rachel slaybaugh

July 14, 2021

In January, in the middle of a pandemic, Rachel Slaybaugh was named Division Director of Cyclotron Road. To this role, she brought her strong scientific background–—she also serves as associate professor of nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley. She brought her experience in research and development, as a former program director at DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), whose mission is to advance high-potential and high-impact energy technologies. Rachel shared her thoughts on Cyclotron Road’s role and her plans for its future.

Cyclotron Road, a division of the Energy Technologies Area established in 2015, supports promising entrepreneurial scientists through a fellowship program. Operated in partnership with Activate, a nonprofit organization, each year the fellowship program attracts a cohort of innovators who spend two years developing technologies that transform energy- and resource-intensive industries. These innovators “embed” at Berkeley Lab with access to state-of-the-art facilities and world-renowned scientists both at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, and they also participate in a program of intensive mentorship, professional development, and networking.

What is the role of Cyclotron Road and how does it support the Lab mission?

Cyclotron Road helps to commercialize science. It’s essentially a startup accelerator for hard technologies, that is, technologies that have a physical product. Every fall, we select approximately 10 entrepreneurs who are doing work related to the Lab and our funders’1 mission, and then for two years we provide them with a stipend and health insurance. They get laboratory space and access to the Lab’s impressive scientific resources—this can mean the companies have our scientists in a principal investigator role, or they just have coffee with our scientists once a quarter. Activate provides specialized entrepreneurship training, mentorship and a curriculum designed to help innovators bring their innovations to market, while Cyclotron Road provides access to Berkeley Lab's world-class research infrastructure and facilitates collaboration between fellows and Lab researchers.

What has Cyclotron Road been up to recently?

We just selected our sixth cohort of fellows this June, and they are just getting started. They are working on some exciting business ideas. David Mackanic from startup Anthro Energy is making a flexible battery that you can cut, bend, or reshape, so that you can put it into clothing or aircraft walls. Another fellow, Aaron Hall from Intropic Materials, is working on plastics that can be tuned to biodegrade into different enzymes. They are much more easily compostable than other biodegradable plastics out there which may require very specialized equipment that most commercial recyclers don’t have.

Also, we just launched our new website. You should check it out at

What are some of your plans for the future?

Next summer, we are planning to develop new entrepreneurship boot camps for graduates, undergraduates, and high school seniors, respectively. We hope to attract a diverse group of aspiring entrepreneurs. These one-week courses will help young potential innovators understand what the path of innovation looks like for hard technologies, including how to start a company and how innovating in physical technology is different from innovating in software. In general, physical technologies require more capital and more time for research and development.

We’re also considering an entrepreneur-in-residence program at the Lab for later stage companies (industry scientists can also embed at the Lab’s user facilities and with other teams). We’re exploring what companies need, what works and what doesn’t in these types of programs, and different options for embedded collaboration to complement the scientific mission of the Lab.

1 Cyclotron Road’s funders include: the Advanced Manufacturing Office in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE); the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); the EERE’s Building Technologies Office (BTO), Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO), and the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP); and private philanthropy.