Faculty hiring initiative supports Notre Dame’s ongoing investments in research

Author: William G. Gilroy

Main Building

Building on the momentum of its recent Strategic Research Investment initiative — which committed $80 million in internal resources to 14 research projects — the University of Notre Dame has announced the winning proposals in a new strategic hiring initiative. The initiative, which is a key component in the University’s Advancing Our Vision (AOV) program, will create approximately 80 faculty positions in 10 key areas of research across campus, drawing on $10 million in annual funds that have been reallocated from lower-priority expenditures to this academic priority.

University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., introduced the AOV program in 2011 as part of Notre Dame’s ongoing commitment to research excellence, both within faculty and for the undergraduate and graduate students they teach.

The president also emphasizes the program’s importance given the University’s commitment to be a sound steward of its resources, a commitment that has taken on even greater significance given current challenges facing the economy and higher education.

“It is always difficult, even in the best of economic times, to find new monies for hiring of multiple faculty positions,” notes Peter K. Kilpatrick, Matthew H. McCloskey Dean of the College of Engineering. “So for Notre Dame as a whole to study all areas of the University budget in order to create new faculty lines for the future is incredibly far-sighted. Not all technological advances begin with such careful planning, and many are not realized because they do not have the appropriate funding or the personnel in order to achieve breakthroughs. We are grateful for this level of commitment across campus to funding research for the greater good.”

“Everyone recognizes that the whole University is sacrificing to enhance our research capacity and profile,” adds John McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “The challenge for the academic leaders is to build research programs worthy of that sacrifice.”

The winning proposals, which were selected by a cross-disciplinary committee of faculty and deans, aim to build on the University’s existing strengths in chemical and biomolecular engineering, electrical engineering (nanotechnology), topology, global history, analytical chemistry and biochemistry, economics, nuclear physics, computational data science and engineering, applied and computational mathematics and statistics, and non-embryonic stem cell research.

“For Arts and Letters,” notes McGreevy, “AOV is an exciting initiative as it enables us to push forward even faster with two of our strongest departments: economics and history. Economics is one of the fastest growing majors in the University and a place where, over a long period of time, Notre Dame had suffered from underinvestment — but it is also a department that has made great strides in the past decade. The AOV program is now an extraordinary opportunity to leap forward in this crucial discipline, especially with key programs such as the Lab for Economic Opportunities and in growing areas of emphasis such as financial economics.”

According to McGreevy, the College’s Department of History is also undersized compared to its peers, but has, like economics, made significant advances over the last decade. “The AOV program will now allow us to advance both the quality and the global scope of the historical scholarship represented in the department, furthering the University’s international vision.”

In the sciences, says Gregory P. Crawford, William K. Warren Foundation Dean of the College of Science, the interdisciplinary initiatives funded through AOV will transform strategic areas of research where Notre Dame can make a global impact.

“We are leading pioneering work in adult stem cell research through the regeneration of adult stem cells in zebrafish, and by working with faculty across campus, Notre Dame will address stem cell issues from an ethical, legal, theological and engineering perspective,” he says. “Through additional strategic hires made possible by AOV, our extraordinary nuclear physics, analytical sciences and engineering, topology and quantum field theory, and applied and computational mathematics and statistics will also be strengthened to be among some of the very best, cross-collaborative programs in the world.”

Engineering projects within the AOV strategic hiring initiative also span a number of disciplines — and pressing human needs.

“Clean, sustainable energy is arguably one of the most important challenges the world faces today, whether it is developing novel materials for harvesting solar energy, redesigning the fuel and waste forms for nuclear energy, or designing environmentally friendly and economically feasible processes for clean uses of fossil fuels,” says Kilpatrick. “Many of these breakthroughs at Notre Dame are being led by engineering faculty who study the fundamental interactions of chemicals and new materials so that they can use their findings to generate sustainable and cleaner energy solutions.”

