Physicist Nadya Mason appointed dean of Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering

Renowned experimental physicist Nadya Mason has been appointed dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, effective Oct. 1, 2023.

A highly accomplished academic leader and elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, Mason is the Rosalyn S. Yalow Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she specializes in experimental studies of materials. This work is relevant to applications involving nanoscale and quantum computing elements. Her research focuses on the electronic properties of small-scale materials, such as nanoscale wires and atomically thin membranes. 

“Since UChicago’s molecular engineering program launched a decade ago, we have made an extraordinary impact by quickly becoming a leading destination for scholars in the field,” President Paul Alivisatos said. “The coming decade will require PME’s dean to have an even greater vision to further inspire and unlock the full promise and potential of our scholarly community. As a widely regarded academic, Nadya has distinguished herself both for the rigor of her scholarship and the depth of her commitment to elevating the communities within which she serves. PME will undoubtedly achieve important breakthroughs under her leadership.”

Mason is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award, the Maria Goeppert Mayer Award, the Edward A. Bouchet Award, the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship, and several honors granted in recognition of teaching excellence. She was named an American Physical Society Fellow, a Kavli Fellow, an Illinois University Scholar and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Additionally, Mason has extensive experience overseeing interdisciplinary research. She is the director of UIUC’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, an eminent interdisciplinary research facility that brings together researchers from more than 40 campus departments to collaboratively address major scientific and technological challenges. Mason is also the founding director of the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, a multidisciplinary research and education center funded by the NSF. 

In addition to maintaining a rigorous research program and teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels, Mason has worked to increase diversity in the physical sciences, particularly through mentoring, and is the former chair of the American Physical Society Committee on Minorities. Deeply committed to communicating about science at all levels, she frequently shares her knowledge and expertise through local television appearances and public lectures.

In 2019, Mason gave a TED Talk on scientific curiosity. She serves as a member of the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee and the Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee. Mason earned a Ph.D. from Stanford University and a BS from Harvard University, both in physics.

“I am thrilled to start this fall as dean at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering,” Mason said. “As an interdisciplinary school, PME is uniquely positioned to tackle grand-challenge science and engineering problems from climate change to quantum computing. I look forward to working with faculty, staff, students and community partners to help grow PME toward even greater global impact in education, research and technological development.”

Mason will succeed Matthew Tirrell, who has led the University’s molecular engineering program since its inception in 2011 and will serve as dean through Sept. 30.

The first school of molecular engineering in the nation, PME integrates science and engineering to address global challenges from the molecular level up. The school is an innovator in research and education, organizing itself around solving some of today’s most pressing issues rather than traditional departments. Faculty have made strides in immunology research, advancing the understanding of cancer and vaccines, and developing novel treatments such as coronavirus nanotraps. The school has become an international hub for quantum science and technology, collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Q-NEXT, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in 2017 to launch the Chicago Quantum Exchange and to explore the new frontiers of quantum computing, sensing and communications. PME’s robust efforts in energy and sustainability have led to promising developments in energy storagecritical metal extractiondegradable plastics, and water treatment, among other advances.

PME students and faculty operate in close collaboration, bringing together their expertise to address these critical challenges with real-world solutions.

Impressively, PME ranks third in the nation for research funding per faculty when compared to all other engineering schools, according to the National Science Foundation’s 2020 Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) survey, released in 2022. That ranking places the school just behind Harvard University’s engineering school in total research funding obtained by individual faculty and well ahead of other, more established schools in the engineering field only ten years after PME opened its doors as an Institute and during its first year as a full-fledged engineering school.