she guides the laboratory into its future as the worldwide center for high-energy physics.”
The unanimous recommendation of the committee to select Merminga has been backed by the US Department of Energy and approved by the Fermi Research Alliance board. Fermilab is managed by the FRA, a collaboration of the University of Chicago and the Universities Research Association, on behalf of the US Department of Energy Office of Science.
“In her previous leadership roles, Lia has been instrumental in developing strong scientific collaborations with research institutions across America and around the world, and we look forward to a continued partnership as she assumes the role of laboratory director,” said Eric Barron, chair of the Universities Research Association board of trustees.
Merminga chaired the Fermilab Accelerator Advisory Committee, was a member of the prominent 2014 P5 panel, served on multiple international advisory groups, and was a member of three US National Academy committees.
Merminga received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Athens, Greece, and her master’s and PhD degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is a Fermilab Distinguished Scientist, an American Physical Society Fellow, and a graduate of the Department of Energy’s Oppenheimer Energy Science Leadership Program’s inaugural cohort.