Berkeley Lab

—Interim Director Schenkel returns to full-time research

Cameron Geddes Appointed as ATAP Division Director

Cameron Geddes

Cameron Geddes

Following an international search, Berkeley Lab has appointed Cameron Geddes, an award-winning scientist who is internationally known for his work on laser-plasma accelerators, to serve as Director of the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division.

Cameron joined ATAP’s Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center in 2000 as a University of California, Berkeley graduate student and a Hertz Fellow. He earned his Ph.D. in physics in 2005 and became a research scientist in the Center. Progressive responsibilities culminated in his appointment as BELLA Center’s Deputy Director for Experiments in January 2019.

“Cameron is an outstanding choice, and I am excited for the opportunity to work with him to continue advancing ATAP’s research portfolio across a broad front of accelerator and fusion science,” said Natalie Roe, the Associate Laboratory Director for the Physical Sciences Area. “I would also like to thank Thomas Schenkel for his excellent leadership as Interim ATAP Division Director for the past two years.”

BELLA radial rainbow

Cameron Geddes (second from right) and colleagues at the BELLA Hundred Terawatt Thomson-scattering (HTT) laser system, which enables precision, low-dose mono-energetic photon sources for nonproliferation and medicine, and multipulse, high-energy-density science for LaserNetUS.

“I am honored to be named to this position,” says Cameron. “ATAP has leading capabilities that work together for the benefit of everything we do. We have a unique combination of expertise in lasers, plasma science, beam physics, photon sources, controls and sources, as well as supporting methods such as advanced computation and magnetics. We also have deep connections to user needs in both high-energy physics and broad applications, including photon science. This is what allows us to create new capabilities. The kBELLA initiative is an example, and has the potential to realize a transformative combination of high average and high peak power lasers.”

At the BELLA Center, Cameron most recently led the creation of a quasi-monoenergetic gamma-ray source that can bring new capabilities to nuclear security applications (as well as medical and industrial imaging) based on compact laser-plasma accelerators. He oversaw the experimental portfolio within the BELLA Center, which develops plasma accelerators to extend the energy frontier of future high-energy physics experiments and for photon sources and applications. It includes two projects: the petawatt second beamline for high-energy physics and a high-intensity, tight-focus beamline for ion acceleration, oriented toward fusion energy sciences. It also supports user experiments under the LaserNetUS program that open the Division’s capabilities to international users in areas ranging from hydrodynamics to advanced imaging.

“Cameron provided outstanding leadership to our wide array of experimental activities,” says Eric Esarey, Director of the BELLA Center. “In addition to his keen scientific insight, he brought positive energy and created an atmosphere of enthusiasm and inclusion within the BELLA Center.”

Recognition for Cameron’s work included the U.S. Particle Accelerator School Prize, the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics (APS-DPP) John Dawson Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research, and Fellowship in the APS. His graduate work was recognized with the APS-DPP’s Marshall N. Rosenbluth Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award, as well as the Hertz Foundation Dissertation Prize.


In addition to these laboratory endeavors, Cameron is well known for work on the steering committees that build the future of team science. These efforts gather diverse voices together into community consensus, expressed in reports that guide agency decisions. Presently he is a co-convener of the Advanced Accelerators topic in the “Snowmass” meeting—a high-energy physics community study, held every several years, that provides key input to the strategic direction of US investment in high-energy physics.

Cameron was a contributor to 2019’s multi-agency Basic Research Needs Workshop on Compact Accelerators for Security and Medicine, which gave rise to a crosscutting Office of Accelerator R&D and Production within DOE’s Office of Science. His publications are cited by others in multiple chapters of the workshop report.

Cover of NAS plasma science decadal consensus


Other related efforts include the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Committee’s Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning; the APS-DPP Community Planning for Fusion Energy Sciences; and the Brightest Light Initiative, which defined a path forward for ultra-intense lasers in the US. He was also a chapter lead for the National Academies’ recent Decadal Assessment of Plasma Science.

Toward new horizons throughout ATAP

Cameron started his career at Berkeley Lab as an undergraduate, performing high-energy physics detector work under James Siegrist, who at the time was in Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division. Since then, Cameron’s career has ranged through both magnetic and inertial confinement fusion and plasma physics, many experimental aspects of laser-plasma accelerators and their applications, laser science and computer modeling, all of which gives him a special appreciation of the breadth and mutually reinforcing character of ATAP’s research portfolio. “The breadth of our expertise is one of the key reasons why I’m at Berkeley Lab,” he says. “I see ATAP, with these interlinked capabilities, as being crucial to US leadership in major scientific areas.”

ATAP will play an important role in addressing grand challenges for science society in the coming decade and beyond. The division continues to advance the frontiers of fundamental science ranging from particle physics, to high energy density science, to photon sources and new laser technology. From these cutting edge techniques, we develop new capabilities ranging across security, medicine, and society. “The Division is well positioned to help address the challenges of carbon cycle and clean energy, ” Geddes says.

The quest for abundant fusion energy through magnetic fusion will require high-field magnets and advanced computation methods that the Division develops, and there is renewed interest in the inertial fusion energy alternative, which is historically an area of Division expertise. At the same time our light sources are critical for clean-energy research including development of solar materials and advanced batteries, while our compact particle sources can bring capabilities to the field for carbon cycle analysis and clean industry. ATAP is also a leader in modeling on the eve of the opportunities that exascale computing will open, and in applying the promising new technologies of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and feedback controls. “Across all these areas, ATAP research creates tools that enable discovery science and new capabilities for society, ” he adds.

The human element

Cameron has a long history of commitment to developing both the quality and the diversity of ATAP’s workforce. “I see IDEA [the Labwide commitment to inclusiveness, diversity, equity, and accountability] as integral to both our workplace climate and our scientific leadership,” he said, adding, “It’s critical that we bring the best people to the Lab from all backgrounds, break down barriers, and create a culture in which they can thrive. That benefits both our progress and our engagement with the communities that we serve.”

Cameron at Science Fair

Outreach to future colleagues: Cameron at the APS-DPP booth at the Oakland Unified School District science fair

He helped organize the recently established Pride Committee in APS-DPP, which envisions a scientific community that is open, welcoming, and supportive of all scientists within the gender and sexual-orientation minority communities, and has championed these issues as part of Berkeley Lab’s Lambda Alliance, an employee resource group for sexual-orientation and gender minority (SGM) members of our workplace.

Cameron’s plans to further our workplace progress include recruitment from and retention of under-represented groups, mentoring and training, and engaging IDEA experts (as he says, “most of us are not IDEA experts, but all of us are responsible for it — that’s the ‘A’ in IDEA”) from both within and outside the Lab, and also through our influence in the scientific community.

BELLA Center staff scientist Jeroen van Tilborg, who has led several of the Center’s initiatives, including a compact free-electron laser (FEL) based on a laser-plasma accelerator, will fill Geddes’s former position as the Center’s Deputy Director for Experiments.

Thomas Schenkel, who has served ATAP as Interim Director since January 2019, will resume full-time duties as head of ATAP’s Fusion Science and Ion Beam Technology Program. He is excited to pursue new opportunities in that diverse and highly collaborative program on themes of qubits, beams and fusion, including his work in the hardware foundations of approaches to quantum information science applications with spins and color centers.

“I leave the Division in good hands,” said Schenkel. “Cameron is impressive in both breadth and depth as a physicist, and also has interpersonal skills that will lead us to further success.”

“What we do all across ATAP is important to meeting the nation’s scientific needs,” said Cameron. “I’m excited to work with our talented staff, and our partners at other labs and universities, to build next-generation technologies and applications.”