Matthew Tirrell named deputy laboratory director for science at Argonne National Laboratory

Matthew Tirrell, the founding Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, has been appointed to an additional scientific leadership role at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in a move that will strengthen the two institutions’ combined efforts.

Tirrell, a pioneering researcher in the fields of biomolecular engineering and nanotechnology, will maintain his leadership of the IME, which is a scientific partnership between the University and Argonne. In his new role, effective Sept. 1, he also will serve as Argonne’s deputy laboratory director for science.

As a scientific advisor to Argonne Director Peter B. Littlewood, Tirrell will have primary responsibility for integrating the lab’s research and development efforts and science and technology capabilities. He will develop and drive the strategy to support integrated, harmonized teams across divisions and disciplines, in support of the lab’s large strategic initiatives.

“Matt is a proven leader whose guidance of the IME is a tremendous asset for both Argonne and the University of Chicago,” Littlewood said. “He will now bring his clarity of scientific vision to a wider range of activities at Argonne, helping the lab and our partners capitalize on historic opportunities while continuing his superb leadership of our joint efforts at the IME.”

New partnership will strengthen UChicago-Argonne ties

Since becoming the IME’s founding director in 2011, Tirrell has led the new institute on a course of rapid growth in the emerging discipline of molecular engineering. The program has attracted a core of 12 faculty members, with a thriving graduate program and a new undergraduate major. Many IME faculty members have joint appointments as Argonne scientists, including Tirrell. The success in bringing faculty leaders to the IME has enabled Tirrell to build the leadership team and organization within the institute, allowing him to take on an expanded role.

Scientists at the IME explore innovative technologies that address fundamental societal problems through modern advances in nanoscale manipulation and the ability to design at a molecular scale. In 2014, the institute recorded $10 million in research volume and began equipping and staffing its new Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility.

Before leading the IME, Tirrell served for 10 years as dean of engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was credited with bringing the program to national prominence.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer, who serves as chairman of UChicago Argonne LLC and its board of governors, said Tirrell’s additional role at Argonne will allow him to make an even greater impact.

“The collaborations that Argonne makes possible facilitate scientific and technological creativity in many disciplines,” Zimmer said. “Matt is just the right kind of leader for this collaborative environment. I am pleased that his remarkable leadership of the IME will continue, and that he will bring the same spirit of innovation and ambition to his dual role at Argonne.”

His new role will require a greater cross-disciplinary focus than ever, Tirrell said. Along with fostering new collaborations among Argonne’s computing, environment, life sciences, energy, global security, photon sciences and physical sciences and engineering divisions, his new position will help both Argonne and UChicago to fully leverage their science and technology strengths, he said.

The partnership between the lab and the University, Tirrell noted, already has produced many successes in addition to the IME: among them are the Computation Institute; collaboration on a partnership to create a regional center for wastewater recovery and reuse, with the ultimate goal of an economy based on sustainable water consumption; and a joint venture to bolster genomic sequencing capabilities.

“These existing partnerships are just the beginning,” Tirrell said. “Argonne has so much research and development and science and technology capabilities not only to be exploited, but combined both internally and with external entities, to create innovative opportunities and break new ground in the 21st century.”

Tirrell’s experience complements Argonne senior team

Tirrell’s appointment completes the senior executive team for Littlewood. That team also includes: Paul K. Kearns, deputy laboratory director for operations and chief operations officer, who oversees areas that include finance, human resources, communications, safety and health, and computing and information systems; and Alfred P. Sattelberger, deputy laboratory director for programs, who manages the external interactions of Argonne’s scientific programs, with the DOE sponsors and other stakeholders; and builds relationships with other laboratories, the university community and international collaborators that enable new groundbreaking research and large-scale programs.

In addition to Tirrell’s tenure as engineering dean at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he served as the Arnold and Barbara Silverman Professor and chair of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Tirrell also served as professor of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering, and as a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Tirrell began his academic career in 1977 at the University of Minnesota, where he served as Shell Distinguished Chair in chemical engineering, the Earl E. Bakken Professor of biomedical engineering, director of the Biomedical Engineering Institute, and head of chemical engineering and materials science.

Tirrell has provided leadership to numerous national and regional organizations, including the Science and Technology Panel of the University of California President’s Council for National Laboratory Administration from 2000 to 2010. He has served as editor or on the editorial boards of 18 publications.

Tirrell received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern University in 1973, and his doctoral degree in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 1977. He has received many honors, including the Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society, and election to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.