Pablo G. Debenedetti will step down as Dean for Research on June 30, 2023 after a decade in this role, according to an announcement released by the University on Tuesday, Nov. 22. Debenedetti plans to retire after taking a sabbatical during the 2023-24 academic year.
Debenedetti is the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, and a professor of chemical and biological engineering.
The dean for research works alongside the provost and other senior leaders to nurture the University’s research community. Debenedetti started in the role in July 2013, and stated in the announcement that he was proud of his role in supporting blue-sky research — broadly defined as research that does not have immediate real-world applications, but instead focuses on expanding knowledge of the unknown.
“We want to encourage people to take risks, to try new ideas,” he said in the University statement. “I’ve consciously made a big push in that direction, because I am very worried about how the hyper-competitive funding environment discourages researchers from tackling bold new directions.”
Prior to taking up his position as Dean, Debenedetti served as vice dean for the School of Engineering and Applied Science from 2008 to 2013, and spent a semester as acting dean during this time. Debenedetti was the chair for the former Department of Chemical Engineering for eight years. In addition, he served as the director of graduate studies for the department for five years.
After completing his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Debenedetti joined Princeton’s faculty in 1985, and was promoted to full professor in 1994. He received his endowed professorship in 1998.
Notable achievements during Debenedetti’s time as dean include doubling the size of the research software engineers program, creating new funding for the purchase of transformative research equipment, and eliminating graduate student tuition and health plan charges to external grants, alongside a partnership with the provost, according to the University announcement.
Debenedetti also governed the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded I-Corps Northeast Hub, which trains, mentors, and gives resources in entrepreneurship for researchers of all backgrounds, including those historically underrepresented in the field. According to the announcement, the University has seen a 59 percent growth in sponsored research expenditures since 2013.
University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said in the announcement that “Debenedetti has guided Princeton’s research enterprise with skill, integrity, vision, and an unwavering commitment to the values of this University.”
Debenedetti created the Office of the Vice Dean for Innovation to advance discovery and entrepreneurship, and later provided administrative oversight for the Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research and Innovation (PACRI) co-created by the vice dean for innovation. The program encourages innovative collaboration between Princeton researchers and peers at five historically Black universities and colleges (HBCUs).
“It has been a true privilege to serve Princeton’s extraordinary research community for a decade,” Debenedetti said in the announcement. “I’m very proud of the things that we’ve been able to accomplish with my absolutely outstanding leadership team and truly stellar staff.”
Reflecting on his time on campus, Debenedetti said that “when I interviewed here 38 years ago, I fell in love with Princeton, so I’ve been here ever since.”
“When the opportunity arose to be considered for the dean for research job, it seemed like a good opportunity to give back to Princeton a little fraction of what Princeton has given to me,” he added.
Debenedetti has been the recipient of Princeton’s highest honors for teaching, the Award for Distinguished Teaching. He has also received several other awards, including the NSF’s Presidential Young Investigator Award, the Guggenheim Medal from the Institution of Chemical Engineers, the Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry of Liquids from the American Chemical Society, and the Rahman Prize for Computational Physics from the American Physical Society.
In his own research, Debenedetti focuses on the formation of non-crystalline solids like glass when liquids are rapidly cooled, the formation of ice in clouds, protein behavior at extreme humidities, and hydrophobicity — the molecular basis of water repellency.
Debenedetti has authored or co-authored over 300 book chapters and articles. For his textbook, “Metastable Liquids: Concepts and Principles,” published through the Princeton University Press, he received the 1997 Award for Best Professional / Scholarly Book in Chemistry from the Association of American Publishers.
The University will be setting up a committee to search for Debenedetti’s successor in the near future.
The University did not respond to a request for comment on behalf of Debenedetti.
The piece is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Nandini Krishnan is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’
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