Big Science Hires: Leading Geneticist and Epidemiologist and Prominent Physical and Surface Chemist to Join Faculty

Sept. 29, 2006 -- Stephen S. Rich, one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and geneticists, and John T. Yates Jr., a world-renowned physical and surface chemist and a member of the National Academy of Science, have been named to the faculty.

The hires are part of a $126 million Board of Visitors’ initiative to enhance science and technology research at the University. The plan includes recruiting new faculty members to lead pan-University research groups, accelerating construction of new research space and
retaining prominent and up-and-coming faculty  members.

Last year, U.Va. announced the appointment of leading engineer Joe C. Campbell, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, as the first of what will be 10 National Academies-level
hires. Rich and Yates are the newest appointees in this initiative; seven  more will follow during the next  four years.

Rich has been appointed director of U.Va.’s Center for Public Health Genomics. He comes from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine where he currently serves  as professor and vice chairman of the Department of Public Health  Sciences, professor in the Department of Neurology, and associate professor in the Department of Cancer Biology. Rich will begin his
appointment on Jan. 1, 2007.
Yates comes to U.Va. from the  University of Pittsburgh where he is a chaired professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His appointment at U.Va. will be in the Department of Chemistry, but he  also plans to work closely with the
Department of Astronomy and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. His appointment begins Jan. 1, 2007.

“We welcome the depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that Stephen Rich and John
Yates bring to the University of Virginia,” said Dr. R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies. “They both are exceptional leaders in their respective fields and will have immediate and significant impact here. By supporting the recruitment of these distinguished
scientists, the Board of Visitors’ program is dramatically accelerating progress towards our goal of achieving international research pre-eminence in key interdisciplinary areas in science and engineering.”

Gomez added that the University is seeking researchers who “have the capacity to transform reality — to vastly improve the quality of life at all levels of society with their inventions and discoveries.”

“We believe that hiring outstanding  senior faculty members serves as a catalyst for recruiting and retaining outstanding younger faculty members and graduate students,” said Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block. “We are building a great community of faculty at all levels in key
scientific areas.”


Stephen S. Rich is known internationally for his work in genetic epidemiology, focusing on the genetic basis of diabetes. Rich is currently the principal investigator and chairman of the Steering Committee for the Type I Diabetes Genetics Consortium  and is the chairman of the
Steering Committee and co-principal investigator for the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Family Study.

He also has collaborated on several projects studying the genetic basis of a wide array of conditions, including diabetic kidney and heart disease, susceptibility to middle ear infections, asthma and stroke. Rich currently is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator in
eight federally funded grants, and the principal investigator or coprincipal investigator in eight
national grants.

“We are excited to have Steve Rich join the University of Virginia School of Medicine to establish and develop our Center for Public Health Genomics,” said Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., dean and vice president of the School of Medicine. “With his  leadership, the center will work to translate findings from the Human Genome Project into usable science and treatments to benefit patients.”

After a year of postdoctoral study at Purdue University, Rich joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine. He later joined the faculty of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, where he was director of the Center for Public Health Genomics.

Rich has written more than 500 publications including peer reviewed journal articles, editorial
commentary, reviews, book chapters and books. He currently serves as an associate editor for Genetic Epidemiology and Diabetes and serves on the editorial board of Current Diabetes Reviews.

Rich is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American
Diabetes Association, American Heart Association (Stroke Council), American Society of Human Genetics, International Genetic Epidemiology Society and Society for Epidemiological Research.


John T. Yates Jr. is one of the world’s leading investigators in the field of surface chemistry and physics, including both the structure and spectroscopy of atoms and molecules on surfaces, the dynamics of surface processes and the development of new methods for research in surface chemistry.

He will join U.Va. as a full professor where he will continue active research in surface chemistry and  photochemistry as well as exploring connections to astrochemistry in  the solar system and deep space.

He brings 45 years of experience  in the field, first at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) in Washington, D.C., and more  recently at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was for 24 years the R. K. Mellon Professor of Chemistry and Physics and the founding director of the Pittsburgh Surface Science Center.

Surface chemistry is a very active field of modern science, connecting directly to many important technologies.

Catalysis, which is governed by principles of surface chemistry, is used in the chemical industry for the production of virtually all synthetic materials and fuels. Catalysis is also important in environmental protection, such as through the use of catalytic exhaust converters on motor
vehicles and in coal- and oil-fired electrical power plants.

Surface chemistry also underpins the technologies used to fabricate semiconductor chips in electronic devices. The field of nanoscience is strongly connected to surface chemistry and physics, as a large fraction of the atoms in nano-scale  devices are located on the surface.

Yates’ work will involve the use of ultraviolet light to activate surface chemical processes, both in terrestrial (photocatalysis) environments and in model stellar environments (astrochemistry),
helping to provide understanding of the synthesis of molecules in space.

He will also probe the properties of carbon nanotubes and their use to confine matter in very small  (nanometer) dimensions, causing the properties of the confined materials to become abnormal.

In addition, he plans to investigate the special chemical and physical  properties of unconfined
materials of nanometer dimension, which will form the building blocks of the nanotechnologies of the future. He is planning active collaborations with faculty in chemistry, chemical engineering, physics and astronomy, as well as participating in new University efforts in
nanoscience. He also plans to be an active teacher for undergraduate students.

“Among my reasons for coming to U.Va., in addition to its very strong chemistry department, is
that the University also has a strong astronomy department with close connections to the National Radio Telescope Observatory, all fitting in nicely with my interest in astrochemistry,”
Yates said. “There is a great future here in these fields.”

Ian Harrison, chairman of the Department of Chemistry said, “John [Yates] will have a very positive effect on the quality and vitality of several scientific fields across the University due to his wide-ranging interests and talents. His wisdom,  insight and enthusiasm will doubtlessly lead to many new collaborations.”

Yates received his doctorate in physical chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Following three years as an assistant professor at Antioch College, he joined the scientific staff at the National Bureau of Standards. In 1982 he joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh.
Yates maintains close relationships with surface science research programs in academic, government and industrial research laboratories throughout the world, as well as serving on the editorial boards of six journals and two book series in surface  science and catalysis. He is the
co-editor and author of severalbooks and has written more than 680 research papers. He is a member of several leading scientific organizations, including the highly prestigious National Academy of Sciences.