Eric D. Isaacs appointed provost of University of Chicago

Eric D. Isaacs, an accomplished physicist, a national advocate for basic research and director of Argonne National Laboratory, will be the next provost of the University of Chicago.

President Robert J. Zimmer announced the appointment Dec. 5, citing Isaacs’ academic accomplishment and strong record of institutional leadership. Isaacs will take on his new role on March 31, 2014, succeeding Thomas F. Rosenbaum, who has been appointed the ninth president of the California Institute of Technology.

“Eric has had a distinguished career in research and education as well as in academic leadership. He will bring the values of the University of Chicago, our deep commitment to open inquiry and challenging education, to his new role,” Zimmer wrote in a message to University faculty. “I am confident that his values, experience, breadth and demonstrated commitment to collaborative leadership will serve well the range of scholarly and educational programs across the University in coming years.”

In addition to his appointments in UChicago’s Department of Physics, the James Franck Institute and the College, Isaacs has been director of Argonne since 2009. During that period he has played key roles in the creation of the Institute for Molecular Engineering and expanding the impact of the Computation Institute—two joint efforts of the University and Argonne.

As provost, he will be the University’s chief academic officer, overseeing 13 academic divisions, schools and institutes with faculty appointive powers. The provost is responsible for working with the deans and faculty to ensure the ongoing eminence of the University’s scholarly and educational programs, and oversees the academic appointment process, the University budget, space allocation, and many forms of academic support and development. Last year, the University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the office and the legacy of its first provost, Edward H. Levi.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve as provost, supporting the scholars at the heart of the University’s mission,” said Isaacs. “It is both exciting and humbling to take on this role at a time of such tremendous momentum, with a faculty that continues to grow in number, distinction and innovation across the academic spectrum.”

At Argonne, Isaacs has overseen 50 percent growth in research funding, during a period of extraordinary budgetary challenges in the sciences. He led the multi-partner team that won a five-year, $120 million grant from the Department of Energy for research on battery technology and energy storage, announced in 2012.

In addition to the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the Computation Institute, Isaacs has worked to integrate Argonne more deeply into the scholarly life of the University through programs such as the Urban Center for Computation and Data and the recently announced Chicago Innovation Exchange on 53rd Street, where Argonne will be one of the founding partners. At the same time, Argonne’s international engagement has grown to include partnerships with in China, India, South Korea, Japan and the European Union.

Isaacs joined the University and Argonne in 2003 as the founding director of the Center for Nanoscale Materials. A condensed matter physicist whose work focuses on quantum materials, Isaacs has continued to teach graduate courses in physics, advise PhD students and supervise postdoctoral fellows in addition to his leadership roles.

“Our ambition to transform disciplines and create new ones through the bold expression of ideas, shaped and honed by argument, has long been the competitive advantage of the University of Chicago,” said Rosenbaum. “Having known Eric since his days at Bell Labs, it is clear to me that he will be a formidable advocate for these values and ambitions.”

Prior to arriving in Chicago, Isaacs worked for 15 years at Bell Laboratories, including terms as director of Semiconductor Physics Research and Materials Physics Research. Some of Isaacs’ early research developed synchrotron-based X-ray scattering techniques that continue to play a key role in nanoscale scientific research. He has more than 150 scholarly publications, including two during the last year—the most recent a paper on battery technology in energy and environment.

Isaacs is the chair of the National Laboratories Directors Council, the chair of the Illinois Science and Technology Council, and a board member for many organizations, including the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., which recently affiliated with the University.

Isaacs earned his PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his bachelor’s degree from Beloit College.

Zimmer announced that Don Levy, the University’s Vice President for Research and National Laboratories, will lead a process to identify Isaacs’ successor as director of Argonne.

Zimmer also took the occasion to express his gratitude again to Rosenbaum, who takes over as president at Caltech on July 1. Rosenbaum will step down as provost at the end of the Winter Quarter, remaining on the UChicago faculty through the Spring Quarter.

“I want to thank and acknowledge Tom Rosenbaum for his extraordinary leadership as provost and his contributions as a member of the faculty,” Zimmer wrote.