Ralph Semmel to step down after 15 years at helm of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

He will conclude his term as director in July 2025; search committee formed to help identify successor

Ralph Semmel, who has led the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory as director since 2010, has announced that he will step down from his role in July 2025, and a search committee made up of APL board members and university leaders has been assembled to conduct a nationwide search for his successor.

Ralph Semmel

Image caption: Ralph Semmel

Semmel, the eighth director in APL's history, leads an organization of more than 9,000 staff members who perform innovative research and development for the Department of Defense, NASA, the intelligence community, and other federal agencies. All told, Semmel has been at APL for almost four decades, having spent 24 years in research and leadership roles before being named director.

"Serving alongside APL's dedicated staff members has been the greatest professional honor of my life," Semmel said. "My colleagues have made amazing contributions to many of the most daunting challenges facing our nation, and taken what was already a remarkable organization to incredible new heights. That is what every APL director strives and hopes for during their tenure, and I could not be prouder of all we have achieved."

During his 14-year tenure as director to date, APL has delivered an array of science and technology innovations, including space missions to explore the mysteries of the sun and Pluto; major advances in the development of mind-controlled prosthetics, assured artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, and biothreat defense; the world's first planetary defense mission to redirect an asteroid; and many pioneering national security achievements.

"Without any sense of hyperbole, we regard the lab's successes under Ralph's leadership as nothing less than extraordinary and transformative," JHU President Ron Daniels said. "We will have ample opportunity in the year ahead to recognize and celebrate Ralph's many contributions to APL, and we are pleased—and relieved—that he has committed to one more year as director and to keeping his sights firmly trained on maintaining APL's momentum as we conduct the search for his successor and make this important transition."

The search committee will be co-chaired by Gary Roughead, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who served as chief of naval operations from 2007 to 2011, Johns Hopkins University trustee, and member of the APL board of managers; and Ed Schlesinger, Benjamin T. Rome Dean of JHU's Whiting School of Engineering. A full list of committee members can be found below.

Odgers Berndtson, a Washington, D.C.-based executive search firm, will assist the committee in conducting a national search and will solicit feedback from across the APL community.

"APL is a treasured national resource, and Ralph's profound impact on the lab, its staff and sponsors, and the breakthrough research and technology it delivers has been remarkable," said Heather Miller, chair of APL's board of managers who is also a member of the JHU board of trustees. "Under Ralph's exceptional and inspiring leadership, the laboratory and its dedicated people have added to their storied tradition as an innovation powerhouse, creating game-changing solutions to address critical challenges, and making the world a better and safer place. Its new director will be building on an exceptional foundation as they take the helm."

Search committee membership

  • Co-chair: Adm. Gary Roughead (U.S. Navy, retired), former chief of naval operations (CNO) and member of the JHU Board of Trustees and APL Board of Managers
  • Co-chair: Ed Schlesinger, Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering
  • Ted DeWeese, The Frances Watt Baker, M.D., and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D., dean of the Medical Faculty and CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • Lou Forster, chair of the JHU Board of Trustees and member of the APL Board of Managers
  • Christine Fox, former acting deputy secretary of defense and former APL assistant director
  • Steve Hadley, former national security adviser and member of the APL Board of Managers
  • Adm. Cecil Haney (U.S. Navy, retired), former commander of U.S. Strategic Command and member of the APL Board of Managers
  • Mary Miller, JHU trustee and member of the APL Board of Managers
  • Jeff Barber, JHU trustee and member of the APL Board of Managers
  • Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the JHU president for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and executive director, JHTV
  • Gen. Tod Wolters (U.S. Air Force, retired), former supreme allied commander (NATO) and member of the APL Board of Managers