Nuclear Lab Alumni Went on to Leadership

Duke-trained physicists took roles in industry, government, academics
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Nov 3, 2015

From the beginning, graduate students of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Lab have been a resourceful lot. TUNL students have a tradition of developing new measurement techniques, designing and building equipment , and troubleshooting problems under research conditions. They’ve needed to hone their data analysis skills to find the important signals in a large background of data. After four or five years of this, graduates are prepared to work not only in universities, but in a wide variety of sectors, including  government, government labs, industry, and medicine.

“TUNL students find their way for themselves,” says TUNL director and Duke professor Calvin Howell, a TUNL graduate himself. “We don’t have a factory of producing academicians; we have an environment that stimulates people to find their true calling.” (Learn more about TUNL's history.)

The following selection of profiles illustrates some of the diverse careers that TUNL’s 286 doctoral graduates have pursued. 

John “Jack” Gibbons is perhaps best known for his roles as President Clinton’s science advisor (1993-1996) and as the director of the federal Office of Technology Assessment (1979-1993). In those capacities, he helped shape and inform public policy related to issues including energy, nuclear weapons proliferation, and space exploration. In a 2003 New York Times interview he said, “Science is still the wellspring of new options. How else are we going to face the issues of the 21st century on things like the environment, health, security, food and energy?” After earning his PhD in nuclear physics under the advisement of Henry Newson in 1954, he spent 20 years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where he conducted experiments related to nuclear structure and led ORNL’s Environmental Program. Little known fact: In the mid-1950s, he founded the East Tennessee Grotto of the National Speleological Society, which is still active today. Gibbons died at age 86 in July of 2015, in his home state of Virginia.

George Keyworth
George Keyworth in 1987

George “Jay” Keyworth earned his PhD in nuclear physics in 1968 with research involving high-resolution spectroscopy. He and his advisor, Ed Bilpuch, used a proton beam with a resolution of 0.25 keV to characterize isobaric analogue states of the nucleus—measurements that were two orders of magnitude more precise than previous work. After graduating from Duke, Keyworth went to Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he later became the director of the physics division. From 1981-1986, he was the science advisor to President Reagan. In that role, he supported a healthy federal budget for basic research and was involved in the Strategic Defense Initiative. He helped convince Reagan to support the Superconducting Supercollider in Texas, which Congress cut from the budget in 1993. After he left government, he established The Keyworth Company. He was later the chairman of the board of the Progress and Freedom Foundation. Now retired, Keyworth lives in California.

Randy Ledford
Randy Ledford

Randy Ledford retired in September of 2014, after almost 20 years as the chief technical officer of Emerson Electric, which is based in St. Louis and employs 135,000 people around the world. He was also the president of Emerson Ventures, an internal subsidiary of Emerson that invests in new ideas generated by startups. Ledford earned a PhD in nuclear physics under the advisement of Russell Roberson in 1976. Before joining Emerson Electric, Ledford worked as a researcher at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, and as an engineering manager at Texas Instruments in Tennessee, Maryland, and Texas. In an article for Duke Physics last year, Ledford described how his experience at TUNL informed his career: “One of the most valuable assets I picked up from my time at TUNL was being able to synthesize pieces to see an ultimate solution at the end.” He and his wife now live in Asheville, North Carolina.

Katherine Whatley
Katherine Whatley

Throughout her career, Katherine Whatley has focused on excellence in teaching undergraduates. She is currently the vice president for annual programs at the Council of Independent Colleges in Washington, DC, a post she’s held since 2013. Before that she spent many years in liberal arts settings. She was provost of Berry College in Georgia from 2008-2013. At the University of North Carolina at Asheville, she was interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, dean of natural sciences, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for natural sciences, dean of faculty, director of the undergraduate research program, and professor of physics. At the Council of Independent Colleges, Whatley is in charge of the annual Chief Academic Officers Institute and the concurrent Spouses and Partners program. She also oversees quarterly workshops for Division and Department Chairs. Whatley earned a PhD in experimental nuclear physics at Duke in 1982; her advisor was Ed Bilpuch.

Calvin R. Howell
Calvin R. Howell

Calvin Howell has been the director of TUNL since 2006. After majoring in physics at Davidson College, he came to TUNL in 1978 for graduate school and has been here ever since, aside from visiting positions at Los Alamos, the Thomas Jefferson Lab, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator. He earned his PhD in 1984 under the advisement of Richard Walter, then became a Duke faculty member in 1985 after completing his postdoc at TUNL. He has served the physics community in many ways, including as manager of the rotator manager of the Nuclear Physics Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), chair of the Executive Committee of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society (APS), and chair of the APS Committee on Minorities. He won the Samuel DuBois Cook Award, which goes to members of the Duke community who work to fulfill the promise and potential of African Americans and to improve relations among people of all cultural backgrounds.

Mohammad Abdulaziz Al-Ohali
Mohammad Abdulaziz Al-Ohali

Mohammad Abdulaziz Al-Ohali combines his interests in science and in educational strategies and policy as the deputy minister for educational affairs for the Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia, a position he has held since 2007. He is also in charge of Saudi Arabia’s National Center of e-Learning & Distance Learning. Previously, he was the dean of graduate studies and scientific research at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, where he has 20 years of experience teaching undergraduate and graduate physics—and where he earned his undergraduate (1982) and master’s degrees (1986) in physics. He earned a PhD in nuclear physics at TUNL in 1993; his advisor was Richard Walter.

Learn about the UNC's TUNL alumni

Learn about NC State's TUNL alumni




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