College of Chemistry, Berkeley

ChemiCAL Science and Engineering

College of Chemistry gets new administration

The new college leadership was welcomed at an August 3rd reception, and outgoing dean Heathcock was thanked for his tireless work for the college. Back row: Provost Paul Gray, outgoing dean Clayton Heathcock and new dean Charles Harris. Front row: Chemical engineering chair Alex Bell and chemistry chair Michael Marletta.

A new triad of administrators has taken over the leadership of the college. As of July 1st, Charles B. Harris is the new dean of the college, Michael A. Marletta is the new chair of chemistry, and Alexis T. Bell is the new chair of chemical engineering.

Charles Harris brings his remarkable abilities in science and in management to a position of great importance on the campus, ensuring that the college’s great tradition of leadership will continue,” said Paul Gray, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, at an August 3rd reception to welcome the team into their new positions.

Harris is an acclaimed chemist and “has a solid understanding of how to sustain excellence in his field at Berkeley,” said then-Chancellor Robert Berdahl in announcing the appointment in June 2004. “Charles Harris’s 38 years on our faculty give him deep ties and an excellent perspective on the future of one of our most critical areas of science.”

Dean Charles Harris

Harris has specialized in developing femtosecond lasers to study energy transfers and the primary processes in chemical reactions in liquids, as well as the dynamics of electrons at interfaces and surfaces. The author of more than 200 papers, he is the Gilbert Newton Lewis Professor, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He chaired the chemistry department from 2003 to 2005.

Harris expressed his desire to live up to the high standards set by outgoing dean Clayton Heathcock; to continue to bring in outstanding faculty members, students and staff; and to foster a sense of community within the college. “Together, my colleagues, along with our dedicated staff members, will maintain our outstanding programs that make this the best place in the world to study chemistry and chemical engineering.”

The new chair of chemistry, Michael Marletta, is a more recent addition to the college. He joined the faculty in 2001 after a stellar career at the University of Michigan, where he was an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine, received a MacArthur Foundation Award and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Chemistry chair Michael Marletta

Within the college, Marletta is both the Joel Hildebrand Distinguished Professor—a position accorded to the department chair—and the Aldo DeBenedictis Distinguished Professor. He has a joint appointment on campus in Molecular and Cell Biology and an additional position at UCSF in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology. His research is at the interface of chemistry and biology, focusing on the biochemistry of nitric oxide, a gas that regulates a wide range of physiological processes.

“It’s a very exciting time for chemistry and for the department,” said Marletta. “I believe that chemistry is a central science and that, as chemists, we should break out and influence other disciplines, which is what is happening. Chemistry is influencing the way questions are being asked in fields like biology and materials sciences because chemists can answer molecular questions, and many biological and materials problems are molecular.”

One of the department’s top academic priorities is to establish a materials chemistry program similar to the successful chemical biology program. “The first course, Introduction to Materials Chemistry, will be launched in the spring of 2006 and should provide the foundation for an undergraduate program,” noted Marletta. “Additionally, chemical biology is not going to stand still. It has proven to be a popular undergraduate major, leading to a large increase in the number of undergraduates in the college, in addition to the thriving graduate program.”

He also plans to lead the discussion about the department’s future. “There is always some tension between the more traditional types, those who say ‘don’t dilute our bread and butter,’ and those who favor interdisciplinary programs,” said Marletta. “I believe this creates a healthy academic tension, allowing us to talk and debate what the future of chemistry is as a department, and then move forward as a consensus.”

Chemical engineering chair Alex Bell

Alex Bell will serve as the chair of the chemical engineering department until July 2006, when Jeffrey Reimer will assume the position. Bell’s research group is working on the development and application of experimental and theoretical approaches for understanding the relationships between the structure and composition of heterogeneous catalysts and their activity and selectivity. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, has received the Professional Progress and R. H. Wilhelm Awards, and has just won the William H. Walker Award of the AIChE.

A member of the faculty since 1967, Bell needed no startup time as chair, since he had already done the job for ten years (1981 to 1991), in addition to serving as dean from 1994 to 1999. “I found that many of the issues that I need to face are the same, although the details are different. The two biggest challenges facing the department are faculty recruitment and startup of the recently initiated Product Design Program.

“What I have found encouraging is the willingness of our faculty to help me address all of the issues facing the department,” continued Bell, the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Distinguished Professor. “It was clear from the discussions held at our faculty retreat that solutions to the challenges facing the department will require team work and a lot of effort on everyone’s part. I am quite confident that working together we will accomplish a great deal this year.”

Outgoing dean Clayton Heathcock was also singled out at the August reception for his outstanding service, after leading the college for the past six years. “We are thrilled that he is taking a lead role at QB3 [as Chief Scientist], ensuring that we will keep him around in a position of leadership on campus,” said Provost Gray.