Fermilab TodayMonday, July 18, 2005  
Lab Holds Sweet Sendoff For Witherell and Family
Witherell Symposium
Mike Witherell gets ready to cut the cake at the labwide reception on Thursday. (Click on image for larger version.)
The sorrow of parting had a sweet beginning with cake and ice cream on Thursday, July 14 as Fermilab bid farewell to Director Michael Witherell after six years. The afternoon symposium, "Fermilab Science: The Witherell Years," guided Ramsey Auditorium attendees through the key times and significant advances of Witherell's term as Director, from July 1999 to June 2005, from breaking ground for the MINOS experiment to establishing the lab as the favored US site for the proposed International Linear Collider.

A labwide reception in the Atrium followed, and dinner at Chez Léon completed the day as Mike, Beth and Lily Witherell prepared to leave for California, where Mike Witherell will be Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "This has been a great day-and I didn't have to prepare a talk for today," Witherell said. "It's been a privilege to work at this lab, and it's been a privilege to work with such talented people. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of working here these six years."

New director Pier Oddone concluded the day's presentations with a salute to what he called a bright future with exciting science for the lab. "Our success will be in large measure because of the foundation that Mike established-a very strong foundation across the spectrum of the lab," Oddone said.

Don Hartill of Cornell University, who chairs the Fermilab Board of Overseers, noted the biggest challenge of the Witherell years: funding crunches. "Also, increased oversight," Hartill said. "We're not at the point of a review every week, but we're approaching it within a factor of three." MINOS spokesperson Stan Wojcicki, representing Caltech's Doug Michael, emphasized Witherell's role in the lab's world-leading neutrino program. "Mike's strong support and personal involvement, especially during crisis times, have been invaluable," Wojcicki said. He added: "The Director lays the ground for the physics that the next Director will pursue."

The physics will include more results the lab's new Particle Astrophysics Center, including the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search that has established the world's best limits on dark matter masses. Spokesperson Blas Cabrera of Stanford said CDMS is "at a very interesting time, probing the most interesting region. Fermilab can take the lead role in potential discovery." Ed Blucher of the University of Chicago and KTeV emphasized Witherell's contribution to the science outlook by supporting "really focused and careful experiments."

Those experiments have far greater prospects following the rousing success of the Tevatron luminosity upgrades. Roger Dixon, who took over the Accelerator Division when the Tevatron's disappointing luminosity caused ripples through the high-energy physics policy community, thanked Witherell "for the very interesting life I've had during the last couple of years." The Tevatron has set one luminosity record after another, and recently celebrated reaching one inverse femtobarn of integrated luminosity. John Womersley of Fermilab, on leave as an advisor to the Department, lauded what he termed "the onward march of luminosity." Dixon also offered what he labeled "Innuendo" of intriguing indications of success for the electron cooling effort at the Recycler: "If it's true," Dixon said, "that would be really, really exciting."

Debbie Harris of MINOS offered an engaging view of life at the lab during the Witherell years, in the context of the growth of Lily Witherell from infancy to elementary school age. Harris described it as Asymptotic Freedom, characterized by increasing distance between Mike and Lily in annual group pictures for Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the lab. "This is the first time that the Director's home has been baby-proofed," said Harris, who has two young children. "Mike showed that you can have a young child and be the director of the lab at the same time. Fermilab should be an example on these issues, and even if we're not all the way there yet, [Mike] brought these issues to the front page."

Oddone takes on the charge of pursuing the physics for which Witherell prepared the ground. Oddone candidly described some of the problems Witherell had encountered and "set straight," including the NuMI-MINOS project, the Tevatron, lab administration issues and safety. "The science infrastructure is now in terrific shape, and we have the potential over the next 10 years for great discoveries," Oddone said. "It's important to have a solid foundation, and it was Mike's lot not to have found that in many ways. But now our solid foundation allows us to face the future in a confident way…It took very strong leadership and a very steady hand to bring safety to the fore, and Mike should be very proud of his achievements."

Viewing his own days ahead, Oddone related the story of Bob Betz describing his plans for prairie restoration to founding director Robert Wilson in the lab's earliest days. "When Wilson asked how long it would take, Betz said 10 to 15 years," Oddone said. "Wilson replied, 'Then let's get going right away.' It's the same now with the Linear Collider: Let's get going right away." And so "Fermilab Science: The Oddone Years" had its official beginnings.

—Mike Perricone

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