Scientific Conference Speakers

September 18, 2021
John L. Anderson

John L. Anderson

President of the National Academy of Engineering

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John L. Anderson is the president of the National Academy of Engineering. He previously served as president of the Illinois Institute of Technology, provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University, and dean of engineering and chair of chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. His bachelor’s and PhD degrees are both in chemical engineering. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During 2014-20, he was a member of the U.S. National Science Board. He has held visiting professor positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Melbourne (Australia), and Wageningen University (the Netherlands). His research and teaching have been in the areas of membrane transport phenomena, dynamics of colloidal particles in electric fields and chemical gradients, and fluid flow by electrokinetics.

Frances Arnold

Frances Arnold

Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry and Bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2018)

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Frances Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. Arnold pioneered directed enzyme evolution, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018; she has used directed protein evolution for applications in alternative energy, chemicals, and medicine. Arnold was recently appointed to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Among other awards, Arnold has received the Charles Stark Draper Prize of the US National Academy of Engineering (2011), the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011), and the Millennium Technology Prize (2016). She has been elected to the U.S. National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering and was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2019. Arnold co-founded three companies in sustainable chemistry and renewable energy (Gevo, Provivi, Aralez Bio) and serves on several public and private company boards. She earned a BS in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University and a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

David Axelrod, AB'76

David Axelrod, AB'76

Director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN senior political commentator

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David Axelrod, AB’76, is a preeminent American political strategist and commentator and the former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Axelrod currently serves as the founding director of the University of Chicago’s non-partisan Institute of Politics and as a senior political commentator for CNN. He is the host of The Axe Files, a top-rated podcast featuring in depth conversations with public figures across the political spectrum. A former political writer for the Chicago Tribune, Axelrod produced media strategy and advertising for 150 campaigns across the U.S., culminating in President Obama’s historic elections. Axelrod is also the author of The New York Times best-selling memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Vanessa Z. Chan

Vanessa Z. Chan

Chief commercialization officer and director of the Office of Technology Transitions for the U.S. Department of Energy

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Dr. Vanessa Z. Chan is the chief commercialization officer and director of the Office of Technology Transitions for the U.S Department of Energy (DOE). In this role, she is responsible for all commercialization activities across DOE, the 17 national laboratories, and the department’s other research and production facilities across the country. This includes advocating and advancing clear pathways for the commercialization of innovative technologies, ensuring that the discoveries happening at DOE’s world-class facilities make their way out of the labs and into the commercial marketplace.

Chan is an innovator who has worked across a wide range of ecosystems, from academia to Fortune 1000 companies to startups. She has two decades of experience helping organizations grow at the interface of technology and business across a diverse set of industries.

She is a former McKinsey & Company partner, experienced venture board director for Vanguard and United Technology Corporation, and a former board member at multiple startups.

Chan comes to DOE on a leave of absence from her position as undergraduate chair of the Materials Science & Engineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She earned her PhD in materials science & engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her BSE in materials science & engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

Aashish Clerk

Aashish Clerk

Professor of molecular engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering

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Prof. Aashish Clerk’s research focuses on understanding complex phenomena in quantum systems that are both strongly driven and subject to dissipation. Such effects are not only interesting from a fundamental perspective, but can also enable quantum technologies to transcend the limitations of purely classical systems. His group’s work intersects the fields of condensed matter physics, quantum optics, and quantum information.

Clerk received his BSc in 1996 from the University of Toronto and a PhD in Physics from Cornell University in 2001. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University until 2004 when he joined the faculty at McGill University and concurrently served as a Canada Research Chair. Clerk joined the University of Chicago as a faculty member in 2017.

France A. Córdova

France A. Córdova

President of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, and former director of the National Science Foundation

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France Anne Córdova is an experienced leader in science, engineering, and education with more than three decades of experience at universities and national labs. She has served in five presidential administrations, both Democratic and Republican. She is an internationally recognized astrophysicist for her contributions to space research and instrumentation. She has served on both corporate and nonprofit boards, often assuming a leadership position.

Córdova was the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), a presidential-appointed, Senate-confirmed executive position. NSF is an $8.5 billion independent federal agency. It is the only government agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education.

Through her leadership at NSF, the agency grew by over one billion dollars, strengthened existing partnerships while forging new ones, and launched a strategic framework defined by 10 Big Ideas—promising areas of research for targeted investment. She initiated NSF’s Convergence Accelerator to leverage external partnerships to accelerate research in areas of national importance. To broaden STEM participation from traditionally underrepresented groups, she launched NSF INCLUDES; today seven other government agencies, including NASA and NIH, have joined INCLUDES. She co-chaired with other agency heads several committees of the National Science and Technology Council for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, including committees on science, education, innovation, and Arctic research. She has spoken before the U.S. Congress and on global stages including the Global Research Council, Arctic Ministerials, and the World Economic Forum.

