Former SLAC Director Persis Drell named dean of Stanford Engineering

L.A. Cicero Persis Drell

Physics Professor Persis Drell will become the next dean of Stanford's School of Engineering.

Persis Drell, former director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, will be the next dean of the Stanford University School of Engineering, President John Hennessy announced today.

Drell, 58, is a professor of physics in the School of Humanities and Sciences and of particle physics and astrophysics at SLAC. She led the 1,600-employee U.S. Department of Energy SLAC laboratory at Stanford from 2007 through 2012.

Drell will succeed Jim Plummer, who is stepping down after 15 years as dean, the longest tenure in the school's history. Drell will become the ninth dean of the School of Engineering since its inception in 1925 and will be the first woman to serve in that role. Her appointment is effective Sept. 1.

"Persis Drell is an accomplished researcher who has demonstrated expert leadership in guiding innovation in science and technology," Hennessy said. "She created a true renaissance at SLAC. Her skills at managing research teams that cross many disciplines, and in promoting an academic environment that advances discovery, make her a perfect choice to guide one of the world's leading schools of engineering. I am extremely pleased that she has accepted the role."

Drell said she looks forward to the new role.

"The Stanford School of Engineering is an extraordinarily successful school with unbounded future opportunities," Drell said. "That the school is leading innovation in such a wide array of engineering disciplines, combined with the potential for its discoveries to solve global challenges, is incredibly exciting. I am pleased to be given the opportunity to support and work with the outstanding faculty, staff, students and alumni to chart a path to that future."

During Drell's tenure as director, SLAC transitioned from being a laboratory dedicated primarily to research in high-energy physics to one that is now seen as a leader in a number of scientific disciplines. In 2010, the laboratory began operations of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the world's most powerful X-ray free electron laser, which is revolutionizing our ability to study the atomic and molecular world as it performs basic scientific research and drives applications in energy and environmental sciences, drug development and materials engineering.

Drell is credited with increasing collaborations between SLAC and the main Stanford campus, including substantially increasing the number of joint faculty appointments between SLAC and the schools. She supported the Dean of Research to develop shared academic resources such as the new SLAC data center. Drell also attracted significant new resources to rebuild and renovate the SLAC physical plant, including lab renovations, new buildings and new infrastructure to support science.

Members of the search committee were impressed with Drell's extensive record as both a distinguished researcher and an administrator, according to committee chair Richard Luthy, the Silas H. Palmer Professor of Civil Engineering.

"Persis Drell is not only an accomplished scholar, but the search committee was impressed by her openness and personal qualities," Luthy said. "Persis is ideally suited to help sustain the school's top-ranked reputation, as well as to position the school within the university to address the toughest problems facing our society in the future."

Drell received her bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from Wellesley College in 1977. She received her doctorate in atomic physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1983. She then switched to high-energy experimental physics and worked as a postdoctoral scientist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She joined the faculty of the Physics Department at Cornell University in 1988. In 2000, she became head of the Cornell high-energy group; in 2001, she was named deputy director of Cornell's Laboratory of Nuclear Studies.

In 2002, Drell accepted a position as professor and director of research at SLAC and worked on the construction of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. She became deputy director of the lab in 2005 and in 2007 was named director at SLAC. Drell returned to the Stanford faculty in October 2012. Her current research activities are in technology development for free electron laser science and particle astrophysics.

Drell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. Among her current responsibilities, she serves as co-chair of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board.

Drell has a long association with Stanford. She grew up on the Stanford campus and is the daughter of Professor Emeritus Sidney Drell, an eminent theorist, arms control expert, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, longtime member of the SLAC faculty and, for many years, deputy director of SLAC.

Stanford School of Engineering enrolls about 5,300 students and has more than 240 faculty members, including 130 national and international academy and society members. All nine of the school's departments are ranked in the top five nationally. The school has more than 80 labs, centers and affiliate programs involving students in research. Stanford Engineering has been at the forefront of innovation for nearly a century, creating pivotal technologies that have transformed the worlds of information technology, communications, health care, energy, business and beyond. For more information, see

Lisa Lapin, University Communications: (650) 725-8396,

Jamie Beckett, School of Engineering: (650) 736-2241,