Monday, October 27, 2008

UA Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics to Merge

[Source: Johnny Cruz, University Communications] - Faculty in The University of Arizona's departments of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics have overwhelmingly agreed to develop a plan to merge their respective departments, instantly creating one of the nation's most highly ranked chemistry departments.

The new department of chemistry and biochemistry will rank among the top 12 such departments in the country – as measured by federal research expenditures. There are approximately 160 doctoral degree-granting chemistry and biochemistry departments in the country, and most of them share a similar model to the new UA department.

The combined departments will form a teaching and research powerhouse, along with becoming the UA's third largest teaching program – behind only mathematics and English.

"The University Transformation gives us an opportunity to better position the disciplines represented by many departments around campus by aligning the strengths of the disparate units," said Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science. "There is perhaps no better example of this than the merger of the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics. This merger will elevate the national ranking of the new unit, but more importantly will allow for exciting new opportunities in research and teaching."

The new department will house more than 650 undergraduate majors and 210 Ph.D. students – with combined teaching in excess of 40,000 student credit hours per year.

"Both of the faculty and staff groups merging are incredibly strong in research and teaching, as well as service," said Mark Smith, head of the UA department of chemistry. "Many of the ways we compete for resources depend on being able to project a formidable strength, and this merger will accomplish just that."

Smith also believes that the merger will enhance the UA's ability to compete with the nation's most prestigious institutions for the very best students, faculty and staff. "For perhaps the first time, chemistry and biochemistry at the UA will be recognized as the research and teaching leaders they are," Smith said.

"I have been a member of the two departments (chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics) for the past 8 years and have experienced firsthand the great strengths that each department brings to the proposed merger," said Vicki Wysocki, head of the UA department of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. "This is an excellent example of bringing together two different cultures to form a new department that will be stronger than the sum of the parts."

When combined, the new department will attract approximately $16 million annually in federal research support to department research groups, which interact with faculty from nine other UA colleges. Chemistry and biochemistry faculty have collaborative research programs with UA researchers in optical sciences, astronomy, planetary science, the BIO5 Institute, molecular and cellular biology, medicine and other departments.

"This merger is about excellence, and it exemplifies the spirit of what the UA is striving for through the Transformation Plan," said Meredith Hay, UA executive vice president and provost. "These two strong departments joining forces will result in an exceptional unification of talent, greater quality through more collaborative research and more opportunities for our students through the combined resources of chemistry and biochemistry."

The teaching program will include undergraduate and graduate degrees in the traditional fields of chemistry and biochemistry as well as an accelerated master's degree, a graduate degree and distance learning programs for science teachers. The department also will continue educating medical school students and will join forces to become the UA's largest Ph.D. program.

The nationally ranked faculty in chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics will continue performing research over a broad range of molecular science, which includes areas such as solar energy, chemistry of the planets and interstellar space and intervention in disease.

According to Smith, the merger will promote the best training of future scientists and technologists that will help Arizona to solidify its economic base. "It is strength in science that will help the state of Arizona weather the economic storm," Smith said.

Chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics have been separate departments at the UA since 1977.

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