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Persis Drell to give keynote address at medical school diploma ceremony

Physicist and university provost Persis Drell will be the keynote speaker at this year’s medical school’s graduation ceremony.

Persis Drell

Stanford Provost Persis Drell, PhD, the James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor and professor of physics and of materials science and engineering, will be this year’s keynote speaker at the School of Medicine’s diploma ceremony.  

The ceremony will be held from 1-3 p.m. June 15 on Alumni Green, next to the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. No tickets are required.

Drell is a physicist who has served on the Stanford faculty since 2002. She is the former dean of the Stanford School of Engineering and former director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford.

Drell earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Wellesley College in 1977 and a PhD in atomic physics from the University of California-Berkeley in 1983. She then switched her research focus to high-energy experimental physics and worked as a postdoctoral scholar at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She joined the physics faculty at Cornell University in 1988.

In 2002, Drell joined the Stanford faculty as a professor and director of research at SLAC. In her early years there, she worked on the construction of the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. She was named SLAC’s deputy director in 2005 and its director in 2007. She led the 1,600-employee national lab until 2012 and is credited with helping broaden the focus of the laboratory, increasing collaborations between SLAC and the main Stanford campus and overseeing transformational projects.

Among the projects Drell oversaw was the transition of SLAC from being a laboratory dedicated primarily to research in high-energy physics to one that is now seen as a leader in a number of scientific disciplines. In 2010, the laboratory began operating its Linac Coherent Light Source. LCLS is the world’s most powerful X-ray free electron laser, which is revolutionizing the study of the atomic and molecular world.

After serving as the director of SLAC, Drell returned to research and teaching at Stanford, focusing her research on technology development for free electron lasers and particle astrophysics. 

In 2014, Drell was named the dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, where she catalyzed a collaborative, schoolwide process, known as the SoE-Future process, to explore the future of engineering education and research.

She became university provost on Feb. 1, 2017.

In addition to her administrative responsibilities, Drell teaches a winter-quarter companion course to introductory physics each year for undergraduate students who had limited exposure to the subject in high school.

Drell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a fellow of the American Physical Society. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Drell is married to SLAC accelerator physicist James Welch, PhD. They have three children.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

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