The College of Science is in its sophomore year, and I am fired up about our prospects. It has been delightful to dialog about strategic directions for the college with our faculty and staff, alumni and students.
The faculty presented many stimulating ideas during a series of sessions that were held in the fall and spring of last academic year. It is clear that to maintain Northeastern’s continued academic ascendency, the next leap forward is to transform our graduate doctoral program. Our increasingly talented undergraduates seeking a global experiential education need more access to research experience and advanced graduate courses in their fields of interest.
In the first draft of our strategic plan, which will be released in the coming months, we identify themes that aim for world-leading research. For example, we will build on the Marine Science Center in Nahant, Mass. to create a global center for urban coastal research that addresses the mounting troubles facing coastal cities, including sea level rise, collapsing fisheries, invasive species, pollution and security.
An important component will be to develop the connection of science and engineering to commerce, policy and law. Urban coastal issues will form the centerpiece of our environmental science and environmental studies programs. This year the Marine Science Center merged into the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences to further this strategy. From our strengthened efforts in drug discovery, delivery and diagnostics, we will create a global institute for neglected and microbial disease that uniquely brings innovative scientific discovery together with social and legal approaches to combat the scourge of disease in under-developed countries. The institute will synergize with efforts to build our broader drug discovery and delivery platforms and to develop diagnostics and imaging.
In addition, we are building a major initiative in materials for energy, with a focus on new materials where advanced computation will open bottlenecks limiting advanced materials of the future. The energy crisis is the number one threat to sustainability, yet adequate scientific solutions in the form of materials and devices for energy production, efficient use, transfer and storage do not yet exist.
Theory and simulation of materials is emerging as a long-term answer to this problem, but the tools need to be further developed. We will build on the university’s investments in the Holyoke, Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center to create a cadre of excellence in the simulation of materials. Theory and simulation will be supplemented by experimental efforts in Li-air batteries, advanced solar cells, electronic materials and synthetic biology.
A new Affective Science Institute has also been created to bring the science of emotion to bear on decision-making in areas such as security, health and sustainability.
In addition to the major initiatives mentioned, many exciting new ideas are being pursued.
Key to the need for a strategic plan is our unique ability to hire many new faculty. The university has supported new faculty positions for cross-college hiring in these and other strategic areas. Last year we hired 10 new faculty members, including Meni Wanunu, an assistant professor in physics with an interest in nano-biophysics; Derek Isaacowitz, a full professor in psychology is interested in emotion and ageing; Alina Marian, an associate professor in mathematics who studies the mathematical implications of string theory; and Carla Mattos, a full professor in chemistry who works on protein structure determination.
There are many ways in which alumni support helps us achieve our goals. In particular, funds to support undergraduates co-op research experience in faculty labs, graduate fellowships to attract outstanding Ph.D. students to study in our world-leading programs, and endowed professorships that allow us to attract and retain outstanding faculty are all critical to achieving our strategic plans.
J. Murray Gibson
College of Science
About Dean Gibson
Dr. J. Murray Gibson is the founding dean of the College of Science at Northeastern University. Born and raised in Scotland, Gibson has held a range of senior academic and research positions. Most recently, he was the Director of the $1.7 billion Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory. Under his direction, APS emerged as the most productive source of protein structures in the world, became the global leader in X-ray studies of materials under extreme conditions, and attained the largest number of users of any scientific facility in the USA.
Gibson earned his BSc in natural philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and his PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge, England. He emigrated to the United States in 1978, beginning a fellowship at IBM Research, followed by 11 years at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. At Bell Labs, Gibson pioneered the use of advanced electron microscopy techniques to understand the structure/property relationships of semiconductor nanostructures. He built the first instrument that visualized in-situ—at atomic resolution—the growth of thin films by molecular beam epitaxy. Among several patents, he co-invented a novel approach to semiconductor lithography that led to the development of a spin-off company.
Gibson joined the University of Illinois in 1991, and trained 15 PhD students before joining Argonne in 1999 as the Director of its Materials Science Division. He has published almost 200 journal articles and is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the Royal Microscopical Society. He has been elected as the 2011 Chair of the Physics Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, where he was also elected a fellow. He serves as a member of the board of directors of the Materials Research Society.
For relaxation, Gibson enjoys playing the piano and has lectured on the connection between physics and “the Blues.”