KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dr. Thomas Zacharia, announced he will be retiring at the end of the year after serving 35 years at the nation’s largest science and energy laboratory.

Dr. Zacharia started at ORNL in 1987 as a postdoctoral researcher, but since then he has served in multiple leadership positions, including deputy for science and technology before being named ORNL’s director.

He began serving as director in July of 2017. During this time, he not only oversaw the lab’s $2.5 billion research portfolio and nearly 6,000 employees, but he also guided the lab through significant staff and portfolio growth, established new research initiatives and led the company through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his email to the ORNL staff, Dr. Zacharia said:

“I am very optimistic about ORNL’s future and in its pursuit of excellence—to be among the premier research institutions in the world. I am very proud that mission and service continue to define ORNL on the eve of its 80th anniversary. We are stewards of an amazing legacy, and there comes a time when we all must pass that responsibility along.”

“Thirty-five years at ORNL and five years as Lab Director is a long time. When people ask me what I will miss most, there is no doubt it is all of you. Our staff have always been our most distinguishing strength. During the difficult days—and we have had a few—I could count on you to roll up your sleeves, focus on solutions, and to get better. In my own times of struggle, your support carried me through. And in better times, I fed off your ideas, excitement, and passion.” Zacharia said.

In Dr. Zacharia’s directorship, the lab has made many developments including:

  • Continued deployment of a series of world-leading supercomputers; the latest, Frontier, broke the exascale barrier with a speed in excess of a quintillion calculations per second and premiered at No. 1 on the world TOP500 list in May.
  • Advanced world-leading neutron research through the Proton Power Upgrade at Spallation Neutron Source and launch of Second Target Station project.
  • Established and led critical multi-institutional research efforts, including the Exascale Computing Project, Quantum Science Center and Center for BioEnergy Innovation.
  • Partnered with the University of Tennessee to establish the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute to help develop the industries and workforce of the future.
  • Led the U.S. contributions to the international ITER project and launched the Materials Plasma Exposure Experiment to support development of fusion energy.
  • Invested in isotope research and production capabilities, including the Stable Isotope Production Facility and Stable Isotope Production and Research Center.
  • Focused attention on the application of science to national security challenges with creation of a new National Security Sciences Directorate. 

Other’s in the community also recognize the contributions of Dr. Zacharia.

“Dr. Thomas Zacharia has been an outstanding leader for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Over his long and distinguished career, the lab has seen many changes and evolutions. His contributions to the success of the lab are truly immeasurable. His retirement is well-deserved and I wish him the best of luck in all his future endeavors.” Lt. Governor Randy McNally said.