Since the lab's founding in 1962, SLAC has had four directors, all of whom have been key to the evolution and success of the laboratory's research programs.
Persis S. Drell became SLAC’s director in 2007. She holds a B.A. in mathematics and physics from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in atomic physics from the University of California, Berkeley. She did her postdoctoral work in high-energy experimental physics at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before joining the Physics Department faculty at Cornell University in 1988. In 2000, she became head of the Cornell high-energy group and in 2001 she became deputy director of Cornell's Laboratory of Nuclear Studies. The following year, Dr. Drell accepted a position as Professor and Director of Research at SLAC, where she has done research in particle astrophysics. Dr. Drell is a fellow of the American Physical Society and has received both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she was elected in 2010 to the National Academy of Sciences.
Jonathan Dorfan was SLAC director from 1999 until 2007 and now heads up the new Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Japan. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, Dorfan earned his B.S. in physics and applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town and his doctorate in experimental particle physics from the University of California, Irvine. A member of SLAC’s team for more than three decades, Dorfan strengthened SLAC’s integration with Stanford by developing the concept of joint laboratory-university institutes, including the PULSE Institute for Ultrafast Energy Science, the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, and the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science. He was project director for the SLAC B-factory program which, with sister KEK B-factory in Japan, provided the measurements that contributed to two scientists winning the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Burton Richter served as SLAC director from 1984 through 1999. Born in New York, he received both his B.S. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before beginning his post-doctoral work at Stanford University in 1956. He became a professor in 1967 and designed the Stanford Positron Electron Accelerating Ring (SPEAR), capable of extremely high-energy particle collisions. It was on this machine that Richter and his collaborators created and detected a new kind of heavy elementary particle, or hadron, which they called psi (ψ). Nearly simultaneously, another group at Brookhaven Laboratory on Long Island, New York, made the same discovery through a different experiment. That group, headed up by Samuel Ting, named the new particle “J.” Richter and Ting subsequently shared the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the particle that has been dubbed J/psi. Richter was also awarded the E. O. Lawrence Medal of the Department of Energy that same year.
Wolfgang "Pief" Panofsky became SLAC's first director upon its creation in 1961 and, despite retiring in 1984, remained affiliated with SLAC until his passing in September, 2007. Born the son of renowned art historian Erwin Panofsky in Berlin in 1919, Panofsky emigrated to the U.S. with his family in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution, ultimately earning a B.S. in physics from Princeton University at the age of 19 and a Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology in 1942, in time to become a consultant to the Manhattan Project team building the first atomic bomb. Although he began his teaching career at the University of California, Berkeley, he moved to Stanford University and became a professor there in the early 1950s. Panofsky pushed hard for a two-mile-long electron linear accelerator at Stanford, ultimately overseeing SLAC’s construction, which was finished on time and within its $114 million budget in 1966. His experiences with the Manhattan Project lead Panofsky during the ensuing decades to play an active role in arms control and international security. He helped secure the atmosopheric test ban treaty in 1963 and the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 1972, later helping to found Stanford’s Center for International security and Cooperation. His work to tie SLAC with labs in the Soviet Union and China was widely credited with helping to bring those nations into the global science community. During his tenure at Stanford, Panofsky served on the sponsoring board of The Bulletin of the Atomic Science and won the Matteucci Medal in 1996 for his fundamental contributions to physics. Over the course of his career, he also received the national Medal of Science, the Franklin Medal, the Ernest O. Lawerence Medal, the Leo Szilard Award and the Enrico Fermi Award.