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New Argonne director has ‘outrageous’ goals, and jobs

Peter B. Littlewood 58 takes reins Argonne April 1.

Peter B. Littlewood, 58, takes the reins at Argonne on April 1.

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Updated: April 28, 2014 10:37AM



The new director of Argonne says the national laboratory near Lemont will play a key role as the Chicago area digs into Manufacturing 2.0.

“Chicago is a ‘sleeves-rolled-up’ town, and we make stuff for the future, so if there is going to be a manufacturing revolution, we think Chicago is the place to do it,” said Peter B. Littlewood, 58, who takes the reins at Argonne on April 1.

Littlewood, who came to Argonne from the University of Cambridge, has run Argonne’s fundamental science division for the past three years. He will succeed Eric D. Isaacs, who will become provost at the University of Chicago on March 31. The university manages Argonne.

Argonne’s focus on energy, transportation and sustainable technology has prompted the lab to work with Chicago’s 1871 tech hub, Chicago Innovation Exchange tech incubator, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Chicago Booth, and with local schools’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs, said Littlewood, who was hired under a five-year contract.

“Argonne is a magnet for scientists,” said Littlewood, who holds six patents, has published more than 200 articles in scientific journals and who teaches physics at U of C. “More than 1,000 Ph.D.s work there (at Argonne). But we are always short of talent and not just at the Ph.D. level. We need technicians and people with master’s and technical degrees. … We’d like people to understand what bright careers they could have (at Argonne).”

Littlewood will oversee several high-impact projects at Argonne, including an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source; building the world’s first “exascale” computer capable of 1 million trillion operations per second; guiding a new Center for Hierarchical Materials Design, and leading a $120 million, five-year effort to create new battery technology for transportation and the electric grid.

“We’re trying to design materials atom by atom,” Littlewood said. “The long-term goal is to make functional materials that might be used in batteries, solar cells or novel types of electronics — and understanding where to put every atom in a solid. It’s a more outrageous thing than (mapping) the human genome. It’s orders of magnitude.”



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