Brookhaven National Laboratory director Doon Gibbs and two deputy directors plan to retire from the Upton science research facility over the next six to 18 months, the officials told Tuesday in separate interviews with Newsday.
Gibbs, 68, of Poquott, who joined the federal laboratory as an assistant physicist in 1983, plans to leave in December after nine years as director, during which he led efforts to win a multibillion-dollar federal contract to build a state-of the-art electron-ion collider that is expected to keep Brookhaven at the forefront of international science research.
Deputy director for science and technology Bob Tribble plans to step down in June or July, and deputy director for operations Jack Anderson will leave in summer 2023, lab officials said.
All three said they plan to remain involved with the lab after their departures.
The retirements were not unexpected, officials said, adding they will consider both current employees and external candidates to succeed Gibbs, Anderson and Tribble.
In a Zoom interview Tuesday, Gibbs said most of the goals he set for the lab when he became director have been achieved, including completion in 2015 of the National Synchrotron Light Source II — a research tool for studying atomic structures that creates light 10 billion times brighter than the sun.
"There’s a whole lot of work left to do on the electron-ion collider, but it’s a good time for the lab to ask itself, 'Where do we want to be in 10 or 15 years?' " he told Newsday. "Part of my reason for taking this step is it’s time for fresh eyes to look at that aspect."
The lab, owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a consortium that includes Stony Brook University, has a $625 million annual budget and employs 2,700 people.
Research at the lab ranges from studies of COVID-19 vaccines, climate change and the origins of the universe to development of high-end energy storage batteries and improved automobile tires.
Kevin Law, a former Long Island Association chief executive who worked with Gibbs on the state's Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, said the lab has become more a part of the fabric of Long Island life.
"I think a lot of that is a credit to Doon," Law told Newsday. "It was this hidden campus off the William Floyd Parkway. Over the last 10 years, they’ve done a good job of, to Doon’s credit, showing how valuable it is to the ecosystem here."
In a statement, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Gibbs, Tribble and Anderson "are leaving BNL with a stronger foundation and a bright future."
Richard Reeder, Stony Brook University vice president for research, said the outgoing leaders have been "extremely successful, with many outstanding accomplishments that ensure a bright future for this unique research facility."
Two years ago, the Energy Department announced Brookhaven and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility of Newport News, Virginia, would build the electron-ion collider, which will aid studies of the atomic nucleus, the tiny but dense center of the atom. The collider, scheduled to open in Brookhaven in 2030, is expected to cost $1.6 billion to $2.6 billion and will create 4,000 construction jobs, officials said.
Tribble, 75, of Yaphank, a nationally recognized advocate of advanced research technologies, said the collider will give researchers "a microscope that is unparalleled to look inside the proton and neutron."
Anderson, 64, of Yaphank, said construction will start soon on the first phase of the lab's Discovery Park, a business incubator and welcome center intended to link entrepreneurs and scientists.
After coming to Brookhaven nine years ago, Anderson helped raise $250 million in federal funding for infrastructure improvements, which he said proved key to winning the electron-ion collider contract. Anderson also led efforts to keep the lab running through the coronavirus pandemic.
"We had to keep the facility running. We had vital science to do," he said. "The team that came together to do that was really inspirational."