Fermilab Today Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

Bob Mau, accelerator and operator champion, retires after 40 years

Bob Mau

Bob Mau is opinionated. It’s a personality he relishes. But while Mau's vocal, straight-talking, no-nonsense persona has earned him a rough-around-the-edges reputation, it has also helped him to win many friends, settle battles and keep the Accelerator Complex systems running for decades.

Mau, head of the Accelerator Division's Operations Department retires today after 40 years at the laboratory.

"Bob is an incredible person, period. He's done an incredible job for the lab in a unique way," said Accelerator Division head Roger Dixon. "He doesn't apologize for who he is. His spelling is terrible and he says things the way he wants to, but he is one of those real characters, the kind you meet one or two of in your life and you're glad you did."

Fermilab won't lose Mau immediately. He plans to return as a guest scientist. Dixon even hopes that Mau might help with projects such as the planning for scheduled power outages in the future.

"Bob has been an integral part of the laboratory from day one,"said Steve Holmes, who worked with Mau both while Accelerator Division head and as associate director for accelerators. "He's seen everything and he's an incredible font of institutional knowledge."

It is a sentiment echoed by many who have worked with Mau. His knowledge of the laboratory's accelerator systems has made him a go-to guy for any and all accelerator-related problems and questions. Mau has gleaned that knowledge since he joined the laboratory in 1970 as a Linac electronics technician. Since then, he's been involved with tuning and troubleshooting as the laboratory turned on every accelerator and beamline.

"About a week after I was here I saw old men running up and down the Linac to reset equipment," Mau said. "I thought to myself, 'What have I gotten myself into?'"

But his colleagues' dedication and loyalty to helping Fermilab's accelerators run is one of the things that has kept Mau here.

He became part of the Accelerations Operations Department as it formed in 1971 and worked his way up through the ranks, becoming an operations specialist in 1977 and then the Operations Department head in 1979.

He spends his days coordinating, training and managing five crews of operators. He also pays a lot of attention to accelerator downtime – particularly getting the accelerator systems up and running again – and coordinating power outages, a role he's had since the 1980s.

Bob Mau, head of the Accelerator Division's Operations Department, gave Enrico Fermi's grandchildren a tour of the Main Control Room in 2008. Photo: Reidar Hahn

"There aren't a lot of other people who have the level of involvement that Bob does," said Joe Pathiyil, who has coordinated power outages and handled emergency outages with Mau for the past 16 years.

John Crawford, Mau's associate deputy, credits Mau for rescuing the Operations Department.

"Bob knew how to get people to work together to solve a problem," Crawford said. "From the early days, he's always impressed me with his ability to get people to work together for a common cause."

Mau was also the first person to stand up and make people treat the operators as professionals, Crawford said, and he would yell down anyone who didn't. 

Mau has hired 115 people in the department and trained more than 200 operators. Many have gone on to become some of the laboratory's great employees.

Brian Drendel worked with Mau for eight years as an operator and then two years as deputy run coordinator and run coordinator.

"I owe a lot to Bob," Drendel said. "As an operator, you always had someone to stand behind you. That allowed me to gain skill sets and gave me the confidence to go do other things at the lab. Bob had invested a huge amount to ensure that I succeeded at the lab."

Mau's skills at training and mentoring operators have also earned him a spot on the world stage. People from other laboratories visit Fermilab to learn how Mau trains operators. Mau also helped to begin the Workshop on Accelerator Operations in the mid-90s where accelerator operators from around the world could gather to address common problems and share techniques.

Dan Johnson, who will succeed Mau as the next Operations Department head, has worked as Mau's deputy since the Accelerator Operations and Research Division Operations Departments merged in 1996. It was Mau's job to combine the departments.

"When the departments merged, I had to come over and meet this guy who had a reputation for having a temper and being hard to work with," Johnson said. "But I soon realized that Bob wasn't scary and that he has a good sense of humor."

While Mau works to help the Accelerator Complex run reliably, he does actually appreciate the times when it doesn't.

"If things are too reliable then it is hard for people to get troubleshooting experience, and that experience is valuable," Mau said.

Bob Mau in 1972,  just two years into his employment at the laboratory.

Plus, he added, the accelerators always keep things interesting.

"I'm never bored," he said. "I come to work with a plan and the accelerators change that plan."

Mau's calmness when facing those situations and his determination to get things back up and running helped him improve processes and efforts over the years.

"When he gets interested in something he doesn't just touch the surface. He dives in whole hog," Crawford said.

Mau has pursued his interest in wood carving for years and has earned himself spots in gallery shows. He's also taking sculpting and art classes to improve his skills.

Congratulate Mau on his retirement today at 2:30 p.m. in the Main Control Room. A retirement party will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, at Lincoln Inn Banquets in Batavia. Contact Mary Kohler, x8225, for more information.

-Rhianna Wisniewski

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