Leading Quantum Materials Researcher and Science Advances Deputy Editor Appointed as The Tim and Sharalynn Fenn Family Endowed Chair in Materials Science
Julia Chan, Ph.D., returned to her alma mater after more than two decades at LSU and UT-Dallas and will provide leadership in Baylor’s burgeoning materials science efforts
By Derek Smith, Baylor University Marketing & Communications
WACO, Texas (Aug. 25, 2022) – Baylor University announced today the appointment of Julia Chan, Ph.D., (BS ’93) as the inaugural holder of The Tim and Sharalynn Fenn Family Endowed Chair in Materials Science. Chan, a 1993 Baylor graduate who built an international reputation as a leading scientist focused on the discovery of new families of quantum materials, will provide multi-disciplinary leadership for Baylor’s materials science efforts.
“Baylor University is a special place, and as a materials scientist, the opportunity to serve in growing these efforts through is very exciting,” Chan said. “I’m grateful to Tim and Sharalynn Fenn for their generosity in establishing this chair, which will allow for engagement with faculty across campus and with students who will come to Baylor as we expand in materials science research here.”
A leader in the field of materials science, Chan has been a part of numerous high-level institutions since her time as a Baylor undergraduate. After earning a Ph.D. at the University of California at Davis, Chan was a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory.
In her independent academic career, she spent 22 years at Louisiana State University and the University of Texas at Dallas – both R1 institutions. As a faculty member at LSU and UT-Dallas, she earned numerous awards and significant external funding for quantum materials science research. After joining the Science family of journals as an associate editor in 2015, she was appointed as a deputy editor for the renowned journal Science Advances in 2018, serving as leader of their physical science efforts.
“As a fellow Baylor alum, I’m excited to welcome Dr. Julia Chan back to campus. She has already had such an important role in shaping our materials science efforts; I look forward to seeing what she will do in the future at Baylor,” Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., said. “I am incredibly grateful for her work as one of the editors of the journal Science Advances, which informs the public about cutting-edge scientific work happening worldwide. For a researcher of Dr. Chan’s caliber to take the time to speak about such matters in the public realm truly shows that she is also a committed educator.”
Chan joined the Baylor faculty as a professor of chemistry at the start of the Spring 2022 semester, bringing her research group to her alma mater, before being appointed to the chair position.
Exotic properties, quantum materials
Materials science is one of five signature academic initiatives of Illuminate, the strategic plan that helped guide Baylor to R1 research recognition by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning in 2021. Chan specifically focuses on the study, synthesis and characterization of quantum materials, searching for ways to arrange molecules that create exotic properties and behaviors within the synthesized materials.
“In my laboratory, we grow single crystals of solid-state materials so we can directly measure the physical properties,” Chan said. “In addition to diffraction techniques, we work extensively with collaborators all over the world to learn about the physics of new materials. The key is synthesis of novel quantum materials, critical to understanding the function of emergent materials. The combination of chemistry, physics and materials science insights is synergistic and necessary to advance the field and can impact sustainability, energy and quantum information science.”
Examples can be found in metals that conduct electricity, as Chan explains – metallic objects conduct electricity while other types of materials are insulating. The plastic plugs in electrical sockets that protect children from electric shock do so because they insulate, while a metallic object plugged into the socket could be deadly. Quantum materials scientists search for materials that have both of these properties.
“There’s no universal theory that can explain some of the exotic phenomena that is quantum in nature,” Chan said. “At the end of the day, we are pursuing new materials that advance our field and impact the world.”
Chan’s background includes more than 200 published articles and significant competitive research awards from organizations like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and American Chemical Society, along with support from funding agencies like the NSF, Department of Energy and Welch Foundation. She also was named a prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. As a deputy editor for Science Advances, she plays a leading role in evaluating cutting-edge scientific research from around the world. Most recently, Chan co-authored a journal article which connects several decades of research on a family of intermetallic crystalline materials to find practical ways to design strongly correlated electronic, magnetic and superconducting phenomena.
While maintaining an active research portfolio and serving Science Advances remain priority items for Chan, she was drawn back to Baylor to build and be a part of the University’s systemic research growth.
“In Illuminate, Baylor has a great game plan that was very exciting to see. This makes it an incredibly special time to be back at Baylor,” Chan said. “And this chair role is an opportunity to play a leadership role and to engage and inspire additional research which is exciting. I’m a Baylor person and care about this place. When I saw all of this, I wanted to be a part.”
Endowed chair faculty positions, like The Tim and Sharalynn Fenn Family Endowed Chair in Materials Science, are key to growing Baylor’s materials science efforts. Chan will help provide leadership in this area from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
“We are fortunate to have recruited Julia Chan to Baylor University as The Tim and Sharalynn Fenn Family Endowed Chair in Materials Science,” said Lee Nordt, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “This is a great example of the importance of endowed chairs for attracting outstanding faculty to Baylor who can not only produce cutting-edge scholarship aligned with Illuminate but provide national and international expertise in the field of chemistry.”
The Tim and Sharalynn Fenn Family Endowed Chair in Materials Science was established in 2022 by Tim and Sharalynn Fenn of Houston in support of the Materials Science initiative within Illuminate and the Give Light campaign, Baylor’s comprehensive fundraising campaign that has raised more than $1.2 billion in support of the University’s aspirations within Illuminate. The Fenn Chair is a permanent endowment to attract, retain and support a visionary Christian leader who is focused on the growth and development of Materials Science and its associated fields. The Fenn Chair is the first named chair to be filled within the Give Light Campaign’s Illuminate Chair Matching Program, which supports the University’s efforts to generate high-impact research and scholarship, focusing especially upon the key academic initiatives of Illuminate, by matching endowment gifts to establish research faculty chairs.
“I’m incredibly thankful for the Fenns for investing in this position. It means a lot that they saw a need and wanted to meet it. Even though they say they had to google ‘materials science,’ they chose to give to this position. Because of this, we will have more students excited about materials science who choose to come to Baylor and we can conduct and support research that address our world’s problems, Chan said.
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Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
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