Contact: Paul Preuss, 510-486-6249

Berkeley, CA – Wim Leemans, a physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has won DOE’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for 2009. Leemans, cited for his breakthrough work with laser plasma accelerators, is one of six winners named this year by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

“The contributions made by these researchers to advance national, economic, and energy security of the United States are wide-ranging and meaningful,” said Secretary Chu in announcing the 2009 Lawrence Awards, named for Berkeley Lab’s founder. “I congratulate the winners and look forward to their discoveries still to come.”

Paul Alivisatos, Director of Berkeley Lab and himself a 2006 Lawrence Award winner, noted Leemans’s work on laser plasma accelerators as vitally important not only for the long-term future of accelerators but for medical and other important applications as well. “Wim’s leadership and scientific prowess typify the work that is done at Berkeley Lab and made possible by the DOE Office of Science National Laboratory complex. We’re proud to have Wim as a member of our community, and proud that his accomplishments have been recognized through the E. O. Lawrence Awards.”

Leemans, who heads the Laser Optical Systems Integrated Studies (LOASIS) Program in Berkeley Lab’s Accelerator and Fusion Research Division, said, “It’s a great honor to receive the Lawrence Award. My thanks go to the Department of Energy and the Laboratory for all their support that made my work possible, and to the past and present LOASIS team members for being on this joint voyage toward making laser-driven accelerators a reality.”

The Lawrence Awards are DOE’s highest honors and include a gold medal, a citation, and $50,000, which will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., early in 2010. The awards were established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1959, soon after the death of Ernest Lawrence, to honor the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the cyclotron, the forerunner of today’s particle accelerators.

Leemans, Berkeley Lab’s 28th recipient of the Lawrence Award, is uniquely qualified to carry on the Lawrence tradition of accelerator development. His award citation honors “his breakthrough work in developing the laser plasma wakefield accelerator from concept to demonstration, and his scientific leadership exploring its promise and unprecedented possibilities ranging from hyperspectral light sources to high energy colliders.”

A native of Belgium, Leemans received degrees in electrical engineering and applied physics from the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) in 1985, and his MS in 1987 and Ph.D in 1991 in electrical engineering, both from the University of California at Los Angeles. He joined Berkeley Lab in 1991.

As founder and leader of LOASIS, Leemans has not only been a pioneer in the concept of laser wakefield acceleration, with its promise of accelerating gradients up to 10,000 times as great as those in today’s conventional accelerators, but in a series of key advances has demonstrated that laser plasma accelerator technology is practical.

In 2004 the LOASIS team, using a unique focusing concept of plasma channels analogous to optical fibers, achieved high-quality electron beams of 80 million electron volts (80 MeV), a feat that was prominently displayed on the cover of the journal Nature. In 2006 LOASIS researchers garnered worldwide attention by using a plasma channel in a block of sapphire to demonstrate acceleration of high-quality electron beams to a billion electron volts (1 GeV) in a distance of just 3.3 centimeters.

With DOE support, Leemans and the LOASIS Program have now initiated the Petawatt Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator, BELLA, to accelerate a high-quality beam of electrons to 10 billion electron volts (10 GeV) in less than a meter. Primarily a research facility for investigating advanced accelerator concepts, the BELLA laser accelerator could also form the core of a user facility unlike any in the world for research in physics, chemistry, biology, and materials.

In addition to Leemans, the 2009 E. O. Lawrence Award winners are Sunney Xie of Harvard University; Joan F. Brennecke of the University of Notre Dame; Zhi-Xun Shen of the SLAC National Accelerator National Laboratory and Stanford University; Omar Hurricane of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and William Dorland of the University of Maryland.

Leemans’s previous honors include the American Physical Society’s Simon Ramo award for outstanding doctoral thesis research work in plasma physics and the 2005 US Particle Accelerator School Prize for Achievement in Accelerator Physics and Technology. Leemans is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); he was chair of the International Committee for Future Accelerators panel on Advanced and Novel Accelerators from 2000–2007 and was the co-recipient of the 1996 Klaus Halbach Award for X-ray Instrumentation. He is a member of the Department of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley and an adjunct professor in physics at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE’s Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at

Additional information

The DOE news release announcing the 2009 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award winners

More about BELLA and the principles of laser wakefield acceleration