Big Science Hires

John Yates and Stephen Rich

John T. Yates Jr. (left) and Stephen S. Rich (right)

Stephen S. Rich, one of the world’s leading epidemiologist and geneticists, and John T. Yates Jr., a world-renowned physical and surface chemist and a member of the National Academy of Science, have been named to the faculty of the University of Virginia.

The hires are part of a $126 million Board of Visitors’ initiative to enhance science and technology research at the University. The plan includes recruiting new faculty members to lead pan-University research groups, accelerating construction of new research space and retaining prominent and up-and-coming faculty members.

Last year, U.Va. announced the appointment of leading engineer Joe C. Campbell, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, as the first of what will be 10 National Academies-level hires. Rich and Yates are the newest appointees in this initiative; seven more will follow during the next four years.

Rich has been appointed director of U.Va.’s Center for Public Health Genomics. He comes from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine where he currently serves as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Public Health Sciences, professor in the Department of Neurology, and associate professor in the Department of Cancer Biology. Rich will begin his appointment on Jan. 1, 2007.

Yates comes to U.Va. from the University of Pittsburgh where he is a chaired professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His appointment at U.Va. will be in the Department of Chemistry, but he also plans to work closely with the Department of Astronomy and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. His appointment begins Jan. 1, 2007.

“We welcome the depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that Stephen Rich and John Yates bring to the University of Virginia,” said Dr. R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies. “They both are exceptional leaders in their respective fields and will have immediate and significant impact here. By supporting the recruitment of these distinguished scientists, the Board of Visitors’ program is dramatically accelerating progress towards our goal of achieving international research pre-eminence in key interdisciplinary areas in science and engineering.”

Gomez added that the University is seeking researchers who “have the capacity to transform reality — to vastly improve the quality of life at all levels of society with their inventions and discoveries.”

“We believe that hiring outstanding senior faculty members serves as a catalyst for recruiting and retaining outstanding younger faculty members and graduate students,” said Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block. “We are building a great community of faculty at all levels in key scientific areas.”

Stephen S. Rich

Stephen S. Rich is known internationally for his work in genetic epidemiology, focusing on the genetic basis of diabetes. Rich is currently the principal investigator and chairman of the Steering Committee for the Type I Diabetes Genetics Consortium and is the chairman of the Steering Committee and co-principal investigator for the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Family Study.

He also has collaborated on several projects studying the genetic basis of a wide array of conditions, including diabetic kidney and heart disease, susceptibility to middle ear infections, asthma and stroke. Rich currently is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator in eight federally funded grants, and the principal investigator or co-principal investigator in eight national grants.

“We are excited to have Steve Rich join the University of Virginia School of Medicine to establish and develop our Center for Public Health Genomics,” said Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., dean and vice president of the School of Medicine. “With his leadership, the center will work to translate findings from the Human Genome Project into usable science and treatments to benefit patients.”

Rich received his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University and his doctorate in quantitative genetics from Purdue University. After a year of postdoctoral study at Purdue, Rich joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine. He later joined the faculty of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, where he was director of the Center for Public Health Genomics.

Rich has written more than 500 publications including peer-reviewed journal articles, editorial commentary, reviews, book chapters and books. He currently serves as an associate editor for Genetic Epidemiology and Diabetes, as well as serving on the editorial board of Current Diabetes Reviews.

Additionally, Rich is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association (Stroke Council), American Society of Human Genetics, International Genetic Epidemiology Society and Society for Epidemiological Research.

John T. Yates Jr.

John T. Yates Jr. is one of the world’s leading investigators in the field of surface chemistry and physics, including both the structure and spectroscopy of atoms and molecules on surfaces, the dynamics of surface processes and the development of new methods for research in surface chemistry.

He will join U.Va. as a full professor where he will continue active research in surface chemistry and photochemistry as well as exploring connections to astrochemistry in the solar system and deep space.

He brings 45 years of experience in the field, first at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) in Washington, D.C., and more recently at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was for 24 years the R. K. Mellon Professor of Chemistry and Physics as well as the founding director of the Pittsburgh Surface Science Center.

Surface chemistry is a very active field of modern science, connecting directly to many important technologies. Catalysis, which is governed by principles of surface chemistry, is used in the chemical industry for the production of virtually all synthetic materials and fuels. Catalysis is also important in environmental protection, such as through the use of catalytic exhaust converters on motor vehicles and in coal- and oil-fired electrical power plants.

Surface chemistry also underpins the technologies used to fabricate semiconductor chips in all electronic devices. The new field of nanoscience is strongly connected to surface chemistry and physics, as a large fraction of the atoms in nano-scale devices are located on the surface.

Yates’ work will involve the use of ultraviolet light to activate surface chemical processes, both in terrestrial (photocatalysis) environments and in model stellar environments (astrochemistry), helping to provide understanding of the synthesis of molecules in space.  He will also probe the properties of carbon nanotubes and their use to confine matter in very small (nanometer) dimensions, causing the properties of the confined materials to become abnormal.

In addition, he plans to investigate the special chemical and physical properties of unconfined materials of nanometer dimension, which will form the building blocks of the nanotechnologies of the future. He is planning active collaborations with faculty in chemistry, chemical engineering, physics and astronomy, as well as participating in new University efforts in nanoscience. He also plans to be an active teacher for undergraduate students.

“Among my reasons for coming to U.Va., in addition to its very strong chemistry department, is that the University also has a strong astronomy department with close connections to the National Radio Telescope Observatory, all fitting in nicely with my interest in astrochemistry,” Yates said. “There is a great future here in these fields.”

Ian Harrison, chairman of the Department of Chemistry said, “John [Yates] will have a very positive effect on the quality and vitality of several scientific fields across the University due to his wide-ranging interests and talents. His wisdom, insight and enthusiasm will doubtlessly lead to many new collaborations.”

Yates received his bachelor’s degree from Juniata College and his doctorate in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following three years as an assistant professor at Antioch College, he joined the scientific staff at the National Bureau of Standards. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh as the first R. K. Mellon Professor of Chemistry and as the director of the University of Pittsburgh Surface Science Center, which he founded. In 1994 he was jointly appointed to the Department of Physics.

Yates maintains close relationships with surface science research programs in academic, government and industrial research laboratories throughout the world, as well as serving on the editorial boards of six journals and two book series in surface science and catalysis. He is the co-editor and author of several books and has written more than 680 research papers. He is a member of several leading scientific organizations, including the highly prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

Release appeared in Inside U.Va. on 9/22/06

By David Foreman and Fariss Samarrai