Córdova is the only woman to serve as president of Purdue University, where she led the university to record levels of research funding, reputational rankings, and student retention and graduation rates. Córdova is also chancellor emerita of the University of California, Riverside, where she was a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, she was vice chancellor for research and professor of physics. Previously, Córdova served as NASA’s chief scientist, representing NASA to the larger scientific community. She was the youngest person and first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist and was awarded the agency’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal. Córdova received her bachelor of arts degree from Stanford University and her PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology.

Jennifer Couch

Jennifer Couch

Chief of the Structural Biology and Molecular Applications Branch of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health

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Jennifer Couch is the chief of the Structural Biology and Molecular Applications Branch, Division of Cancer Biology, NCI, NIH. Couch’s branch supports research and development of enabling technologies, models, and methodologies including structural biology and biophysical characterization; bioinformatics, computational biology, mathematical modeling, data science, systems biology, citizen science, and crowdsourcing methods; and bioengineering, biomimetics, and biotechnology. Couch has a leadership role in a wide range of trans-NIH and trans-agency activities that bring outside perspectives, expertise, and technology traditionally supported in other fields, such as game design, artificial intelligence, and materials science research into the cancer research space. Recent efforts include co-leadership of the New Enabling Technologies program within the Cancer Moonshot program, the NCI AI working group, the Physical Sciences and Oncology Program, and her role as the NIH Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing coordinator.

Ben L. Feringa

Ben L. Feringa

Jacobus H. van ‘t Hoff Distinguished Professor of Molecular Sciences at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2016)

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Ben L. Feringa obtained his PhD degree at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands under the guidance of Professor Hans Wynberg. After working as a research scientist at Shell in the Netherlands and the UK, he was appointed lecturer and in 1988 full professor at the University of Groningen and named the Jacobus H. van ‘t Hoff Distinguished Professor of Molecular Sciences in 2004. He was elected Foreign Honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. In 2008 he was appointed Academy Professor and he was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands. Feringa’s research has been recognized with numerous awards including the Körber European Science Award (2003), the Spinoza Award (2004), the Prelog gold medal (2005), the Norrish Award of the ACS (2007), the Paracelsus medal (2008), the Chirality medal (2009), the RSC Organic Stereochemistry Award (2011), the Humboldt award (2012), the Nagoya gold medal (2013), the ACS Cope Scholar Award (2015), the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize (2015), the August-Wilhelm-von-Hoffman Medal (2016), The 2016 Nobel prize in Chemistry, the Tetrahedron Prize (2017) and the European Chemistry Gold Medal (2018). In 2019 he was elected as a member of the European Research Council.

Feringa’s research interest includes stereochemistry, organic synthesis, asymmetric catalysis, molecular switches and motors, self-assembly, molecular nanosystems and photopharmacology.

Paul K. Kearns

Paul K. Kearns

Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory

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Paul K. Kearns has served as director of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory since 2017. Argonne is a growing multidisciplinary science and engineering research center with a $1.2 billion diversified research portfolio and more than 3,300 employees, 8,000 facility users, and 800 visiting researchers. Kearns has set the laboratory’s strategic vision to deliver pivotal discoveries, pioneering leadership, and powerful scientific tools and facilities. He has strengthened sponsor relationships and fostered a welcoming and inclusive culture valuing diversity, innovation and collaboration, and laboratory impact.

A biologist and accomplished steward of diverse scientific resources, Kearns has managed complex research and development enterprises for over 30 years, enabling them to achieve ambitious goals in energy, environment, and national security. As Argonne laboratory director, Kearns oversees multiple projects critical to Argonne’s mission of accelerating science and technology to drive U.S. prosperity and security. Upgrading the Advanced Photon Source and launching the first exascale computer in the U.S. at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility are critical to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology. Argonne’s leadership of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research reflects the laboratory’s long history of battery science expertise and collaboration.

Walter E. Massey

Walter E. Massey

President emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and president emeritus of Morehouse College

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Walter Massey is president emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he served as president from 2010 to 2016. He is also the president emeritus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, having served as president there from 1995 to 2007. Immediately prior to that post, Massey was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs of the University of California system. In that role, he oversaw academic and research planning and policy, budget planning and allocations for the university, and had programmatic oversight of three Department of Energy National laboratories.

Additional credentials to Massey’s distinguished career in academics include serving as professor of physics and dean of the college at Brown University and professor of physics at the University of Chicago.

A prominent physicist, Massey served as director of the Argonne National Laboratory from 1979 to 1984 and was vice president of research at the University of Chicago from 1984 to 1991. He also served as director of the National Science Foundation from 1991 to 1993, appointed by former President George H.W. Bush.

