From the invention of a fuze that helped win World War II to the launch of a science probe now chasing a huge rock around the sun, the Applied Physics Laboratory¹s greatest resource has been neither funding nor equipment nor its sprawling 365-acre campus, Gary Smith says.
It's the people, he says.
"I think the lab's people are very special," says Smith, APL's director since 1992.
APL people subscribe to a culture of integrity, commitment, teamwork and respect, he says. They also dedicate themselves to their neighbors, he says, contributing enormously of their time and financial resources to United Way and many other nonprofit organizations.
Smith announced last week he will soon leave that APL community and culture, stepping down June 30 after nearly three decades at the laboratory and Johns Hopkins.
Smith, 63, has overseen a transformation of the laboratory since the end of the Cold War. Founded to develop the proximity fuze that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower later wrote played a critical role in the Allied victory in World War II, APL in its first 50 years was almost exclusively a research and development resource for the Defense Department, funded through the Navy.
Under Smith, the lab has maintained its close association with the military but also greatly diversified, expanding efforts in, for instance, space science. Its NEAR probe is now closing in on a rock called Eros to effect the first orbital rendezvous with an asteroid; the APL-built, Hopkins-operated FUSE satellite awaits launch later this year; and NASA recently announced that APL is a finalist for funding for a spacecraft that would study the interaction between Earth's atmosphere and nearby space.
Smith's remaking of APL has also included greater involvement in transportation research, biomedical instrumentation and other areas. A just-completed strategic plan envisions new relationships with commercial and industrial research sponsors and efforts to increase the lab's social impact by commercializing its technological breakthroughs.
"Gary Smith has done an outstanding job of stewarding the laboratory through years of cutbacks in defense spending after a decade or more of growth," says William R. Brody, president of the university. "Today, APL has become stronger than ever, both through diversifying its base of contractors and by creating innovative new programs. Gary leaves the lab in excellent shape."
Smith joined APL in 1970 and was named to his first management position in the laboratory's Strategic Systems Department in 1975. In 1978, he was elected to APL's principal professional staff, becoming assistant supervisor in the Submarine Technology Department the following year. He was named an assistant director of the laboratory in 1989, became associate director in 1991 and succeeded retiring director Carl O. Bostrom in July 1992.
Smith says that changes in defense policy and in federal science and technology policy generally have been stressful for the lab and its staff but that APL has "worked through those changes successfully."
"We have as strong a relationship as ever with our sponsors, with the operating forces of the military, with the fleet, with the policy-level personnel in many government agencies, with the Congress and with our local communities in Howard County and the region," he says. "The relationships and the regard for the lab in all those areas are as high as they have ever been."
Smith earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in physics from the University of California at Davis. Trained as a nuclear physicist, he spent his initial years at APL working on the theoretical and experimental research on the detectability of submerged submarines.
He has been dedicated to community service, particularly the United Way, serving in leadership roles in both the Howard County and Central Maryland United Way organizations. He is president of the board of directors of Leadership Howard County and is a board member of the Columbia Foundation, the Howard County Community Health Foundation and the Maryland Science Center. He also serves on the Howard Community College Commission on the Future.
Smith said this move will give him and his wife, Claire, more time with their three married children and 11--soon to be 12--grandchildren.
A national search for a successor to Smith as director of APL will begin soon, Brody says.
APL, established in 1942, has been a division of Hopkins since 1948. It is one of Howard County's leading employers, with a budget of more than $430 million and a staff of approximately 2,750, more than 60 percent of them engineers and scientists.