Rocky Kolb appointed next dean of Division of the Physical Sciences

Prof. Edward “Rocky” Kolb has been appointed dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences for a five-year term, President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum announced. Kolb’s appointment will take effect July 1.

Kolb is the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College and former Chair of Astronomy & Astrophysics. He is a member of the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. In 1983, Kolb was a founding leader of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group and in 2004 the founding Director of the Particle Astrophysics Center at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He presently serves on the boards of the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Adler Planetarium.

“In filling this position, we sought an outstanding scholar and leader to work with the faculty of the Division to fulfill its intellectual and educational aspirations, as well as to become a significant contributor to defining the academic directions of the University as a whole,” wrote Zimmer and Rosenbaum in a joint e-mail to the division faculty. An elected advisory committee of division faculty members recommended Kolb for the post.

“For over a century, the faculty, staff, and students of the Physical Sciences Division have led just about every major advance in the physical sciences,” Kolb said. “As dean, I plan to enlarge and support the activities of the Division and keep us at the leading edge.”

Kolb succeeds Robert A. Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor of Mathematics, who is returning full time to the faculty. Zimmer and Rosenbaum praised Fefferman for leading the Division with dedication and accomplishment over the last decade.

“Bob systematically improved every department in the Physical Sciences Division over the last decade through strategic faculty hiring, an emphasis on pedagogical excellence, and attention to intellectual culture,” they wrote. “He has been a major proponent of scientific outreach and diversity, leading both through the creation of innovative programs and personal example.”

A native of New Orleans, Kolb earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans in 1973 and his doctorate in physics from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1978.

Kolb’s research applies fundamental particle physics and general relativity theory to the very early universe, including cosmic inflation models, gravitational production of particles, particle dark matter, ultra-high energy cosmic rays, and high-energy neutrino astronomy. In addition to more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, he co-authored The Early Universe, the standard textbook on particle physics and cosmology. In 2010, the American Astronomical Society and the American Institute for Physics recognized his research, along with his colleague Michael Turner’s work, with the 2010 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics. .

Kolb is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He was the recipient of the 2003 Oersted Medal of the American Association of Physics Teachers for notable contributions to the teaching of physics, a 1993 Quantrell Prize for undergraduate teaching excellence at the University, and the 2009 Excellence in Teaching Award from the University’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

In great demand as an international scientific and public lecturer, Kolb has been a Harlow Shapley Visiting Lecturer with the American Astronomical Society since 1984. His book for the general public, Blind Watchers of the Sky, received the 1996 Emme Award of the American Aeronautical Society. In the autumn of 2012 he was in residence at the University of Heidelberg as the recipient of the J. Hans D. Jensen Prize.