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Richard Mathies named new dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry

Richard A. Mathies
Richard A. Mathies

UC Berkeley
College of Chemistry Press Release
July 17, 2008

Professor Richard A. Mathies, a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1976, has been appointed the campus’s new Dean of the College of Chemistry and the Gilbert Newton Lewis Professor. His appointment was approved today, July 17th, by the UC Board of Regents and is retroactive to July 1.

The dean is responsible for the leadership and administration of the college and reports to the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George W. Breslauer. “Richard Mathies is a proven scholar, teacher, and administrator. I look forward to working with him, and I take comfort in the knowledge that the leadership of our esteemed College of Chemistry is in excellent hands,” said Breslauer.

The college’s two departments of chemistry and chemical engineering have consistently ranked among the top three in the nation. The college is home to some 1400 undergraduate and graduate students in addition to more than 250 postdoctoral fellows, and its total budget is close to $100 million.

“I am pleased and honored to be asked to lead what I think is the best college of chemistry in the world,” said Mathies.

Born in 1946 in Seattle, WA, Mathies received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Washington in 1968. There he worked with Martin Gouterman on porphyrin chemistry and wrote his first journal article while still an undergraduate.

Mathies earned his M.S. (1970) and his Ph.D. (1974) at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where his mentor was Berkeley alumnus Andreas C. Albrecht, considered by many to be the father of the theory of resonance Raman spectroscopy. Mathies then won a Helen Hay Whitney fellowship to work with Dr. Lubert Stryer at Yale, who three decades later would win the 2006 National Medal of Science for his work on fluorescence spectroscopy and the biochemical basis of signal amplification in vision.

Mathies came to the College of Chemistry as an assistant professor in 1976. He has two research groups, both based on modern optical laser spectroscopic techniques. His Raman group uses resonance Raman spectroscopy and related techniques to study ultrafast femtosecond (10-15 second) chemical and biological reaction dynamics of photoactive proteins that are the biochemical basis of vision.

His DNA/microchip group exploits the sensitivity of laser excited fluorescence detection to develop high-performance microfabricated chemical and biochemical analysis methods and “lab-on-a-chip” apparatus. In the 1990s, Mathies’s inventions on fluorescent labels and DNA separation methods for the Human Genome Project began to bear fruit for Berkeley, earning almost one million dollars annually in licensing fees by the end of the decade.

Mathies serves on the scientific advisory board of Affymetrix, a company co-founded in 1993 by Stephen Fodor, who did his postdoctoral research with the Mathies group. Affymetrix DNA chips have broad commercial applications and are now widely used in many areas of basic and clinical research. Said Mathies, “It was Affymetrix that got the whole gene chip technology going.” The company is just one of ten start-ups in which Mathies has played a role.

The Mathies group is currently refining a microdevice, called the Mars Organic Analyzer, that will be part of the Urey instrument package scheduled to fly to Mars in 2013 on the European Space Agency ExoMars mission to search for biochemical signs of life on Mars. Mathies is also perfecting a spin-off of this NASA-funded research — a hand-held device that can be used to detect amines in red wines, helping sensitive diners to avoid red wine headaches.”

Mathies is author of over 380 publications and 35 patents on photochemistry, photobiology, bioanalytical chemistry and genome analysis technology.

He has chaired Berkeley’s conflict of interest committee for the past ten years, overseeing the review process that makes sure professors’ efforts to develop new technologies and work with industry don’t conflict with their university obligations. Said Mathies, “This is a committee that takes real action on real cases. My goal has been to allow people to be creative while preserving and protecting the academic environment.

“At the College of Chemistry,” Mathies said, “my primary goals are to sustain the creative and innovative research activities in the departments of chemistry and chemical engineering, and to initiate a major new initiative to renew and invigorate undergraduate education in chemistry for the 21st century.”

The college’s research has been widely recognized over the years. Four long-time college professors have won the Nobel Prize: Yuan T. Lee (1986), Melvin Calvin (1961), Glenn T. Seaborg (1951), and William F. Giauque (1949). Among active professors, 5 have won the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest award for scientific achievement, 7 are members of the National Academy of Engineering, 26 are members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 28 are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The renewal of our aging undergraduate labs and curriculum,” emphasized Mathies, “is imperative if we are to engage the next generation of students who are interested in exploring the molecular sciences, including medicine, alternative energy and biofuels, climate change, environmental chemistry, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and other fields in which chemistry plays a central role.”

Mathies succeeds Interim Dean Clayton H. Heathcock, who will continue as UC Berkeley’s chief scientist for the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), one of four California Institutes for Science and Innovation established in 2000 to ensure the future of the California economy by promoting research and innovation.

Mathies and his wife, JoAnne, live in Moraga, CA. They have two grown children.

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