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National science leader and Toledo native to deliver UT commencement address Dec. 15

The head of the nation’s oldest and one of its most prestigious laboratories will return home, as Toledo native Michael Witherell is set to deliver the address during The University of Toledo’s undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday, Dec. 15.

Witherell, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) in Berkeley, Calif., will address 1,474 candidates for degrees, including 1,437 bachelor’s and 37 associate’s candidates. The event will take place at 11:30 a.m. in Savage Arena on Main Campus.

Witherell

UT’s graduate commencement ceremony is scheduled at 8 a.m. in Savage Arena and will commemorate 641 candidates for doctoral, education specialist and master’s degrees, as well as graduate certificates. Md Kamal Hossain, emerging cancer researcher and candidate for a doctoral degree at the University, will be the speaker.

Both ceremonies are open to the public and can be viewed live on the UT Views website.

Witherell, a distinguished physicist, educator and science leader, developed the foundation for his future at Toledo’s St. Francis de Sales High School. Salutatorian at age 15, he earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan and a doctorate in experimental physics from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After a distinguished career as a university professor performing research in particle physics, he devoted himself to leading large research institutions.

In 2016, Witherell was named director of Berkeley Lab, the oldest of the 17 labs in the
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories systems. Berkeley Lab is a global leader in fundamental and applied scientific research in physical, biological, energy, computing and environmental sciences. The lab’s employees have earned 13 Nobel Prizes and played a role in the discovery of 16 elements on the periodic table, among its honors. The lab is managed for the DOE by the University of California.

“Our mission at Berkeley Lab is solving the nation’s most challenging problems through great scientific and technological discoveries. I believe that the national assets in addressing these problems include public universities and the students whom they are educating,” Witherell said.

Before joining Berkeley Lab, Witherell spent six years as director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. He was vice chancellor for research at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where he also held a presidential chair in the Physics Department.

His primary research interest is in studying the nature of dark matter. He was a contributor to the LUX experiment, which in 2016 published the most sensitive search for interactions of dark matter particles with normal matter. He is now part of an international research team that is building a successor to LUX, known as LZ, which will be three orders of magnitude more sensitive. Data collection is expected to start in 2020.

Witherell is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He chairs the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies and serves on the National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy.

“As a nationally recognized, public research university, The University of Toledo is pleased to have Dr. Witherell as our fall commencement speaker. Research not only helps us to discover new knowledge that advances all areas of study, but also instills critical thinking skills that our students can use to approach problems systematically and come up with solutions that improve everyday life,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “We look forward to Dr. Witherell sharing his insights with our graduates, especially since he grew up in Toledo and has since made tremendous contributions through research.”

Witherell’s personal success can be traced back to the Glass City, as well. He and his wife, Elizabeth Hall Witherell, head of the Princeton Edition of Henry Thoreau’s writings, grew up in the same west Toledo neighborhood and were high school sweethearts. They have a daughter, Lily.

“The foundation for my career and life was my extended family in Toledo,” Witherell said. “Their support and the value they put on education and public service were central to my personal and professional development.”

Hossain

Hossain, the graduate ceremony speaker, is a native of Dhaka, Bangladesh, who came to UT as an industrial pharmacist with a passion to develop innovative medicines.

“I’ve always been interested in studying health-related fields due to the suffering of people in my homeland from different types of disease,” Hossain said. “My focus is to develop a specific targeting approach for a more effective cancer vaccine. My research examined the utilization of a natural antibody already present in human serum that makes the vaccine more convenient to target tumor cells.”

He is a candidate for a doctor of philosophy degree in medicinal chemistry in UT’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

UT’s fall commencement ceremonies will recognize graduates from the colleges of Arts and Letters; Business and Innovation; Judith Herb College of Education; Engineering; Graduate Studies; Health and Human Services; Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; and University College.

The College of Law will host its commencement ceremony Sunday, May 5, at 1 p.m. in the Thompson Student Union Auditorium. Later that week — Friday, May 10, at
4 p.m. — the College of Medicine and Life Sciences will hold its commencement ceremony in Savage Arena.

For more information, visit the UT commencement website.