"Cyber Elite" Chemist Hired for Schwenk Chair
November 29, 1999
A chemist listed by Time, Inc. as one of the Top 50 Cyber Elite will join the University next semester as the first Harold S. Schwenk, Sr. Distinguished Chair in Chemistry.
Robert R. Birge, a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and director of the W.M. Keck Center for Molecular Electronics at Syracuse University, was selected for the distinguished professorship after a national search.
"The University is extraordinarily pleased that Dr. Birge is joining our faculty," said President Philip E. Austin. "His recruitment is an excellent example of how we can couple the support of UCONN 2000 with private philanthropy to advance an already strong academic program. Our new chemistry building is one of the finest in the nation, and I am delighted that we will have a scholar of such exceptional capacity with us in the Schwenk chair."
Reached at his new home in Storrs, Birge said he is honored and excited to be joining the UConn faculty. "No other university in the U.S. is moving forward and improving with such a well conceived and well-financed rebuilding program, and it is exciting to now be a part of it," he said.
Birge, who has had nearly $9 million in grants during his 11 year tenure at Syracuse, has had continuous support from the National Institutes of Health since 1978. His work is related to the absorption of light and the chemical and molecular events that occur when light is absorbed. Practical applications of his work may lead to the development of an artificial retina and new ways to store memory from electronic devices such as a computer.
His research could lead to development of a device as small as a floppy disk that would store 100 times more material than a Zip disk is currently able to store by replacing magnetic memory with other technology.
"Dr. Birge is an extremely accomplished researcher. His interdisciplin ary approach to research and outreach is very attractive and could change the way we undertake research," Ross Mackinnon, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said. "I anticipate his impact at UConn to be significant."
Birge will have a secondary appointment in molecular and cell biology, and will interact with the Institute of Materials Science, and the faculty in physics and engineering, said Gary Epling, professor and head of chemistry.
"He was chosen because he is the kind of person and has the kind of research that presents opportunities for collaboration," Epling said. "The value of his work is not only as basic science but also for its potential applications."
The Schwenk chair is funded with a $1.75 million endowment from Harold S. Schwenk, Jr. and Paula H.J. Schwenk '79 in honor of Mr. Schwenk's father, who was a UConn professor of chemistry. The Schwenks have also contributed money for a $900,000 endowment for innovative education in science. Both endowments were then doubled by the state's matching endowment program and now total $3.5 million for the chair and $1.8 million for the education program. In honor of their support for UConn, the University designed and named the garden in front of the chemistry building for the Schwenks.
Birge holds four patents, is the author of 159 articles and author, co-author or editor of four books.
Listed as number 26 on the Time, Inc. Top Cyber Elite, Birge ranks above Steven Spielberg of DreamWorks, who is number 28, and film maker George Lucas, who is number 33. Bill Gates is listed as number one, Andy Grove of Intel as number six, and Steven Jobs of Apple as number 24.
Karen A. Grava