Paul Alivisatos appointed as UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research

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UC Berkeley’s administration announced Thursday that current Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Director Paul Alivisatos will become the campus’s next vice chancellor for research, ending a five-month-long search to fill the position.

According to an email sent out to the campus community by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Alivisatos will take over the position from Interim Vice Chancellor Christopher McKee, who filled the position while the search for a permanent replacement took place.

McKee replaced Graham Fleming in the position after Fleming’s resignation amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he denied at the time.

Michael Witherell, professor at UC Santa Barbara, will replace Alivisatos as Berkeley Lab’s director, as approved by the UC Board of Regents on Thursday.

“Professor Alivisatos deeply impressed the search committee with his extensive and proven record of strategic leadership and administrative acumen,” Dirks said in the email.

According to an email from campus spokesperson Roqua Montez, the vice chancellor for research holds a key leadership post that is critical to ensuring UC Berkeley’s leading position among research and teaching universities.

As vice chancellor for research, Alivisatos will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating research efforts across more than 70 campus organizations.

“Alivisatos’ great scientific distinction — nationally and internationally — combined with his deep respect for the public mission of the university and his demonstrated excellence in management, creates an exceptional opportunity for Berkeley research,” Montez said in an email.

In his seven years as director of Berkeley Lab, Alivisatos focused the lab’s research efforts in the areas of climate change and renewable energy and oversaw improvements to research facilities in the fields of computational science, solar energy and biology.

“Paul is the kind of scientist who cares deeply about research and about how it can be used for good,” said Charina Choi, a former member of Alivisatos’ research group.

Choi also noted that Alivisatos’ commitment to public education made him an ideal candidate for vice chancellor for research, recalling the group’s regular efforts to educate the public by giving tutorials on solar energy and polymers at East Bay schools.

Alivisatos’ academic and administrative experiences lie in the field of the hard sciences, such as chemistry and physics, but multiple former members of his lab have said his multidisciplinary approach to research will allow him to be an effective administrator beyond his field of expertise.

“What science professor has an artist in residence?” said former research group member Andreas Meisel, referring to the unconventional presence of an artist in a science research group. “That gives you a sense of just how open-minded he is.”

Alivisatos could not be reached for comment by press time. He was in Washington D.C. on Friday, where President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Science.

Alivisatos will assume the position of vice chancellor for research March 1.

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ishaansriv.