The deputy director for science and technology at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Steve Ashby, has been named director of the lab.
Battelle, which manages the lab for the Department of Energy, announced Wednesday that the appointment will be effective April 1. He was picked to be the 12th lab director in PNNL’s 50-year history after a national search.
Ashby succeeds Mike Kluse, who is retiring after eight years as PNNL director.
Ashby has been deputy director since 2008 and has been instrumental in integrating PNNL’s science and technology capabilities to address critical challenges in science, energy, the environment and national security, according to Battelle.
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“Steve’s expertise and passion fit well with the demands of the director position at PNNL,” said Battelle President Jeff Wadsworth.
Ashby has worked at DOE national laboratories for 31 of his 55 years, starting with three summer internships, he said.
“I tell students there is no better place to have a career than a national laboratory if they really want to do cutting-edge science research that really matters to the nation,” he said. “We work on the most challenging problems that face our country and world. And that’s cool.”
Ashby served previously as the deputy principal associate director for science and technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and held several leadership roles in its computation directorate.
As deputy director at PNNL, he has led institutional strategic planning activities, managed an $80 million discretionary research portfolio and promoted laboratory-wide efforts to elevate PNNL’s standing in the scientific community. He also has overseen the laboratory’s technology commercialization, government relations and research integrity functions.
“Steve was central to shaping PNNL’s vision,” said Patricia Dehmer, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science.
He is widely recognized as a leader in computational science and has worked to advance it as a discipline throughout his career, according to PNNL.
He has developed methods to effectively and quickly solve complex mathematical problems on supercomputers, such as showing how a plume moves through the atmosphere, or water flows through the ground and moves contaminants.
“Steve is a superb choice to lead PNNL, one of the most diverse laboratories in the DOE system,” Dehmer said. “His scientific accomplishments, demonstrated leadership, and familiarity with the breadth of PNNL’s research programs make him well-suited for this role.”
Kluse is leaving PNNL “in terrific shape,” Ashby said, and the lab’s 4,300 staff do amazing work day in and day out.
Ashby’s challenge will be to continue to create an atmosphere in which researchers can be highly creative. He wants to knock down bureaucracy where possible and work for stable funding, so scientists and engineers can concentrate on their research and continue to make contributions in areas where the lab is a leader, he said.
As he starts work as director next month, he’ll be making an effort to meet more of the lab’s staff, he said.
He is looking forward to becoming more involved in community activities in the Battelle tradition in the Tri-Cities. The national lab is the Tri-Cities’ largest single employer. Battelle has been instrumental in key community efforts, including helping create Delta High School and the Reach center.
Ashby’s community work to date has focused on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education and getting undergraduate and graduate students excited about STEM careers, and careers in national laboratories.
He has enjoyed speaking to students at Washington State University Tri-Cities, whether about leadership or about laboratory work, to engage and excite them about the lab’s research.
Ashby also has been involved in ways to foster collaboration between the students and the lab and to provide advice for the WSU Tri-Cities engineering curriculum.
“He fully understands PNNL’s mission, has a compelling vision for the future of the lab, and has developed strong relationships with senior leaders across DOE, key sponsors and the entire laboratory system,” Wadsworth said.
Ashby is a member and past chairman of the DOE National Laboratory Chief Research Officers Council, and serves on DOE’s Laboratory Operations Board. He was elected to the Washington State Academy of Sciences and serves on the Science Policy Committee of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
Ashby holds doctorate and master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and a bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University in California. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was elected as a fellow in 2013.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., met Ashby on a recent tour of PNNL. “I look forward to continuing years of groundbreaking innovation at PNNL under his new leadership role,” he said.