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Robert Birge, Charles Driscoll Jr. named University Professors
Robert Birge, Charles Driscoll Jr. named University ProfessorsApril 13, 2001Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
In recognition of Syracuse University’s continuing drive to strengthen boundary-crossing research, a feature of the University’s new Academic Plan, Vice Chancellor and Provost Deborah A. Freund has appointed two University Professors, individuals whose work has transcended departmental boundaries and brought world-class distinction to the University. They are Robert R. Birge, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and director of the W.M. Keck Center for Molecular Biology in The College of Arts and Sciences, and Charles T. Driscoll Jr., Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS). “The focus of the Academic Plan is on partnerships and collaborations across units on campus and with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and Upstate Medical University,” says Freund. “Professors Birge and Driscoll exemplify the type of excellence that comes from this cross-cutting approach. Their example will, I hope, pave the way to motivate others to reach out across new boundaries to enhance creative activity, research and teaching.” The professorship is one of SU’s highest honors; only two other current faculty members hold the title: Gershon Vincow, professor of chemistry in The College of Arts and Sciences and former vice chancellor of the University, and recently retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, professor in The Maxwell School. University Professor Emeritus John A. Robinson of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science was the first named University Professor. Robert R. Birge Birge has been the Harold S. Schwenk Sr. Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Connecticut since January 2000. He went to UConn, which he credits as having some of the best molecular biology facilities in the country, to explore the use of directed evolution as a method to make new materials and devices. Birge has maintained his connection to SU through the Keck Center and his research. “Bob Birge’s groundbreaking work on three dimensional memory is known around the world,” says Freund. “We are fortunate to have someone of such distinction performing research here, and teaching and mentoring our students.” As a University Professor, Birge will remain director of the Keck Center and will hold appointments in The College of Arts and Sciences and the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. He will also continue his work on molecular and
biomolecular electronics at SU, where he maintains a group of three postdoctoral fellows and four graduate students. Birge will also remain a faculty member at UConn, where he has a group of about 18 researchers working on both basic and applied research. “Because Professor Birge’s work is so strongly interdisciplinary, he will greatly benefit the various science and engineering departments on campus,” says Cathryn Newton, dean of The College of Arts and Sciences. “I am very pleased that Syracuse University is willing to let me maintain a research presence at SU and keep my directorship of the Keck Center,” Birge says. “I owe SU a great deal for providing me with an opportunity to explore research areas that 10 years ago were considered unrealistic and even misguided. Now, these areas are viewed as mainstream and important, and I want to make sure that SU continues to receive credit for being a pioneering supporter of molecular electronics. I hope my joint appointments at both SU and UConn will benefit both universities.” Birge received another honor recently–the 3M Award of Canada for 2001-02. The award, established in 1962, is sponsored by 3M Canada. Each year, an outstanding member of the chemistry community is invited to offer a series of three lectures that are directed to a general audience of students, faculty and staff. Birge’s lectures will be given in Canada. The award rotates through the three classical divisions of chemistry: organic, inorganic and physical. The honor puts Birge in prestigious company. Among the previous recipients are several Nobel Laureates, including Rudolph A. Marcus, Donald J. Cram, Jean-Marie Lehn, Dudley R. Hershbach, John A. Pople, Henry Taube and Derek H.R. Barton. Birge came to SU in 1988 and that year established the Center for Molecular Electronics. Four years later, he acquired support for the center from the W.M. Keck Foundation, which makes grants in support of excellence in science, engineering, medical research and liberal arts. Birge earned international recognition in 1997 for the results of his years of research on the protein bacteriorhodopsin and was named to Time Digital magazine’s list of 50 “Cyber Elite.” Birge and his research group discovered that light caused the gooey purple protein, found in salt marshes, to change color, meaning it could store binary-style information. The group later discovered that the protein could also store information in three dimensions. His work in this area continues and is a major thrust of the research program within the Keck Center. He was appointed Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in 1995 and received a Chancellor’s Citation for Exceptional Academic Achievement in 1996. He also served as director of The New York State Center for Advanced Technology in Computer Applications and Software Engineering (CASE), based at SU. Birge received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1968 and a doctorate in chemical physics from Wesleyan University in 1972. He served as an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University from 1973 to 1975.
Charles T. Driscoll Jr. Driscoll is widely recognized for his international leadership in pioneering engineering studies of “whole” ecosystems, such as entire watersheds. The hallmark of Driscoll’s work is the use of integrated, multidisciplinary approaches to understand how whole ecosystems respond to multiple disturbances, including air pollution, changes in land use, and climatic events. He has published two books and more than 200 peer-reviewed papers. State, regional and national groups, including congressional and national academy panels, routinely solicit Driscoll’s advice on a range of matters relating to the impact of human activities on environmental quality. “When scientists all over the world think of groundbreaking work in environmental sciences, Charles Driscoll’s name comes up over and over again,” Freund says. “It is very special that he is in our midst.” “Understanding the response of ‘whole’ environments to multiple disturbances is notoriously difficult,” says Edward A. Bogucz, dean of ECS. “Professor Driscoll has the extraordinary ability to lead broad research teams that have made pathfinding contributions to the understanding of complex environmental systems. In addition, he is extremely effective in communicating scientific and engineering information to a broad variety of individuals, including undergraduate and graduate students, public policy decision makers, alumni and the general public.” Driscoll was the primary author of a study released March 26 by 10 leading acid rain researchers finding that lakes, forests and streams in the Northeastern United States are not recovering from the effects of acid rain despite emissions cuts required by 1990 changes to the Clean Air Act. The study received a large amount of national attention, and Driscoll was asked to speak about the findings at a press briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Driscoll says the University Professorship is a great honor. “It’s very exciting and flattering to be considered for this honor,” he says. “It demonstrates to colleagues at other universities that SU has a strong commitment toward my research program and interdisciplinary research in environmental sciences and engineering.” Driscoll has been involved in more than 60 sponsored research projects. They include studies of the effects of air pollution on lakes and streams in the Adirondacks, Catskills and across the Northeastern United States; the fate and transport of nutrients, mercury and other contaminants in Onondaga Lake and other watersheds; and the modeling of changes in environmental quality due to alternate management options, such as proposed amendments to the federal Clean Air Act. Since 1987, he has been a leader of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research Site Project at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) in New Hampshire. The HBEF is one of the world’s best-known and longest-running ecosystem study sites. Acid rain in the United States was first identified in the 1960s at the HBEF, and the site continues to attract more than 70 researchers annually from more than 15 research institutions.
He joined the SU faculty in 1979. In addition to his primary faculty appointment in ECS, Driscoll holds appointments in the Departments of Chemistry and Earth Sciences in The College of Arts and Sciences. Driscoll currently serves as director of the Center for Environmental Systems Engineering, which was established in 1998 to foster collaboration in academic and research programs across several departments in ECS. “One of the things I’m really excited about at SU is the strong commitment we’ve been placing recently on interdisciplinary research and learning,” Driscoll says. “I see a lot of faculty working across departments, and it makes so much sense because there are so many great people to work with. For me, I have opportunities to work on environmental research with colleagues not only in my own college but also at ESF, Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Biology, The Maxwell School and others–those collaborations are a key to doing excellent research.” He is a founding director of the Upstate Freshwater Institute, an independent nonprofit research organization that was established in Syracuse in 1981, and of the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, which was established in 1993. Driscoll has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, the Anaren Microwave Award for Excellence in Engineering Scholarship, and SU’s Chancellor’s Citation for Academic Achievement (1985). Driscoll received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine in 1974, and master’s degree and doctoral degrees from Cornell University in 1976 and 1980, respectively.