Throughout his academic career, Massey has been an advocate for issues surrounding minority students and education. He developed and directed the Inner-City Teachers of Science Program (ICTOS) while at Brown University, where college students studying science education became tutors and mentors in urban classrooms. He was also a founding trustee of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA).

In the corporate sector, Massey has served as a director of McDonald’s, Motorola, Delta Airlines, and Chairman of the Board of Bank of America. He has also been a director of the Mellon and MacArthur Foundations. He is also a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council of Foreign Relations. He currently serves as chairman of the board of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO), chairman of the board of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), and is a senior advisor to the president of the University of Chicago.

Satya Nadella, MBA'97

Satya Nadella, MBA'97

Chairman and CEO of Microsoft

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Satya Nadella, MBA’97, is chairman and chief executive officer of Microsoft. Before being named CEO in February 2014, Nadella held leadership roles in both enterprise and consumer businesses across the company.

Joining Microsoft in 1992, he quickly became known as a leader who could span a breadth of technologies and businesses to transform some of Microsoft’s biggest product offerings.

Most recently, Nadella was executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group. In this role he led the transformation to the cloud infrastructure and services business, which outperformed the market and took share from competition. Previously, Nadella led R&D for the Online Services Division and was vice president of the Microsoft Business Division. Before joining Microsoft, Nadella was a member of the technology staff at Sun Microsystems.

Originally from Hyderabad, India, Nadella lives in Bellevue, Washington. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University, a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago. Nadella serves on the board of trustees to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and his alma mater the University of Chicago, as well as the Starbucks board of directors. He is married and has three children.

Bindu Nair

Bindu Nair

Director of basic research in the Office of Undersecretary of Defense at the U.S. Department of Defense

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Dr. Bindu Nair is the director for basic research within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). In this role, she is responsible for oversight and coordination of the department’s $2.5 billion investment in basic science. She previously served as the deputy director of OSD’s Human Performance, Training and Biosystems Directorate. Prior to OSD, Nair worked for the Department of the Army with oversight responsibilities over the science and technology program in power and energy. She has worked in the DoD laboratory system at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center as well as in private industry at Foster Miller. Her research expertise is in the field of material science and engineering, including nanomaterials, polymers, and organic electronic materials.  She has published primarily in membrane and materials development fields and holds patents in fuel cell technologies. Nair holds a BSc from the University of Florida and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Materials Science and Engineering.

William D. Phillips

William D. Phillips

Physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997)

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William D. Phillips received a BS in physics from Juniata College in 1970, and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976; after two years as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow at MIT, he joined NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) to work on precision electrical measurements and fundamental constants. There, he initiated a new research program to cool atomic gases with laser light. He founded NIST’s Laser Cooling and Trapping Group, and later was a founding member of the Joint Quantum Institute, a cooperative research organization of NIST and the University of Maryland that is devoted to the study of quantum coherent phenomena.

His research group has been responsible for developing some of the main techniques now used for laser-cooling and cold-atom experiments in laboratories around the world. Their achievements include the first electromagnetic trapping of neutral atoms; reaching unexpectedly low laser-cooling temperatures, within a millionth of a degree of Absolute Zero; the confinement of atoms in optical lattices; and coherent atom-optical manipulation of atomic-gas Bose-Einstein condensates. Atomic fountain clocks, based on the work of this group, are now the primary standards for world timekeeping. Among the group’s current research directions is the use of ultra-cold atoms for quantum information processing and quantum simulation of important physical problems.

Phillips is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a fellow and honorary member of the Optical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a corresponding member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. In 1997, Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”

Tom J. Pritzker, MBA’76, JD’76

Tom J. Pritzker, MBA’76, JD’76

Executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corp.

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Tom Pritzker was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a BA from Claremont Men’s College and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Chicago. Pritzker is chairman and CEO of The Pritzker Organization, the family’s historical merchant bank. He is also executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Over his career he has been involved in acquiring and building companies in a wide variety of industries and founding significant companies in the fields of container leasing (Triton), biotechnology (Bay City Capital), and health care (Reliant Pharmaceuticals and First Health).

In the field of culture, Pritzker is chairman of the board of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the Pritzker Architecture Prize and past chairman of the Art Institute of Chicago. In science, he helped design and found what is now the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago where he is a trustee and is founder of the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Consortium. He is also chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group.

Tom Pritzker is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also an honorary professor of history at Sichuan University in China, holds an honorary Doctorate at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and for the past 30 years has been leading archeological expeditions in the Western Himalayas.

