Michael S Smith

Distinguished Scientist

Michael Smith is a Distinguished Scientist in the ORNL Physics Division, where he led the Experimental Astrophysics Group for 26 years. He is an APS Fellow and a winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest award given to young researchers in the United States. He has given over 600 presentations, and has over 190 refereed publications and over 3800 citations. 


The primary focus of Michael's research is in how stars explode and how the elements of our world are created in these explosions. He led an interdisciplinary effort using beams of radioactive subatomic nuclei, nuclear data assessments, and computer simulations to study some of the most energetic phenomena in the cosmos. He is Deputy Manager of the SECAR Project, a 12M$ experimental device under construction at Michigan State University that is specialized for the measurement of thermonuclear reactions that cause some stars to explode. Until recently, Michael was the elected Chairman of the 1400 member user group of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), the largest organization in low energy nuclear science in the U.S. He has pioneered and oversees 6 online software systems and websites that enable scientists from around the world to share their research results. 


Prior to coming to ORNL, he received an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Chicago, a Ph.D. from Yale University, and worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. He has won NNSA Joule Award and numerous ORNL awards including Scientific Paper of the Year, Science Communicator of the Year, Director's Award for Community Service, and Educational Champion. 


Michael has nearly three decades of experience in physics outreach, and currently serves on the APS Committee to Inform the Public. He has hosted teachers and students from Appalachia for summer research projects, helped design and staff a 40-foot traveling outreach trailer for the PSD that has exposed the fascination of physics to thousands of families, and has given over 150 outreach presentations in the US and abroad to groups of all ages. He has been featured on National Geographic's Naked Science TV show, the JASON science education project, and the Discovery Channel / Siemens STEM Online Academy. He collaborates with researchers from around the world and places a priority on mentoring students of all levels.