Will Hutcheson has been problem solving since childhood—a necessity growing up on a farm. Playing college football cemented his appreciation for cohesive teams, a mindset that has served him well at Berkeley Lab, the home of team science. Learn more about his vision for the ALS.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up on a farm in Wyoming, and on the farm, you learn to problem solve—the old baling wire and bubblegum mentality. I know about how many strands of baling wire you need to keep a piece of equipment together so you can weld it. Problem solving was my main thing, and being an engineer helps me do that.
In college, I interned at NASA in the summers and played football at the University of Wyoming. I’ve worked at commercial places, Lawrence Livermore, and now Berkeley Lab, and I really appreciate the notion of team science. I think it comes with that team sport mentality that everyone contributes. Everybody has a role and a responsibility, and when you win, you win together.
How have you applied that team mentality to your work?
Something that I’ve admired about Berkeley is that everybody is smarter than I am. To be honest, I feel like a coach—I can’t execute the plays, but I know what this person can do well, and I know what that person can do. In the national lab environment, it is hard for anybody to singlehandedly do anything. The mech techs can’t do their job without the beamline scientists, and the beamline scientists can’t do their jobs without the mech techs.
We’re not just an organization, but an organism with an ethos. In our environment and with ALS-U, how do we maintain this ethos? My analogy is that ALS-U is trying to do a heart transplant on a marathon runner while trying to run a race. It seems impossible, but we’re going to have enhancements to this organism and be able to do better quality work.
What are some of the challenges your team faces?
The ALS has allowed anybody to bring in any sort of engineering CAD model, but going forward, we need to think about consolidating on some CAD standards. ALS-U has made the decision to go with a particular CAD tool, so every new project that we’re doing is looking at how to incorporate that. Is the information usable going forward? Our challenge is taking legacy and current data and make them relevant in the future.
We’re sitting on close to 75 years worth of data. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the cement in the pit is cement that Lawrence actually walked on. Because of that, some of the information we have might be a pencil sketch on a piece of paper. It’s still relevant; it’s still important to understand. In the past, they could take a sketch, knock out a prototype, and go build the rest of it. Now, our beam’s getting smaller, so there’s more intensity and more risk. Your data has to be more precise.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have six kids (25, 22, 20, a ten-year gap, and then 10, 8, and 4 years old), and one of my sons has autism. If I have free time, I try to support my wife and give her some bandwidth. I’m on the board of directors for a youth theater group. My daughter was in the group, and when she graduated, they asked for my help. I’m in charge of sets and props. We just did Tom Sawyer, and the platforms needed to hold 48 cast members dancing around or doing stunt falls. One of the things in theater is “finding your character,” and we really see the kids blossom. My son, Michael, works on ALS-U, and he sometimes helps build things. The little ones love to come in, and they have great memories from Hallow-Ring.
What efforts have you taken part in for IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accountability)?
Dr. Steve Robbins came and gave great talks about bias, and for me, these conversations were great, like a Band-Aid came off. We didn’t know about these things that were rubbing us the wrong way, we didn’t know that we were biased. There are more people on staff with 20-plus years of experience than you’ll find in most places in the Bay Area, but as a result of that, the influx or turnover has not come to the national lab environment.
Accountability is important in bringing leadership into the equation. Inclusion is a big factor in team science—everybody’s idea is worth something. I try to say, “I heard you, let me think about that.” I don’t know that we have the solutions quite yet, but we’re now able to at least talk about the problems.