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Caltech Introduces New Leadership Chairs and Named Professorships

During the 2022–23 academic year, Caltech recognized three faculty members with leadership chairs for distinguished administrative positions and 13 faculty members with named professorships for early career and tenured faculty—the Institute's most distinguished award.

These honors provide faculty with additional resources to advance innovative research ideas while they continue to mentor and train future generations.

Each named professorship brings its own legacy. Many professorships, for instance, have long-standing histories and pass a tradition of discovery and exploration from one academic generation to the next, from one colleague to another. A professorship may also provide a faculty member with an opportunity to forge meaningful connections with the philanthropists who made the award possible.

Leadership chairs generate discretionary funds that enable Institute leaders to support emerging research projects and ideas with potential for scientific and societal impact, and to support Caltech's educational mission and outreach programs.

Caltech is pleased to present its newest cohort of leadership chairs and named professorships.

Leadership Chairs

A portrait of Tracy Dennison. She is outside and wears a blazer.
Tracy Dennison Credit: Caltech

Tracy K. Dennison
Ronald and Maxine Linde Leadership Chair
Edie and Lew Wasserman Professor of Social Science History
Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Tracy Dennison's research examines the intersection of social, economic, and political history through a focus on serfdom in pre-modern eastern Europe. A distinguished scholar of European demography and Russian serfdom, she examines the rules and norms that shaped people's decisions in pre-modern societies, from marriage and household formation to economic and social behavior. Dennison is particularly interested in the role of property rights in long-run economic development and early modern state formation, and the economic and political divergence of western and eastern Europe since the 17th century.

Dennison joined the Caltech faculty in 2006.

A portrait of Michael Gurnis
Michael Gurnis Credit: Bill Youngblood

Michael Gurnis
John E. and Hazel S. Smits Professor of Geophysics
Clarence R. Allen Leadership Chair, Seismological Laboratory
Director, Schmidt Academy for Software Engineering
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences

Michael Gurnis investigates local, regional, and global geological and geophysical activity to determine the processes related to plate tectonics and deep mantle dynamics. His lab develops sophisticated computational models to study geological and geophysical properties. In addition, Gurnis is director of the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech, an internationally recognized center for the study of earthquakes, seismic monitoring, and fundamental science that underpins geophysics and seismology. Since 2019, Gurnis has also served as the director of the Schmidt Academy for Software Engineering, a program that places science-minded software engineering students into research groups to leverage advanced computing skills and provide tools to further research.

Gurnis joined the Caltech faculty in 1994.

A portrait of Christopher Umans
Christopher Umans Credit: Caltech

Christopher (Chris) Umans
Professor of Computer Science
William M. Coughran Jr. Leadership Chair, Department of Computing and Mathematical Sciences
Executive Officer for Computing and Mathematical Sciences
Division of Engineering and Applied Science

Chris Umans is a theoretical computer scientist who works at the intersection of computer science and mathematics to prove theorems about the limitations and possibilities of computation. His work established results concerning the power of randomness in computation and gave explicit constructions of "pseudo-random" objects that are a key building block in algorithms and computational complexity. Umans has developed novel algorithms for fundamental problems such as polynomial factorization and the generalized discrete Fourier transform and is known for proposing and developing a group-theoretic framework that yields algorithms for matrix multiplication.

Umans joined the Caltech faculty in 2002.

Named Professorships

A portrait of Theodor Agapie
Theodor Agapie Credit: Caltech

Theodor Agapie (PhD '07)
John Stauffer Professor of Chemistry
Executive Officer of Chemistry
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Theodor Agapie's research is targeted toward developing new materials and catalysts for sustainable technologies with a focus on synthetic inorganic and organometallic chemistry. His lab studies the metal complexes inspired by enzymes found in nature, particularly those related to photosynthesis, that can contribute to a future of more diligent energy and environmental stewardship. Catalysts developed by the Agapie lab are designed to use sustainable energy to drive conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels and other chemicals that may reduce the need for petroleum and coal. Among other work, his lab has developed ways of converting carbon dioxide into ethylene, a chemical precursor to the world's most used plastic.

Agapie joined the faculty in 2009.

