Pablo Debenedetti, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, will succeed A.J. Stewart Smith as the next dean for research, the University announced Monday. Debenedetti, who will assume his new role on July 1, is the second person to hold the title since the position’s creation in 2006.
“This appointment is a tremendous honor,” Debenedetti said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve Princeton — there’s a lot of exciting work to be done in this area.”
The role of the dean for research is to promote ethical and innovative research across campus and gather support from potential donors and sponsors for research projects in a broad range of disciplines. In addition, the dean for research is responsible for collaborating with the University Research Board to formulate research policies and standards.
As dean for research, Debenedetti will oversee the offices of Corporate and Foundation Relations, Research Integrity and Assurance, Research and Project Administration, Laboratory Animal Resources and Technology Licensing.
“The job is really to enable research and to help create conditions where the best people will decide to come to Princeton,” Smith said. When Debenedetti takes over this July, Smith will become the University vice president for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, an endeavor to which he said he was not able to devote as much time over the past few years in his role as dean.
Though Smith’s tenure as dean for research was initially planned to end on Jan. 1, 2013, he remained in his post for an additional six months after the search committee appointed to name his successor was unable to fill the position by the January deadline.
Debenedetti has been a faculty member at the University for 28 years, serving as both chair of the chemical engineering department from 1996 to 2004 and as vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science since 2008. Debenedetti is also a researcher in the field of thermodynamics and the theory of condensed matter.
“Pablo has all of the right skills,” chemical and biological engineering professor Christodoulos Floudas said. “He is a superb colleague, he has leadership capabilities, he has been an exceptional chair in the department and his scholarly work has had a tremendous impact across disciplines.”
Floudas, who joined the faculty just a year after Debenedetti did in 1985, said he was happy that the University chose someone with such a diverse background for the position.
In his new role, Debenedetti said his three broad goals will be to enhance funding by strengthening the University’s connection to the foundation and corporate worlds, encourage interdisciplinary research among faculty in different departments and promote “risk-taking research” through an increased use of innovation funds. According to Debenedetti, “risk-taking research” includes any idea that is not yet ready to compete for funding through usual funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Debenedetti added that he hopes to conduct a “listening tour” across a broad research community on campus to determine the best way his office can serve the needs of the faculty and the University.
“He’s a brilliant person, not only as an adviser and as a professor, but also as a person,” said Victoria Hwang ’13, who has Debenedetti as her thesis adviser. “Working with him has been terrific — he is very caring for his students, and he was always making sure I was happy.”
The federal budget sequestration that took effect on March 1 has created an added level of uncertainty at the University in terms of its research programs and activities, Debenedetti said. He noted that he is still waiting to hear about his own research proposals from the NSF, which, according to him, would already have provided a response under normal circumstances.
Smith said the main challenges Debenedetti will face in his new role are those involving research funding and grants.
“The unpredictable funding in the university environment is difficult — we have to be careful not to be too cautious,” Smith said. “We want to keep the research operations going, but there is definitely a risk.”
Smith said the best way Debenedetti can promote research on campus is to direct funding to areas where the University has demonstrated strength.
“It’s important to build on your strengths,” Smith said. “You can spend a lot of money on trying to do something, but unless you can get it to a level where you can impact the debt, then it’s problematic at an outstanding university like Princeton.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/04/09/32836/