Jose Alonso, director, Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, Homestake, South Dakota

When a family friend gave then high-school student Jose Alonso a tour of the particle accelerators at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, California, Alonso knew his career would be in physics. See CV

Alonso got his PhD in nuclear physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and began his career as a junior researcher at Yale University working for a professor with strong ties to the LBNL. It wasn't long before he jumped at the chance to return to the LBNL. There, he and his wife Carol were part of the team that discovered the element seaborgium.

Alonso's evolution into an accelerator physicist reached a pivotal point when he began to explore new applications for accelerators. “Ferreting out different uses for these machines and interfacing with new communities has become a passion during my career,” he says.

His first high-profile project was the Bevalac, a linear accelerator addition to an existing Bevatron accelerator at the LBNL. The Bevalac accelerated relativistic heavy ions used in both nuclear science and radiation therapy. Once newer machines made the Bevalac obsolete in 1993, Alonso turned his attention to the materials-science community's desire for an accelerator-based neutron source. The subsequent Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee combined resources and collaborators spread out across six US national labs, and Alonso became its coordinator.

Alonso officially retired from the LBNL in 2002, but continued to take part in projects including the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. Now that the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, is to become a deep-underground science and engineering laboratory, Alonso is heading the effort to reopen the mine and set up the first experiments.

“It's almost as if my career has been leading up to this,” says Alonso. His greatest challenge may be managing the expectations of the various scientists. Particle physicists need the overlying rock to act as a shield while they search for rare neutron decay events, but geochemists want to probe it for chemical clues of life's origin. “Jose strives for consensus approaches to grow a broad base of support,” says Kem Robinson, LBNL engineering-division director and long-time mentor. Communication, Alonso agrees, is the hardest part of large-scale physics experiments — a skill he has honed throughout his career.


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Gewin, V. Jose Alonso, director, Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, Homestake, South Dakota. Nature 450, 918 (2007).

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