A portrait of David Chan
David Chan Credit: Caltech

David Chan
Harold and Violet Alvarez Professorship
Dean of Graduate Studies
Division of Biology and Biological Engineering

David Chan studies the role of mitochondrial dynamics in normal cellular function and human disease. Mitochondria play a central role in extracting energy from food through cellular respiration and are commonly thought of as the cell's powerhouses. Chan and his group have solved X-ray crystal structures for key components of the mitochondrial fusion and fission machinery and have used genetic and cell biological methods to reveal the physiological functions of mitochondrial dynamics in trophoblasts, neurons, cardiomyocytes, skeletal muscle fibers, the male germline, and early embryos.

Chan joined the faculty in 2000.

A portrait of Andre Faraon
Andre Faraon Credit: Caltech

Andrei Faraon (BS '04)
William L. Valentine Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering
Division of Engineering and Applied Science

Andrei Faraon's research seeks to explain the ways light and matter interact. His group works all the way down to the interaction of single atoms and single photons, for which extremely tiny and precise devices are required. Faraon's research focuses on solid-state quantum optics and nanophotonics, which both have potential applications that include quantum computing, information processing, and imaging. He has discovered how to turn certain kinds of matter transparent, has created optical quantum memory, and developed a material that can store two holograms at once.

Faraon joined the Caltech faculty in 2012.

Viviana Gradinaru
Viviana Gradinaru Credit: Caltech

Viviana Gradinaru (BS '05)
Lois and Victor Troendle Professorship
Director, Center for Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
Division of Biology and Biological Engineering

Viviana Gradinaru's research examines brain and body circuits for sleep and locomotion and routes for therapeutics delivery across the blood-brain-barrier. She has developed neurotechnologies including optogenetic actuators for precise control of neuronal activity, tissue clearing and imaging for mapping whole transparent organs, and engineered adeno-associated viral vectors (AAVs) as gene-delivery vehicles. Gradinaru's technologies are now used by thousands of laboratories worldwide and Caltech spin-off Capsida Biotherapeutics. Gradinaru won the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and has been named a 2022 National Academy of Inventors Fellow, a 2021 AAAS Honorary Fellow, and the NIH Director's Pioneer Award.

Gradinaru joined the Caltech faculty in 2012.

A portrait of Andre Hoelz
André Hoelz Credit: Caltech

André Hoelz
Mary and Charles Ferkel Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

For two decades, André Hoelz has steadily advanced knowledge of the structure and function of the nucleocytoplasmic transport machinery and nuclear pore complex (NPC), which acts as a gatekeeper for the cell's nucleus, ushering molecules in and out. The NPC is one of the most important pieces of molecular machinery found in human cells and, having more than 1,000 individual proteins, is also one of the most complicated. Hoelz's work will help researchers better understand metabolic processes and health conditions such as cancer and neurodegenerative and autoimmune disorders, which are associated with NPC mutations.

Hoelz joined the Caltech faculty in 2010.

A portrait of David Hsieh
David Hsieh Credit: Caltech

David Hsieh
Donald A.Glaser Professor of Physics
Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy

David Hsieh develops ways of using lasers to induce new exotic states of matter in quantum materials. His group devises and builds spectroscopy and microscopy techniques capable of measuring electron dynamics on timescales spanning femtoseconds to nanoseconds. The work has potential applications in faster, more efficient computers and electronic devices, quantum computers, and other quantum technologies. Some of his findings include: using lasers to transform the properties of material without unwanted heat damage; identifying signatures of the first three-dimensional quantum liquid crystals; and finding new clues to the riddle of high-temperature superconductivity.

Hsieh joined the Caltech faculty in 2012.

A portrait of Dimitri Mawet
Dimitri Mawet Credit: Caltech

Dimitri Mawet
David Morrisroe Professor of Astronomy
JPL Senior Research Scientist
Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy

Dimitri Mawet works at the intersection of science and technology developing

advanced instruments to perform remote sensing of other worlds beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets. His aim is to determine whether these worlds can support life.

Mawet leads the Exoplanet Technology Laboratory, or ET Lab, which is developing next-generation instruments for space- and ground-based telescopes. The instruments include coronagraphs, which can better block out the glare of stars to take direct images of planets, as well as spectrographs, which analyze the chemical compositions of planets. Two such instruments, called the Vortex coronagraph and the Keck Planet Imager and Characterizer, have been installed at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and are already used to observe planets, dusty disks of debris that circle planets, and cool stars called brown dwarfs.

Mawet joined the Caltech faculty in 2015.

