When Ernest Lawrence, Berkeley Lab's founder, originated "team science" in the 1930s, he showed that the best way to solve big scientific problems was to get scientists and engineers to work together.

In the same spirit Joe Jaklevic, a physicist in the Engineering Division, has come up with ways to tackle many pressing problems — from nuclear proliferation to air quality to protein structures. "Berkeley Lab is special that way, a highly collaborative environment where scientists and engineers work together on important problems."

 

The "crystal robot" grows crystals of a novel protein automatically, by screening 480 different growth solutions at once.

Jaklevic grew up in "the smaller Kansas City" (the one in Kansas), where he was good at math but says he "wasn't the science-fair type." Teachers at Rockhurst College, a Jesuit liberal arts institution, inspired his enthusiasm for physics, and he went on to get his doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Notre Dame. In 1967 he became a postdoctoral fellow in Berkeley Lab's Nuclear Science Division, working with gamma-ray detectors at the 88-Inch Cyclotron.

"I was able to work with outstanding engineers, and I realized my strengths lay more on the experimental side than the theoretical. When I got the chance to move to the Engineering Division, I jumped at it."

There Jaklevic undertook a diverse range of projects, including detectors for environmental monitoring. "Last year the EPA retired an air sampler and analyzer that we built for them 25 years ago — it was still taking data, but it finally broke, so we're going to build them a new one."

Early in 1987, in what would prove to be another career-changing experience, Jaklevic attended a conference on automation for sequencing the human genome, organized by the Department of Energy. Other national laboratories had bigger biology projects, but Berkeley Lab's instrumentation expertise (and the fact that it does no weapons work) led to a leading role in the Human Genome Project.

Jaklevic and his colleagues became pioneers in combining robotics and instrumentation for biology. They constructed the first "full-blown" capillary sequencer, the kind of high-throughput technology now standard in gene sequencing facilities — plus many other devices that create, identify, or analyze large biological molecules.

"My career has always forced me to learn new science, from nuclear science to the environment to genomes to proteins," says Jaklevic. "I feel like I've been working on a Ph.D. every day for the last 40 years."

As much as the scientific challenges, he values his colleagues. "Team effort is as important as personal achievement here. What I've been able to do is a reflection of Berkeley Lab's engineering environment."

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Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory