University of Rochester

New Laser Facility Dedicated to President Emeritus Robert L. Sproull

May 10, 2005

The University of Rochester will honor Robert L. Sproull, seventh president of the University, in a dedication ceremony on Wednesday, May 11, at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). The newest addition to the laboratory’s facilities, named Omega EP, will be officially named the Robert L. Sproull Center for Ultra High Intensity Laser Research. Sproull was instrumental in securing funding for the LLE during his administration, making the laboratory a leading center for laser research.

“This dedication is a fitting recognition of Bob Sproull’s legacy,” says President Thomas H. Jackson. “The science carried out at this facility, probing the very structure of the universe itself, honors Bob not only as a president, but as a physicist.”

“Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the conditions, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.’ Robert Sproull exemplified this Jeffersonian ideal throughout his entire career,” said Robert L. McCrory, Jr., director and CEO of the laboratory. “I believe that Bob Sproull’s ability to facilitate the conditions for education, particularly in the physical sciences by establishing centers and laboratories that could be used by researchers to advance knowledge, has served this nation and the University in an exemplary fashion.

“Bob's belief, supported by his actions as president, as a trustee, and as a member of the Trustees’ Visiting Committee for the Laboratory—that the Laboratory for Laser Energetics would become a famous and internationally recognized resource—has become a reality.”

Sproull first came to Rochester from Cornell University in 1968 as vice president and provost. An internationally known physicist, he had been a vice president at Cornell, where he distinguished himself for his commitment to undergraduate education, his strong interest in both the humanities and the sciences, and his insistence on excellence in faculty appointments. He had also served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, supporting a range of programs from nuclear test detection to computer networking. He was named president of Rochester in 1970 under Chancellor W. Allen Wallis, and the trustees voted in 1974 to make him the University’s chief executive officer.

The Sproull years saw strong growth and development in University programs. Under his leadership, the University conducted a $102 million campaign (which exceeded its goal) for endowment, scholarships, and library improvements. Wilson Commons, the new Strong Memorial Hospital, Cancer Center, and Zornow Sports Center were opened during his administration. While president, Sproull also served as a member or chairman of many governmental and industrial advisory boards, earning him and the University national recognition.

Sproull became president emeritus and honorary trustee in 1984. He continued to consult with a variety of associations and government agencies, including the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Department of Defense, where he had earlier served as chairman of the Defense Science Board. Since retirement he also has served as a trustee of the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture, as a board member of the George Marshall Institute, and has worked with the International Executive Service Corps.

The Laboratory for Laser Energetics is home to the world’s most powerful laser, Omega, which scientists from around the nation utilize in their quest to develop nuclear fusion as a reliable energy source. Fusion is the nuclear process that powers stars, and unlike nuclear fission that is used in current nuclear power generation, fusion is non-polluting and its fuel, hydrogen derived from seawater, is nearly inexhaustible.

First opened in 1970, the facility has undergone a number of upgrades in the past to keep it the foremost fusion-testing platform in the world. Its laser currently releases more than 100 times the total power output of the nation in a billionth of a second, serving a particularly crucial role as the nation’s main fusion program while the U.S. Department of Energy builds the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

The new 82,000-square foot Sproull Center will extend Omega to a “petawatt” facility, meaning the laser will produce 1 million billion watts of power. The extended performance facility will allow LLE to continue at the cutting edge of fusion science by making new experiments possible, such as modeling the very young universe, understanding the quantum world and studying relativistic laser-matter interactions. The enhanced facility would also test a new concept called a “fast ignitor,” which may be able to dramatically increase the energy derived from a fusion target, providing a possible new avenue toward clean, renewable fusion power. The new laser is scheduled to begin operation in 2007.

More than 161 students have received their Ph.D. degrees from the University based on work at the laboratory.