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In Memoriam: Neville Smith, Advanced Light Source Scientific Director

BERKELEY, CA — Neville Smith, scientific director for the Advanced Light Source of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and a leading authority in the field of photoemission spectroscopy, died at his home in Berkeley of cancer on August 18, 2006. He was 64.

Neville Smith spacer image
Neville Smith

A native of England with a Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge University, Smith came to the United States in 1966. After doing post-doctoral research at Stanford University under photoemission spectroscopy pioneer William Spicer, Smith joined the staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. There he spent the next 25 years carving a name for himself in the use of x-rays to study the electronic structure of solids and surfaces. In 1991 he was awarded the prestigious Davisson-Germer Prize of the American Physical Society for his contributions to the development of momentum-resolved photoemission spectroscopy.

Smith returned to the Bay Area in 1994, when he was named by then Berkeley Lab director Charles Shank to be the first scientific program head of the Advanced Light Source (ALS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national user facility that is one of the world’s premier sources of x-ray beams for scientific research. Under his leadership, the ALS scientific program has thrived.

“It is not the number of warm bodies on the floor but the quality of science produced that is the true measure of a user facility’s success,” Smith once said. During his tenure as scientific director, the number of scientific users of the ALS grew from a few hundred to several thousand.

Smith’s death was unexpected and took his friends and colleagues by surprise.

Said Berkeley Lab director and Nobel laureate Steven Chu, who also was a member of the scientific staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories, “The sudden, tragic loss of Neville Smith is a great blow to the ALS and to the entire synchrotron community. He was a distinguished scientist who, in his quiet and unassuming way, played a crucial role in building the quality of the scientific program of the ALS into the stellar program that it is today.”

Patricia Dehmer, who became the Associate Director of Science for DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, the principal funding agency of the ALS, not long after Smith came to Berkeley, knew Smith as both a colleague and a friend.

“As its scientific director, Neville shepherded the Advanced Light Source to international prominence making it one of the most scientifically productive and important facilities in the world,” said Dehmer. “Moreover, his wisdom, maturity, innovativeness, and diplomacy made him a leader in thenational and international light source community. He was a good friend to everyone, particularly those of us in the Department of Energy. We will miss him very much.”Smith’s ALS colleagues remembered him for his personal warmth as well as for his scientific leadership and expertise.

Said interim ALS director Janos Kirz, “Neville was a dear friend over the last 25 years. He was respected and liked by the entire synchrotron radiation community for his solid scientific judgment, and his fine sense of humor. His passing is an enormous loss.”

Ben Feinberg, deputy director of the ALS and another long-time colleague had this to say. “Neville and I worked together closely from the time he first started at the Lab. The ALS and I, personally, will miss him as a friend and confidant, and for his clear, insightful, and playful approach to both scientific and organizational challenges.”

Smith had continued his own scientific research throughout his tenure as ALS scientific director. At the time of his death, he held an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship that sponsored a research collaboration with colleagues at the BESSY II synchrotron light source in Berlin.Smith is survived by his wife Elizabeth (Betsy), two daughters, Katherine (Kaci), and Elizabeth (Libby), a daughter-in-law, Arin, and a sister Kathleen France, who lives in England. There will be no funeral, but a memorial service to celebrate Smith’s life will be held later in the fall.