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Chapter 7: Energy Technologies

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Born of Dutch parents in Wilmington, North Carolina, Herman Postma attended Duke University and earned graduate degrees at Harvard University. He spent the summers from 1954 to 1957 working in ORNL's Electronuclear and Physics divisions and joined the Laboratory staff in 1959, later spending time in the Netherlands as a visiting scientist at the Dutch institute for plasma physics. 

As a scientist, he is credited with developing neutral beam injection and stochastic heating methods to heat plasmas in fusion devices and with devising solutions to plasma stability problems standing in the way of achieving fusion goals.

Herman Postma

Only 40 years old when appointed Laboratory director in 1974, he was the first director without Manhattan Project experience. His background, moreover, was in fusion energy, not nuclear fission energy on which the Laboratory had traditionally focused. Coinciding with the creation of the Energy Research and Development Administration and the oil embargo crisis, his appointment marked a sweeping change of direction for the Laboratory. 

During his 14 years as director, Postma applied professional management techniques to Laboratory administration and presided over the broad expansion of its programs to cover all forms of energy. He provided stability during the turbulent transitions from the AEC to ERDA to DOE and beyond and diversified the research through work for government agencies other than DOE. A significant push to transfer technology to American industry began during this time. He helped forge closer ties between ORNL and regional institutions, especially through the Distinguished Scientist program jointly sponsored by the Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. 

Postma became a senior vice president of Martin Marietta Energy Systems in 1988 and retired in 1992. 

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