A.J. Stewart Smith to be named VP for PPPL, search for new dean for research to begin
A.J. Stewart Smith, who has served as Princeton University's first dean for research since 2006, will assume a newly created position as vice president for the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) to serve as the University's primary liaison with DOE.
Smith is expected to begin his new role on Jan. 1, 2013. A national search for his successor as dean for research will begin immediately (see sidebar).
During his tenure as dean, Smith has significantly enhanced Princeton's research enterprise by unifying and expanding the University's research administration operations, which has helped to attract increased funding from governments, corporations and other sources.
The move will enable Smith, who currently oversees PPPL as dean, to dedicate more time to the lab, which the University has managed for more than 60 years. In turn, his successor will be able to focus on other areas of the dean's portfolio that have grown during Smith's tenure, including corporate and foundation relations, technology licensing, and regulatory compliance.
"Stew Smith has done a terrific job and really has built this position to take us into the 21st century in terms of our research support functions," said Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman. "Stew has been a great advocate for research at the University and will continue to be in his new role. Through his exceptional service to Princeton as the founding dean for research, he leaves a strong platform for his successor."
"We welcome this change, which will enable Stew Smith, with his understanding of physics research and his long experience of working with DOE, to devote his efforts to PPPL," said William F. Brinkman, director of DOE's Office of Science, which oversees the laboratory for DOE. "He is a great choice to help guide PPPL through scientific and economic challenges as its researchers continue to work toward the goal of producing fusion energy."
Smith, who is Princeton's Class of 1909 Professor of Physics, is a leading researcher in high-energy particle physics and a nationally respected figure in science policy. He was appointed chair of the University Research Board in 2005 and a year later assumed the new role of dean for research, beginning a major restructuring of Princeton's research administration.
As dean, Smith took on oversight of several key research support functions that had been dispersed throughout the University, including the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, the Office of Research and Project Administration, the Office of Technology Licensing, PPPL, and the University's animal research, biosafety and research integrity programs.
The transition in Smith's role comes as both PPPL and the University face ongoing challenges in attracting research funding from governments, corporations and foundations in the current economic climate, Provost Christopher Eisgruber said.
"Supporting the research conducted at PPPL is very important to us, as is our relationship with the Department of Energy, so we are delighted that Stew can devote his time to these responsibilities," Eisgruber said. "We have been very fortunate to have in Stew someone who had the expertise and talent to lead the University's research enterprise and also to provide effective oversight of PPPL.
"One of the principal areas of emphasis for the next dean for research will be expanding corporate and foundation partnerships, and improving our already very strong competitiveness for government grants," Eisgruber said. "Stew has made tremendous progress in those areas already. By moving responsibility for PPPL into his new office, the University ensures that his successor will both be able to take on existing management and oversight responsibilities, and also cultivate new initiatives that will help Princeton's research program to secure the funding that it requires."
Smith said that his new role in focusing on PPPL is particularly important as the American fusion research community contends with domestic budgetary challenges, as well as U.S. commitments to support a major international fusion energy project known as ITER.
Smith noted that research at PPPL is at an exciting stage with the recent approval of funds for a significant upgrade of the lab's major test facility, the National Spherical Torus Experiment, to pursue the development of nuclear fusion as a clean, safe and abundant fuel for generating electricity. At the same time, he wants to continue the trend of increasing collaborations between PPPL and University researchers on the frontiers of plasma physics.
"We have a beautiful new project going at PPPL with the upgrade of our flagship experiment," Smith said. "University oversight is going to be needed as much, if not more, as we move into the next phase of research at the lab."
PPPL Director Stewart Prager, who manages the lab and works closely with Smith, agreed: "A dedicated University position to oversee PPPL and facilitate links to other parts of the University is a wonderful idea, and there is no one who can better meet these challenges than Stew. This will maximize the benefits that PPPL derives from the considerable management expertise and scientific prowess within the University. It will also assure that the University benefits from strong scientific links to the lab."
Supporting the research community
Smith said he is proud of the enhancements to Princeton's research administration that have been accomplished during his tenure, particularly in assembling a strong senior management team within his office to oversee the multifaceted operations that support the efforts of the University's researchers.
In the 2011 fiscal year, Princeton and PPPL researchers conducted $280.8 million in sponsored research, up from $226.2 million in the 2005 fiscal year, the last year before Smith began his role as chair of the University Research Board.
"The rise in sponsored research speaks to the competitiveness of our researchers, but also to Stew's success in putting a good research structure in place," Eisgruber said. "He has appointed excellent people to his staff, and he has increased the funding that exists within the Office of the Dean for Research. Support for innovation, technology transfer and seed grants all have grown under Stew's leadership. He also has made important improvements to our compliance structures."
Smith cited the benefits of moving the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations into his portfolio — more closely aligning its operations with partners in the Office of Technology Licensing and the Office of Research and Project Administration — as a key factor in bolstering support for Princeton researchers.
"It's very important to our faculty, who really want to make useful their intellectual property," Smith said. "Corporations are looking for the most important product we have, which is our people — new Ph.D.'s and postdocs who are trained here and have unique knowledge. They want people partnering in their research, so they can gain the expertise from us and also have a pipeline for their next generation of scientists and engineers. They also want to learn about interesting inventions and patents they might develop."
Princeton researchers also have benefited from increases in innovation funds during Smith's tenure, including: the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund, which enables researchers to explore novel ideas that traditional funding sources might consider too risky to support; the Intellectual Property Development Fund, which supports early-stage projects that have the potential to transform lives and improve the world; and an endowed research fund that provides the dean with flexibility to support projects at various stages.
Also, in keeping with the University's efforts to enhance its international presence, Smith has worked to forge partnerships with institutions across the globe, including member organizations of Japan's National Institutes of Natural Sciences representing astrophysics, fusion science and biology.
Smith said the creation of his new position will enable his successor as dean to continue to advance these efforts, as well as foster the increasing interdisciplinary connections in Princeton's research community.
"The Princeton vision is to help the country and the world with new knowledge and new minds," he said. "When people have good ideas, you have to support them. We want to be the best at what we're doing and choose new things that would be the very best for us. That's what I hope the new dean will do — to use the time I have been using on PPPL to think about new directions and strengthening what we have."
The transition also will allow Smith to devote more attention to his own research, as he will dedicate 50 percent of his time to oversight of PPPL and 50 percent of his time to his research.
Smith joined the University faculty in 1967, a year after earning his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton in 1966. He served as chair of the physics department from 1990 to 1998.
During his career, Smith has carried out a succession of major experiments in particle physics at U.S. national laboratories. Since 1995, he has served as scientific team leader of an international collaboration of 600 scientists from 10 countries involved in a project based at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. A fellow of the American Physical Society, Smith has been a member of the experiments committee for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, and he has served on boards for many other organizations, including Brookhaven National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council of Canada. In 2011, Smith was awarded the American Physical Society's W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics for his contributions to the field.