Eastman on Argonne: Focus on growth, collaborationDean Eastman, a world-renowned expert on spectroscopy and the electronic properties of materials, joined Argonne National Laboratory in July 1996 as the lab's Director. In January, he was appointed Professor in Physics at the University.
Eastman previously was with IBM Corporation for 33 years, most recently as vice president of technical strategy and development re-engineering for the IBM Server Group. In that position, he successfully led a transformation of IBM's hardware divisions over two years, helping to make them highly competitive, with growing revenue and profit.
He received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from MIT, where he was also a visiting professor. An expert on the development and implementation of photoelectron spectroscopy -- using synchrotron radiation to study the electronic properties of solids and surfaces -- he has published nearly 200 scientific papers on this subject and related topics.
What are your impressions of Argonne, now that you've had six months to settle into your new job?
Argonne has many excellent people and top-quality programs, and it is very strong in science and engineering as a whole within the national laboratory system of the Department of Energy. Argonne is one of DOE's largest research centers -- many people don't realize how large. It receives half a billion dollars in research funding every year, which accounts for fully half of the federal research money that goes into the entire state of Illinois. The state itself is third highest in federal funding, behind only California and New Mexico in total federal research and development funding.
Several of our science departments here are in the top 10 to 15 among all departments in the country; in nuclear physics we're probably number one.
Our budgets are fairing slightly better than average in the system -- our appropriations have been flat for the past two years. I'm not satisfied with this, and am addressing how to implement a stable and growing environment at Argonne, even though the trend in federal research and development funding is flat and going down.
How do you propose to achieve this positive environment?
I've been focusing a lot on developing strategies and focus areas, establishing priorities and going through program and project reviews in a systematic way. I've been meeting with people, ranging from executives to project managers to scientists and engineers, in all the departments. With 4,000 people in 20-plus divisions, there's a lot of ground to cover. In addition to becoming familiar with our programmatic and administrative activities, I'm starting to get a sense of the culture and the nature of the institution, which is diverse and complex.
We're also looking at long-range planning across Argonne to address the achievement of this positive environment.
We are in the process of having all of the departments review all business plans to identify opportunities for future growth in these areas -- can we increase our activity in a stable area or find new customers and sources for funding? We're also on a path to continuously reduce our overhead, which involves looking at all sources of overhead costs and changes in policies or practices that can reduce these costs.
Another thing that we're doing now is considering such incentives as performance-based compensation. Thanks to the DOE performance contract, which has been led by the University, we, as contractor, have the opportunity to be more like the private sector in this respect -- namely, to have compensation linked to performance in a straightforward way.
What do you hope to achieve in Argonne's relationship with the University of Chicago?
Working with [President] Hugo Sonnenschein, David Schramm [Vice President for Research], and Art Sussman [General Counsel and Vice President for Administration and Argonne National Lab Office of Legal Counsel], I am proactively looking at ways of enhancing various collaborations between the University and Argonne. We just went through a second funding cycle of the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory collaborative grants program. We decided to extend the program from a one-year program to a two-year program because we would like to maintain some continuity with the grant recipients. It's also more convenient to be able to hire postdocs for a two-year period.
And, because of the great score we got on the performance contract -- Argonne's best score yet -- we basically doubled the funds available, from about $400,000 to $800,000. So now we've doubled the length and doubled the money. This year, the programs are especially intellectually diverse and broad.
We are also addressing how Argonne might become an active part of the new joint research institute that has been proposed by the Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences divisions. We're also continuing to explore opportunities for joint appointments. And of course, with the Advanced Photon Source, there are numerous opportunities for collaboration between students and faculty members at the University and researchers at Argonne for new beamline facilities and related science programs.
What are your plans for the future?
Our future plans are to continue to focus on our three major areas of science technology and engineering: basic science, physical and life sciences; energy science and engineering; and environmental science and technology. We are also actively working with the private sector as well, where there are opportunities for exciting work and important technology transfer. In some cases, skills and capabilities that we have developed in the federal sector can be applied in the private sector.
What is not sufficient is to sit back and wait for calls for proposals, or to wait and see what we're going to get from the funding agencies. That's not my style. We're going to be more proactive in terms of program development. One opportunity is to form more effective partnerships between our scientists and DOE program managers to work together to identify future areas of opportunity.
One area we clearly will focus on is how to continue to develop the Advanced Photon Source to its full potential. Even with its current committed facility investments, it will quickly become the largest science user facility in the country, and there is much additional unfunded capability.
We're on a path to enlarge our math and computer science department significantly, because technical computation capability continues to advance at an astonishing rate of about 50 percent per year, and this advancing capability will open up many exciting new science and technology opportunities.
We're also looking at developing the next major nuclear physics facilities, namely an "exotic beam" facility that will generate a wide range of unstable nuclei of interest to nuclear physicists, high energy physicists and cosmology.
Any final thoughts?
After six months, I'm enjoying the change and my job as Director of Argonne, as well as my position with the University. I believe that Argonne has an excellent history and reputation, and I'm looking forward to helping Argonne become even better. -- Diana Steele