Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, a professor and chair of the department of chemistry at the University of California, Davis, has been chosen as the next director of the National Science Foundation’s Chemistry Division.
A synthetic organic chemist, Gervay-Hague comes to NSF after 20 years in academia, at both UC Davis and the University of Arizona. She has received a number of NSF grants throughout her career and served as a grant reviewer for the agency.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with the national chemistry community to assess the needs and trends in research and education that lead to important scientific discoveries,” Gervay-Hague tells C&EN.
Gervay-Hague succeeds Matthew S. Platz, who is leaving this month to become vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. She will begin her appointment in July 2013.
“Gervay-Hague stands out as an experienced researcher, administrator, and professor who has a deep understanding of the chemical sciences and their impacts on other fields,” says Celeste Rohlfing, acting assistant director for NSF’s Directorate for Mathematical & Physical Sciences.
“Her research has crossed many disciplines, including biology and virology, preparing her for the challenges posed by the increasingly multidisciplinary nature of chemistry,” Rohlfing notes.
In fact, Gervay-Hague seeks out interdisciplinary work, both in her lab and in academic posts. “That’s what excites me,” she says. “I know my chemistry well, but I get to apply it in new settings.”
One theme of her research is applying synthetic organic chemistry to biological applications like immunology, virology, and nanomaterials.
She was particularly intrigued when a fellow UC Davis professor from the medical school asked for her help creating a protein that could serve as a cancer drug. “That was an eye-opening experience for me. It allowed me to see the power of chemistry in other sciences,” she recalls. “I think that is already being fostered at NSF.”
Although Gervay-Hague has been interested in science since being captivated by the first manned moon landing in 1969, she wound her way through Calfornia community colleges and state universities before landing in a sophomore-year organic chemistry class at UCLA. She thought she might want to be a doctor, but that class—taught by chemist and future mentor Michael E. Jung—changed her mind.
Gervay-Hague went on to get her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry at UCLA. She did postdoctoral research at Yale University, where she first worked at the interface of chemistry and biology.
In 1992, Gervay-Hague took a position at the University of Arizona, and she moved to UC Davis in 2001. She is a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and an associate editor of ACS’s Journal of Organic Chemistry.
It was actually a stint working as the associate vice provost for outreach and engagement at UC Davis that showed Gervay-Hague the opportunities outside the lab. There, she worked on a health initiative that crossed the main campus as well as medical, veterinary, and law schools and the community. “I really believe in the power of problem solving brought by considering different perspectives and expertise,” she says.
Gervay-Hague’s goal now is to start a similar conversation with the chemistry community.
“First, listen,” she says, “then understand the context, then work with the leadership to see how we can have the broadest impact.”