One-on-One with Adam Schwartz


Kenzi Mongar/Iowa State Daily

Adam Schwartz is the director of Ames Laboratory on campus. During his first month, he’s overseen a ground breaking for a new project, the first new building in 21 years. 

Adam Schwartz is the new director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. Schwartz was a materials scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California before he came to Iowa State and has done research with plutonium aging.

Can you take us through what a typical day is like as a director for the U.S. Department of Energy?

I start off by coming in early. I like to come in usually by 7 a.m. and some mornings I don’t even turn the lights on because the sun is coming in and it’s so beautiful. On cloudy days, I kind of have to turn the lights on and I take the first little bit of time before others come in to catch up on emails and communications that have come in from the night before, and a lot of this is maybe requests from the Department of Energy headquarters from Washington — or for example, this week we’re preparing for national laboratory directors council meeting which is [July 15] and [16]. One exciting thing about being the national laboratory director is that you get to have the ear of the secretary of energy and this is the opportunity for the national lab directors to meet with the secretary and provide comments and feedback about where the national laboratories are and where we should be going, so next week is the lab directors will just get together and prepare for the meeting two to three weeks later with the secretary of energy, so I take some time in the mornings to think while it’s still quiet and get the thoughts together. Most of my days so far have been out and about meeting people, so I will spend some time on campus particularly over in Beardshear. Yesterday, I met with President Leath and we talked about my first month on the job, any sort of issues I’ve been having, the vision for the laboratory and how the lab can help the university and how the university can help the laboratory and other parts of the day we will meet with Ames lab executive council.

How long has it been since becoming director?

[I] started a month ago and my first week we had a very exciting ground breaking. The sensitive instrument facility will be a new building on the applied sciences complex — it’ll be the first new building in Ames Lab history in about 21 years and first new research building in over 50 years. The idea is we will do a lot of materials research, synthesis and processing and an extensive amount of characterization. 

When do you estimate should this building be ready?

Planning by summer of 2015. The rains have slowed us down a bit.

How do you think the new laboratory will impact Iowa State in science and technology?

There is an outstanding department on the university campus of materials science and engineering. Having access to state of the art equipment means we will be training students in top of the line characterization and the research being done both at university and here will be that much better because of the equipment that we will be bringing in.

Aside from science, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Being with family. We love the outdoors, so hikes and walks with the dog, looking forward to exploring parts of central Iowa and branching out. This weekend, we’re thinking about going to Ledges State Park, but I’ve been warned the lower part of the ledges may not be open because of the flooding lately. Personally, when I have time and after some transitional period here in Iowa, I build both electric and acoustic guitars.

Do you like to play guitars too?

Ha, well given the choice of building or playing, I choose building every time

If you had to choose your favorite song what would it be?

I would say almost anything by Imagine Dragons is up there and I also like Ed Sheeran. He has a very interesting new song called “Sing.” It’s quite different for him.

Do you know how to play those specific songs?

On a good day, I might be able to learn the introduction so I may be able to fingerpick or strum and people often recognize the first 10 bars but after that I tend not to pursue it any longer.

Do you remember when you first discovered your love of science?

Ever since I was really small I built things and growing up I would find pieces of wood and I would just make things. The way my brain is wired I see spacial relationships and three dimensions really well so I was destined to be an engineer from birth. It’s amazing how life just happens and you end up who you are. Once I was in engineering, everything started to fall into place with the thinking of it all and the way I think. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. To me, everything is about materials. I look around and I see great applications and science.