Ralph Semmel steps down after 15 years at JHU APL

Ralph Semmel, who has served as director of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory since 2010, has announced that he will step down from his position in July 2025. A search committee composed of APL trustees and university representatives has been formed to conduct a nationwide search for his successor.

Image caption: Ralph Semmel

Semmel, the eighth director in APL’s history, leads an organization of more than 9,000 employees who perform innovative research and development for the Department of Defense, NASA, the intelligence community, and other federal agencies. In all, Semmel has been with APL for nearly four decades, spending 24 years in research and leadership positions prior to becoming director.

“Working alongside the dedicated employees of APL has been the greatest professional honor of my life,” said Semmel. “My colleagues have made incredible contributions to many of the most daunting challenges facing our country and have taken what was already a remarkable organization to incredible new heights. This is what every APL executive strives for and desires during their tenure, and I could not be more proud of all that we have accomplished.”

During his 14-year tenure as APL Director, he delivered a range of scientific and technological innovations, including space missions to explore the mysteries of the Sun and Pluto; significant advances in the development of mind-controlled prosthetics, robust artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and biological defenses; the world’s first planetary defense mission to deflect an asteroid; and numerous pioneering national security achievements.

“Without any exaggeration, we consider the success of the lab under Ralph’s leadership to be nothing short of extraordinary and transformational,” said Ron Daniels, president of JHU. “We will have many opportunities in the coming year to recognize and celebrate Ralph’s many contributions to APL, and we are pleased—and relieved—that he has committed to serving as director for another year and to maintaining a strong commitment to maintaining the momentum of APL as we conduct a 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, a trustee of Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the APL board; and Ed Schlesinger, the 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 help the commission conduct a nationwide search and seek input from the entire APL community.

“APL is a valuable national resource, and Ralph’s profound impact on the lab, its staff and funders, and the groundbreaking research and technology it delivers is extraordinary,” said Heather Miller, chair of the APL board, who is also a member of the JHU board of trustees. “Under Ralph’s exceptional and inspiring leadership, the lab and its dedicated people have expanded its rich tradition as an innovation powerhouse, creating breakthrough solutions to address critical challenges and make the world a better and safer place. Its new director will build on an exceptional foundation as he takes the helm.”

Members of the search committee

  • Co-Chairs: Adm. Gary Roughead (US Navy, retired), former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and member of the JHU Board of Trustees and the APL Board of Managers
  • Co-Chairs: Ed Schlesinger, Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering
  • Ted DeWeese, Dr. Frances Watt Baker, and Dr. Lenox D. Baker Jr., Dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • Lou Forster, Chairman of the JHU Supervisory Board and Member of the APL Management Board
  • Christine Fox, former acting deputy secretary of defense and former deputy director of APL
  • Steve Hadley, former National Security Advisor and APL board member
  • Adm. Cecil Haney (US Navy, retired), former commander of US Strategic Command and member of the APL board
  • Mary Miller, JHU Trustee and APL Board Member
  • Jeff Barber, JHU Trustee and APL Board Member
  • Christy Wyskiel, Senior Advisor to the JHU President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Executive Director of JHTV
  • Gen. Tod Wolters (U.S. Air Force, Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander (NATO) and APL board member

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