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National Science Foundation Names New Chemistry Chief

Grants & Funding: Computational chemist to lead agency division

by Andrea Widener
September 17, 2015

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Credit: Mary Williams/Gary & Clark Photography
20150917lnp1-wilsoncxd.jpg
Credit: Mary Williams/Gary & Clark Photography

Computational chemist Angela Wilson will become the new director of the National Science Foundation’s chemistry division early next year.

“I look forward to seeing chemistry from a little bit broader perspective,” Wilson says of the two-year NSF position. She replaces University of California, Davis, professor Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, who left the agency in 2014.

Wilson has worked since 2005 at the University of North Texas (UNT), where she leads a center for scientific computing. She is moving her lab to Michigan State University in February 2016 and will start her NSF job in March.

“She is a globally prominent scholar with a superb record of leadership and team building. And given her stature, it’s not surprising that NSF asked her to accept a leadership position,” says Robert Maleczka, chair of Michigan State’s chemistry department.

Wilson was interested in the NSF post in part because of the important role the agency played in her success. Wilson earned her Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She was interested in an academic career, but her husband’s job as a pilot, first for in the Air Force then for Southwest Airlines, limited the places she could live.

Wilson was teaching a class here and a class there at Oklahoma City-area universities. She even left chemistry briefly to pursue an MBA. But an NSF grant to help encourage women in science changed her path.

“I know how much of a difference NSF has made in my career,” Wilson says. “I’m so appreciative.”

At UNT, Wilson leads a group of 20–30 researchers that apply computational skills to a large array of problems, such as materials, biochemistry, and organic and inorganic chemistry. “We’re pretty diverse in the topics we have covered,” she says.

That broad background may help as have conversations throughout the chemistry community about the direction in which she should lead NSF’s chemistry division.

Another skill that could help is her recent part-time position as an administrator at UNT. She has worked to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and to emphasize the importance of research to the school’s 1,200 faculty members.

Her interest in NSF is not only in improving careers, Wilson says. “Even more important is the broader picture: the impact that NSF has on addressing critical scientific challenges.”

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