Yale physics professor named Deputy Director and Chief Research Officer of Fermilab

Professor Bonnie Fleming of the Yale Physics Department is leaving to become Chief Research Officer and Associate Director at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Akash Chakka & Valentina Simon

9:05 p.m., September 22, 2022

Contributing Reporter & Staff Reporter

Courtesy of Fermilab Creative Services

Yale physics professor Bonnie Fleming is leaving the university after 18 years to head the research department of the country’s leading laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research.

Fleming, a faculty member and research scientist in Yale’s physics department, has been appointed associate director and chief research officer of the US Department of Energy Fermi National Accelerator Laboratorylocated outside of Chicago, Illinois.

She will hold a joint professorship in physics at the University of Chicago, where she will continue her research on the Liquid Argon Time Projection Chamber. Fleming has been involved with Fermilab experiments since 1997, but is now transitioning from a research-oriented role to a managerial role within the organization.

“I’ll still be involved with neutrinos, but play a different role,” Fleming told the news.

The new position includes managing research at the accelerator complex, scientific computing, work on particle physics at the Large Hadron Collider and advancing new quantum science efforts at Fermilab.

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Fleming’s research career was defined by the study of neutrinos, which are small elementary particles with near-zero mass and zero electrical charge. She is now expanding her role from a collaborator on neutrino-focused projects to leading all of the lab’s research in the field of particle physics.

One of the challenges she faces in this new role is executing the DUNE Project, the largest particle physics project ever in the US. DUNE will stretch from Illinois-based Fermilab to South Dakota to detect minute differences in neutrino and antineutrino oscillations in hopes of determining how matter was produced in the early Universe. DUNE is scheduled to complete construction by 2029.

Fleming’s involvement in neutrino research and her collaboration with Fermilab through the DUNE and MicroBooNE projects shaped her time at Yale.

“DR. Fleming has had a broad impact on the faculty,” Karsten Heeger, chair of Yale’s physics department, wrote to the News Developing these detectors at the new Wright Lab, where she recently served as Director of Graduate Studies and helped guide the program through the pandemic.”

Eighteen years ago, when Fleming first came to Yale, she founded Science research for girls, a program designed to motivate middle school-age girls to pursue science careers. The program continues at Yale under the direction of Rona Ramos, Associate Professor in the Physics Department.

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Fleming hopes to further advance girls’ science education through programs at Fermilab and possibly the University of Chicago. In fact, Fleming’s involvement with the Girls’ Scientific Salon as a Fermilab Lederman Fellow was the catalyst for Girls’ Science Investigations.

At Yale, Fleming conducted research on neutrino detection mechanisms. Liquid argon time projection chambers, originally prototyped in Europe, were brought to the United States for the first time by Fleming’s lab in 2007.

The devices have since been integrated into both the MicroBooNE and DUNE experiments due to their incredible precision in detecting neutrino oscillations. Fleming will continue her neutrino research at the University of Chicago as a professor in the physics department.

Peter Littlewood, Chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago, is excited to welcome Fleming to the university’s physics community.

“The fact that liquid argon detectors are the detectors of choice is very much driven by Fleming and all of her research,” Littlewood said. “Having this program here is huge for us. Accelerator based neutrino physics is the most important thing being pushed by the US high energy community. Having this work here places our department at the center of some very exciting decades of research in this field.”

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The particle physics community is currently in the midst of a planning process that occurs every decade with the Critical P5 Process Subpanel, a conference designed to advise US investment in particle physics.

Scientists are gathering to question the future of US-based and international particle physics, and the sub-panel will soon be holding meetings for several months. With Fermilab involved in these discussions, Fleming will be at the forefront of new projects that emerge from the discussion.

Fleming described her role as “a real eye-opener in terms of the breath of science that encompasses the lab’s mission”.

Fleming began her role as Fermilab’s Chief Research Officer and Associate Director on September 6, 2022.


Valentina Simon covers stories from the fields of astronomy, computer science and engineering. She is a freshman at Timothy Dwight College majoring in Data Science and Statistics.

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