Notre Dame has been a pioneer in the area of solid state nanotechnology since the early 1990s and now has emerged as a national leader in the area of nanoelectronics, Kilpatrick continues, noting that the AOV investment in a new advanced circuits initiative is “a natural next step to deepening the impact of our groundbreaking nanoelectronics research on the national economy.”

Finally, he notes, Notre Dame is also poised to make significant contributions in the big data research, a critical area of technology that is growing in impact. “Computational and data science and engineering, like nanotechnology, enable advancements in fields where more information is proving critical to the health and well-being of society. These include medical applications that allow more precise and personalized diagnoses and more targeted radiation therapies, as well as environmental sensing programs to monitor water quality in communities, and more.”

The specific projects selected for the AOV strategic hiring initiative are:

1. “Achieving Preeminence in Analytical Sciences and Engineering”

This is a new program in Analytical Sciences and Engineering that will elevate both the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This project is led by Norman Dovichi, Grace Rupley Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

2. “Advancing Our Visions in Nuclear Physics”

This project is a hiring initiative aimed at ensuring that Notre Dame’s internationally recognized Nuclear Science Laboratory continues as a leader in nuclear astrophysics, nuclear structure and radioactive beam physics while expanding work in applied nuclear physics. It is led by Ani Aprahamian, Freimann Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics.

3. “An Advanced Circuits Initiative”

This is a joint venture between the Department of Electrical Engineering and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering with the goal of expanding the footprint of the already successful NDnano effort in nanoelectronics to include circuit-level innovation. It is led by Thomas Fuja, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering.

4. “Bridging the Gap between Stem Cell Science and Society”

This project is a cluster of hires in Science, Engineering, Arts and Letters, and Law designed to foster integrated global inquiry into the science, tissue engineering, law and ethics related to stem cells for medical use. This is led by David Hyde, professor of biological sciences and director of Notre Dame’s Center for Zebrafish Research.

5. “Computational and Data Science and Engineering”

The goal of this project is faculty hires in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering focusing on such areas as database management, data visualization, data mining and network science. It is led by Gretar Tryggvason, Viola Hank Endowed Chair and chair of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.

6. “Economics”

Targeted hires of faculty who focus on policy-relevant research in major fields of the economics, support the mission of the University, and collaborate with scholars in other disciplines is the goal of this project, led by Richard Jensen, Gilbert F. Schaefer Professor and chair of the Department of Economics.

7. “Experiment, Model, and Simulate”

This project centers on faculty hires to expand department strength in specific sub-fields and seek grants for interdisciplinary studies involving areas such as cancer progression, gene sequencing, environmental modeling and big-data analysis in global health. It is led by Steven Buechler, professor of applied and computational mathematics.

8. “Global History”

This is for increased faculty investment in areas such as Latin American and modern European history as well as emerging areas of strength such as early American history, with a focus on research not limited by national boundaries, such as the history of disease, migration, religious belief and the environment. This project is led by Patrick Griffin, Madden-Hennebry Professor of History.

9. “Strategic Hiring to Advance Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering”

This is an effort to hire scholars in five core areas: catalysis and reaction engineering, micro- and nanofluidics and sensing, materials for energy and separations, computation and theory and biomolecular engineering. It is led by Edward Maginn, Dorini Family Professor of Energy Studies and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

10. “Topology and Quantum Field Theory”

This is a new research group to explore the intersection of mathematics and physics, with a focus on faculty hires to help generate discoveries in quantum field theory that fuel progress in computer science, theoretical physics and topology. This group is led by Stephan Stolz, Rev. John A. Zahm, C.S.C., Chair in Mathematics.

The University is now beginning the process of recruiting AOV-funded scholars to Notre Dame, although the hires will likely take place over a number of years.

The goal in all the searches, says Father Jenkins, is to attract scholars to Notre Dame who will “provide our students with an unparalleled undergraduate education, contribute research and scholarship, and do all this in a university community informed by its Catholic mission.”

For more information, see advancingourvision.nd.edu.