Stuart Rowan

Stuart Rowan

Barry L. MacLean Professor of Molecular Engineering and professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago

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Prof. Stuart Rowan was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and grew up in Troon, Aryshire on Scotland’s west coast. He received his BSc (Hons.) in chemistry in 1991 from the University of Glasgow and stayed there for graduate school in the laboratory of Dr. David D. MacNicol, receiving his PhD in 1995. In 1994 he moved to the chemistry department at the University of Cambridge to work with Prof. Jeremy K. M. Sanders FRS. He moved across the Atlantic, and the continental U.S., to continue his postdoctoral studies with Prof. Sir J. Fraser Stoddart FRS at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1998. In 1999 he was appointed as an assistant professor to the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2005 and became a full professor in 2008. In 2016, he joined the then-Institute for Molecular Engineering and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Chicago. He also has a staff appointment in the Chemical and Engineering Science (CSE) Division at Argonne National Laboratory.

His research interests focus on the use of dynamic chemistry (covalent and non-covalent) in the construction and properties of structurally dynamic and adaptive polymeric materials. He is a National Science Foundation CAREER awardee, received the Morley Medal (Cleveland ACS) in 2013, the CWRU Distinguished University Award in 2015, and the Herman Mark Scholar Award (ACS) in 2015. He is an ACS fellow, an ACS POLY fellow, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC). He is currently the editor-in-chief of ACS Macro Letters, and is on the editorial advisory board for a number of journals.

David M. Rubenstein, JD'73

David M. Rubenstein, JD'73

Co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group

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David M. Rubenstein, JD’73, is co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group. He is a 1970 graduate of Duke University and a 1973 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. He served as Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments before becoming the deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy during the Carter Administration. He also practiced law in both New York City and Washington, D.C.

Rubenstein is chairman of the boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Economic Club of Washington; a fellow of the Harvard Corporation; a trustee of the World Economic Forum; and a director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among other board seats.

Rubenstein is an original signer of The Giving Pledge; the host of The David Rubenstein Show and Bloomberg Wealth with David Rubenstein; and the author of The American Story and How to Lead.

Melody Swartz

Melody Swartz

William B. Ogden Professor of Molecular Engineering and vice dean for faculty affairs at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering

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Trained as a chemical engineer, Prof. Melody Swartz uses quantitative approaches in immunobiology and physiology to develop a deeper understanding of how the lymphatic system regulates immunity in homeostasis and disease. Her group applies this to develop cancer immunotherapies and vaccines. Swartz was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018 and the National Academy of Medicine in 2020.

Matthew Tirrell

Matthew Tirrell

Dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering

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Matthew Tirrell is the founding dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago. His personal research specializes in the manipulation and measurement of polymer surface properties. Dean Tirrell’s work has provided new insight into phenomena such as adhesion, friction, and biocompatibility, and contributed to the development of new materials based on self-assembly of synthetic and bio-inspired materials. Before becoming dean of Pritzker Molecular Engineering in 2011, Tirrell served as the Arnold and Barbara Silverman Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and as professor of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering and faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Prior to that, he was dean of engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara for 10 years.

Tirrell began his academic career at the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and later became head of the department. Tirrell also served from 2015 – 2018 as deputy laboratory director for science at Argonne National Laboratory, where he was responsible for integrating the laboratory’s research and development efforts and science and technology capabilities. Tirrell received a BS in chemical engineering at Northwestern University in 1973 and a PhD in 1977 in polymer science from the University of Massachusetts. He has co-authored more than 400 papers and one book, has supervised over 100 PhD students and 50 postdoctoral researchers. Tirrell is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the Indian National Academy of Engineering, and is a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers, the AAAS, and the American Physical Society.

Robert J. Zimmer

Robert J. Zimmer

Chancellor of the University of Chicago

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Robert J. Zimmer served as president of the University of Chicago from July 1, 2006 to August 31, 2021 before transitioning into the role of chancellor. As chancellor, Zimmer focuses on the continuation and evolution of strategic initiatives of the University; re-enforcing the enduring values of the University and its distinctive approach to research, education, and impact; continuing key relationships of the University that span many aspects of University life and work and advancing high-level fundraising.

As chancellor, Zimmer also serves as a trustee of the University of Chicago, and works in partnership with President Paul Alivisatos and the Board of Trustees on the vital challenge of setting an ambitious path for the University of Chicago.

Prior to his appointment as president, Zimmer was a University of Chicago faculty member and administrator for more than two decades, specializing in the mathematical fields of geometry, particularly ergodic theory, Lie groups, and differential geometry. As a University of Chicago administrator, Zimmer served as chairman of the Mathematics Department, deputy provost, and vice president for research and for Argonne National Laboratory. He also served as the provost of Brown University from 2002-2006, returning to the University of Chicago in 2006 as president.

Zimmer is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a member of the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation, from 2011 to 2016 and also served on the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science from 2008 to 2010.

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