When Ernest Lawrence, Berkeley Lab's founder, originated "team science"
in the 1930s, he showed that the best way to solve big scientific problems
was to get scientists and engineers to work together.
In the same spirit Joe Jaklevic, a physicist in the Engineering Division,
has come up with ways to tackle many pressing problems from nuclear
proliferation to air quality to protein structures. "Berkeley
Lab is special that way, a highly collaborative environment where scientists
and engineers work together on important problems."
"crystal robot" grows crystals of a novel protein automatically,
by screening 480 different growth solutions at once.
Jaklevic grew up in "the smaller Kansas City" (the one in Kansas),
where he was good at math but says he "wasn't the science-fair type."
Teachers at Rockhurst College, a Jesuit liberal arts institution, inspired
his enthusiasm for physics, and he went on to get his doctorate in nuclear
physics from the University of Notre Dame. In 1967 he became a postdoctoral
fellow in Berkeley Lab's Nuclear Science Division, working with gamma-ray
detectors at the 88-Inch Cyclotron.
"I was able to work with outstanding engineers, and I realized my
strengths lay more on the experimental side than the theoretical. When
I got the chance to move to the Engineering Division, I jumped at it."
There Jaklevic undertook a diverse range of projects, including detectors
for environmental monitoring. "Last year the EPA retired an air sampler
and analyzer that we built for them 25 years ago it was still taking
data, but it finally broke, so we're going to build them a new one."
Early in 1987, in what would prove to be another career-changing experience,
Jaklevic attended a conference on automation for sequencing the human
genome, organized by the Department of Energy. Other national laboratories
had bigger biology projects, but Berkeley Lab's instrumentation expertise
(and the fact that it does no weapons work) led to a leading role in the
Human Genome Project.
Jaklevic and his colleagues became pioneers in combining robotics and
instrumentation for biology. They constructed the first "full-blown"
capillary sequencer, the kind of high-throughput technology now standard
in gene sequencing facilities plus many other devices that create,
identify, or analyze large biological molecules.
"My career has always forced me to learn new science, from nuclear
science to the environment to genomes to proteins," says Jaklevic.
"I feel like I've been working on a Ph.D. every day for the last
As much as the scientific challenges, he values his colleagues. "Team
effort is as important as personal achievement here. What I've been able
to do is a reflection of Berkeley Lab's engineering environment."