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Newly-appointed Argonne director Isaacs to work towards alternative energy storage

Isaacs plans to put Argonne at the cutting edge of research in X-ray science and energy development.

Eric Isaacs will take the position of director of Argonne National Laboratory on May 1, President and Argonne Board of Directors Chairman Robert Zimmer announced last month. Isaacs, now a physicist at the University of Chicago and the deputy director of Argonne programs, plans to put Argonne, which oversees research on pressing energy and national security issues for the Department of Energy, at the cutting edge of research in X-ray science and energy development.

“I was honored and thrilled to be asked by the University to become the director,” Isaacs said. “Argonne is a leading U.S. Department of Energy lab focusing on fundamental science and applications of that to the big energy problems.”

Isaacs will be replacing current director Robert Rosner, who will return to teaching at the University as a professor of astronomy and astrophysics when his term concludes this spring, according to Argonne officials.

“[Isaacs] was out there as deputy of programs and leading the effort to create a strategic plan for the lab,” said Don Levy, chair of the selection committee. “We saw what he thought was important for the lab, and we liked his vision.”

Isaacs studied magnetic semiconductors at MIT and received his Ph.D. in 1988. Following his doctoral studies, he worked as a fellow at Bell Laboratories, studying X-ray science, a field widely researched at Argonne.

“I ended up at Chicago for a few reasons,” Isaacs said. “Of course, the physics department here is one of the best in the country, if not the world. It was really a great honor to come to Chicago and work with great people in the University.”

Isaacs also cited the University’s invitation to have him create and direct the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne.

“[Nanoscale science is] a very multidisciplinary science that includes chemistry, physics and biology to control materials only a little bigger than an atom,” Isaacs said. “We hired 60 people and built a $100 million facility.”

Since assuming his deputy position last May, Isaacs has worked to define Argonne’s strategic goals for research programs on alternative energy, X-ray science, and nanotechnology.

“What will the materials of the future be? We’re constantly looking at these horizons 15, 20 years out. Argonne’s is basic research, but it’s in the context of a mission and that mission is energy,” Isaacs said.

According to Isaacs, a main concern of Argonne’s is the development of alternative energy sources and storage methods. “Illinois is just 60 percent nuclear,” Isaacs said. “Imagine [if] you added solar energy to that power source. You need much larger storage capacity to accommodate that need, and we are really not there yet. We at Argonne are thinking a lot about that, and the answer’s not obvious.”