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Caltech names physicist as new president

October 24, 2013|By Larry Gordon and Monte Morin

Thomas Rosenbaum, an expert in condensed matter physics, will become the new president of the California Institute of Technology, officials announced Thursday.

Rosenbaum, 58, currently serves as provost at the University of Chicago, where he also holds the position of John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor of Physics. He succeeds Jean-Lou Chameau, who left Caltech earlier this year to head King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

Before becoming Chicago's provost in 2007, Rosenbaum studied the behavior of closely-packed atoms in solids and liquids at the university's Rosenbaum Lab. By experimenting on materials in extreme cold -- temperatures that approached absolute zero -- Rosenbaum and his colleagues were better able to examine the quantum behavior of substances, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, described Rosenbaum’s appointment as “a superb choice” for Caltech.

“This is someone who has the intellectual and academic administrative experience to be a first-class new president,” Hartle said from Washington, D.C.

Caltech Provost Edward Stolper, a geologist, has been interim president since Chameau left at the end of the last school year, and will continue in that role until Rosenbaum arrives July 1, a campus spokesperson said.

As Chicago's senior academic administrator, Rosenbaum helped to establish the Institute for Molecular Engineering, an effort that also involved the Argonne National Lab. Caltech officials said his scientific and administrative experience would help him "in furthering" the relationship between Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While the federal government owns JPL's facilities, its 5,000 workers are Caltech employees, who work under government contract.

"The combination of deep management experience and visionary leadership Tom brings will serve Caltech extremely well in the coming years," said David Lee, chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees. "The board is excited about collaborating closely with Tom to propel the institute to new levels of scientific leadership."

Rosenbaum will face many challenges when he arrives at Caltech. Among the biggest will be maintaining the school’s top reputation at a time when federal funding for scientific research is flat-lining and faces cuts, according to Hartle.

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