A portrait of Alex Sessions
Alex Sessions Credit: Caltech

Alex Sessions
Nico and Marilyn van Wingen Professorship
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences

Alex Sessions is a biogeochemist whose research focuses on measuring and understanding the isotopic patterns or "fingerprints" that life leaves in organic molecules and using those patterns to address questions in earth science that span microbial metabolism, global carbon cycling, paleoclimate records, and the history of life on Earth. His group studies samples that range from modern oceans, soils, plants, and bacteria, to 3-billion-year-old rocks and meteorites. Sessions' particular expertise lies in finding new ways to measure the distribution of stable isotopes in these organic molecules and advancing those new measurements into useful biogeochemical proxies.

Sessions joined the Caltech faculty in 2003.

Early Career Professorships

Katherine de Kleer
Katherine de Kleer Credit: Caltech

Katherine de Kleer
Assistant Professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy
Hufstedler Family Early-Career Professorship for Planetary Exploration
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences

Katherine de Kleer investigates the surfaces, atmospheres, and thermochemical histories of objects throughout the solar system by using telescopes to examine their observational signatures at optical, infrared, and radio wavelengths. Studying this wide swath of frequencies helps in understanding the seasonal evolution of planetary atmospheres; characterizing and mapping the volcanic activity on Jupiter's third-largest moon, Io (also the most volcanically active spot in the solar system); and investigating asteroids that were once nascent planets.

De Kleer joined the Caltech faculty in 2019.

A portrait of Smruthi Karthikeyan
Smruthi Karthikeyan Credit: Caltech

Smruthi Karthikeyan
Gordon and Carol Treweek Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering William H. Hurt Scholar
Division of Engineering and Applied Science

Smruthi Karthikeyan's research interests lie at the interface of engineering, computational biology, and microbial ecology to study microbial dark matter. Her overarching objectives are to develop integrated wet-lab and multi-omic (DNA-, RNA-, untargeted metabolomics) approaches to provide a systems-level understanding of complex microbial communities and their interactions and how these translate to biomarkers for environmental and human health. Understanding microbial community behavior at a mechanistic level can have applications ranging from identifying the role of human gut microbiome in health and disease to mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Karthikeyan joined the Caltech faculty in 2022.

Professor Karthish Manthiram stands in front of columns on campus
Karthish Manthiram Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech

Karthish Manthiram
Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry
William H. Hurt Scholar
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Karthish Manthiram strives to make artificial chemical synthesis more like the metabolic processes found in plants, which extract much of what they need from water, air, and sunlight. Manthiram's group develops electrochemical catalysts and processes that enable removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the oceans, using only renewable electricity, such as solar. The carbon contained in carbon dioxide can then be converted, along with atmospheric nitrogen, into fuels, fertilizers, pharmaceutical compounds, and other important materials.

Manthiram joined the Caltech faculty in 2021.

Joe Parker
Joe Parker Credit: Caltech

Joseph Parker
Assistant Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Scholar
Division of Biology and Biological Engineering

Joe Parker studies the neural basis and evolutionary origins of interactions between species. His group has pioneered the study of rove beetles (Staphylinidae) as a model system to understand how animals navigate the living world of other organisms, and how they can evolve to forge complex behavioral relationships that cross species boundaries. Rove beetles are tiny predators found in leaf litter and soil habitats globally. From this ancestral lifestyle, however, hundreds of lineages have transformed into remarkable symbiotic organisms, specialized for life as impostors inside the complex societies of ants. Parker's group is studying the brains, chemistry, and behavior of these beetles to comprehend how their remarkable social interactions with ants are controlled and have evolved at the genomic, cell type, and neural circuit levels.

Parker joined the Caltech faculty in 2017.

A portrait of Lisa Ruth Rand. She sits upon brick steps in a doorway.
Lisa Ruth Rand Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech

Lisa Ruth Rand
Assistant Professor of History
William H. Hurt Scholar
Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Lisa Ruth Rand is a historian of science who investigates the environmental history of near-Earth space. Specifically, she examines space debris, how it affects the space environment, and what it reveals about the politics of space use. Rand is especially interested in the ever-growing number of objects put into space by both political and private entities and the disproportionate costs these have for poorer populations. Space junk, which affects all orbiting objects, potentially disastrously, is typically material created by wealthier societies in the global north, which, when it falls to Earth, is more likely to fall in the global south, where there are fewer resources to deal with the environmental consequences.

Rand joined the Caltech faculty in 2021.

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