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Richard R Cavanagh

Dr. Richard R. Cavanagh is the Director of the Special Programs Office. Dr. Cavanagh supports the NIST Director and Associate Director for Laboratory Programs by coordinating and providing oversight of programs that span the mission and expertise of two or more NIST laboratories, such as the Office of Law Enforcement Standards and the Greenhouse Gas Program. He also is responsible for helping to ensure that research supporting homeland and national security projects/programs is congruent with NIST's research capabilities and overall programmatic priorities; overseeing NIST policies and procedures for human and animal subjects research, and scientific integrity and research misconduct; and directing the daily activities of the Reimbursable Agreements Coordination Office.

Dr. Cavanagh received his B.A. in chemistry from Wayne State University in 1972, and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Harvard University in 1978. He joined the National Bureau of Standards in 1979 as an NRC Postdoctoral Associate, and in 1988 became Group Leader in the Surface Science Division. Dr. Cavanagh's scientific work examined reactions at surfaces via techniques such as infrared absorption spectroscopy, reflection-absorption infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, inelastic neutron scattering, quasielastic neutron scattering, laser induced fluorescence, multiphoton ionization, ultrafast pump-probe techniques, and near-field optical methods. His work has been published in more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles. For his achievements and service, Dr. Cavanagh received the Department of Commerce Silver Medal Award (1985); the Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award (1990); and the Samuel Stratton Award (1992).

Dr. Cavanagh was appointed Chief of the Surface and Microanalysis Science Division in 1999, where he led a multidisciplinary staff on measurement challenges relevant to the semiconductor industry, trace explosive detection, and emerging needs in nanometrology, while simultaneously advancing microanalysis methods exploiting electrons, ions, and photons. He was responsible for multimillion dollar programs in the division with strong ties to other federal agencies.  In 2008 he became the Deputy Director of the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, a position he held until 2009 when he assumed the role of Acting Director of the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory. On October 4, 2010 he became the Deputy Director of the Material Measurement Laboratory and in August 2011 the Acting Director.

Dr. Cavanagh has held several leadership responsibilities in addition to those at NIST. He is a Fellow of the American Vacuum Society and of the American Physical Society. He has served on the General Committee of the Physical Electronic Conference, Chaired the Gordon Research Conference on Dynamics at Surfaces, served on the Executive committee of the AVS Surface Science Division, and was a member of the Executive Committee and Governing Board of the Council for Chemical Research.


  • NRC/NBS Postdoctoral research associate (1979 - 1980)
  • Department of Commerce Silver Medal (1985) with Dr. David S. King for their state-resolved studies of molecular desorption.
  • Department of Commerce Gold Medal (1990) for work in laser diagnostics of energy transfer processes at surfaces.
  • Samuel Wesley Stratton Award (1992) with Drs. M.P. Casassa, E.J. Heilweil, D.S. King and J.C. Stephenson for outstanding scientific achievements in laser studies of chemical dynamics.
Membership and Professional Activities:
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Vacuum Society
    • Executive committee of the AVS Surface Science Division (1988-1990)
    • Fellow (2003)
  • American Physical Society - Fellow (2004)
  • Physical Electronics Conference General Treasurer 1985-1989 : Local 1990 Conference Co-chair
  • Vibrations at Surfaces 1990 - Local Organizing Committee
  • Gordon Research Conference - Dynamics of Gas Surface Interactions - Vice Chair '93; Chair '95
  • Adriatico Research Conference - Lasers in Surface Science - Co-chair '94
  • Associate Editor – Journal of Chemical Physics '95-'98
  • Council for Chemical Research, Board Member '07-present


Standard Reference Data Workshop Report

Debra L. Kaiser, Neil Alderoty, Richard R. Cavanagh, Barbara Guttman, Robert J. Hanisch, Adam G. Morey, Jeanita Pritchett, Yuri Ralchenko, Stacy S. Schuur, William E. Wallace
On October 17, 2017, the ODI sponsored a day-long Standard Reference Data Workshop. More than 120 NIST staff members and associates from four NIST laboratories
Created October 9, 2019