Doon Gibbs is currently the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Brookhaven is a multi-program U.S. Department of Energy laboratory with nearly 3,000 employees, more than 4,000 facility users each year, and an annual budget of about $600 million.
Brookhaven Lab’s largest facilities include the National Synchrotron Light Source II, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials – some of the finest research instruments in the world.
Doon was born in Illinois, where his father was a post doc, but grew up in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah. His father, Peter Gibbs, was a prominent physics professor at the U, and his mother, Miriam, was a school teacher at Wasatch Elementary in the Avenues district. The family home was just off First Avenue and Virginia Street, only a few blocks from campus.
Doon and his younger siblings, Victoria and Nicholas, attended East High School. Upon graduation, Doon moved to Portland to attend Reed College, a private liberal arts school. After two years, he returned to Utah and enrolled at the U. He worked on campus as a writer and reporter with The Daily Utah Chronicle, the University’s student newspaper.
“I tried just about everything else except physics in school,” says Gibbs. “But, there was one physics course that sounded intriguing. It was Gale Dick’s entry-level class, ‘Physics for Poets.’ I signed up for summer semester 1974. Despite my best efforts to not do exactly what my dad did, I found that physics was totally compelling.”
Additional physics and math classes soon followed. He changed his major to Mathematics in 1975, added a Physics major in 1976 and graduated with both degrees in 1977. He was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.
Although his father was a well known professor of physics at the U, and chairman of the department from 1967-1976, Doon didn’t take a single class from his dad.
“Well, I got physics lessons from my dad every day, but it was usually at home on the front porch or in the kitchen,” says Gibbs. “I didn’t get any college credit.” He chuckles.
Doon pursued a Master’s degree in physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, ironically, the same school at which his father had been a post doc. He stayed at Illinois to complete a doctorate degree in condensed matter physics in 1982 – the same field as his dad, although Doon is an experimenter and his father is a theorist. During this time, his research interests focused on the utilization of synchrotron radiation to perform spectroscopy of surfaces.
After graduate school, Doon found an entry-level job as an assistant physicist. The place was Brookhaven National Laboratory. The year was 1983.
At Brookhaven, he specialized in condensed matter physics and X-ray magnetic scattering and was promoted to a senior physicist in 2000.
In 2003, Gibbs was honored with the Advanced Photon Source Arthur H. Compton Award “for pioneering theoretical and experimental work in resonant X-ray magnetic scattering, which has led to many important applications in condensed matter physics.”
He was named Deputy Laboratory Director for Science and Technology in 2007.
By 2010, Gibbs’ management experiences at Brookhaven included the positions of Group Leader of X-ray Scattering, Associate and Deputy Chair of Physics, Head of Condensed Matter Physics, Interim Director of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and Associate Laboratory Director for Basic Energy Sciences.
“A science background is a great preparation for an increasingly complex world. The ability to analyze and creatively solve complicated problems is a wonderful advantage,” says Gibbs.
Gibbs was instrumental in overseeing the design and construction of Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, and has played a significant role in advancing other major Lab projects including the National Synchrotron Light Source II and the Interdisciplinary Science Building. He has also overseen the growth of Brookhaven’s basic energy sciences programs in chemistry, materials science, nanoscience, and condensed matter physics.
“Brookhaven is moving in new and exciting directions,” says Gibbs. “In the next decade, we hope to expand our nuclear and particle physics efforts to build a next-generation electron-ion collider, among other projects. In general, national labs develop and use science and technology to address critical issues such as energy security, national and nuclear security and environmental clean-up.”
Doon met his wife, Teri Barbero, on a blind date in New York City. “We went to a cool Indian restaurant in midtown,” recalls Gibbs. “We were inseparable after that, and were married about a year later.”
The couple lives in Setauket, New York. They have two sons, Theo, 20, and Alex, 18. The family enjoys skiing, soccer, and backyard barbecues.
Doon visits Utah on occasion to visit friends and family. His father is always ready with a physics lesson for the youngster.