Dr. Simon W. North, professor of chemistry and head of the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, is one of three campus faculty named to the 2021 class of University Professorship holders announced Feb. 25 by Texas A&M Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Mark H. Weichold ’78.
Established in 2019, the designation recognizes faculty who have demonstrated significant and sustained accomplishments in their discipline, earning them national and international recognition. The award also highlights the recipients’ commitment to inclusivity, accountability, climate and equity in their department and college as well as their excellence in teaching and service.
A member of the Texas A&M faculty since 1997, North has been head of Texas A&M Chemistry since August 2016 after serving as interim head of the department for the previous seven months and as associate head from September 2013 to February 2016. He is the first sitting department head to be recognized as a University Professor.
North, who is widely respected for his teaching and research expertise in analytical and physical chemistry as well as in spectroscopy and dynamics, earns recognition along with Dr. R. Malatesha Joshi, professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture within the College of Education and Human Development; and Dr. Nancy A. Welsh, professor in the School of Law. He is the third College of Science faculty member to earn the distinction, joining Texas A&M physicist and Cyclotron Institute member Dr. Ralf Rapp (2020) and Texas A&M biologist Dr. Deborah Bell-Pederson (2019).
Recipients will receive an annual stipend for three years and retain the title throughout their careers at the university so long as they remain faculty members in good standing. Nominations for the distinction were submitted by department heads or deans, and the finalists were selected by a university committee and approved by the interim provost. The professorships are funded centrally from research indirect cost return and philanthropic support.
In this 2018 episode of I Am Texas A&M Science, North discusses how he found his passion for chemistry — an episode inspired in part by a 2016 Battalion Q&A when he became head of Texas A&M Chemistry:
Weichold noted that these awards, in combination with endeavors such as the President’s Excellence Fund and similar faculty reinvestment programs, serve to empower and advance the careers of faculty at every level.
“The professorship is intended to help each honoree elevate their impact, which we believe to be imperative to the mission of Texas A&M University,” Weichold said. “We join with their deans and colleagues across the university in celebrating their impact to date and hope this honor and associated resources will further enhance their international recognition.”
The perpetual title also comes with an unprecedented feature: the option for the holder to personally name the professorship for a significant emeritus or deceased Texas A&M faculty member who has served as an inspiration or motivating factor in the recipient’s career and scholarship. North has chosen to honor longtime Texas A&M chemist Dr. John W. Bevan, who passed away in 2016.
“John was my host as a faculty candidate, and his enthusiasm was a big reason I chose Texas A&M University,” North said. “When my wife Diana and I arrived in College Station without a car, he just gave us the keys to his and let us borrow his car for a few days to run errands and get settled. We recount that story often. He was such a humble, generous and genuine person, on top of being an excellent scientist, teacher and mentor.”
North earned his bachelor of science in chemistry at the University of New Hampshire in 1990 and his doctorate in chemistry working with Nobel laureate Yuan T. Lee at the University of California at Berkeley in 1995. He spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at Brookhaven National Laboratory before coming to Texas A&M, where he is co-director of the National Aerothermochemistry Laboratory as well as associate director of the Center for Atmospheric Chemistry and the Environment.
North’s research group focuses on understanding chemical reactivity on a microscopic quantum-state resolved level — work that focuses identifying factors that influence the rates, energy disposal and products of chemical reactions under a wide range of conditions. His state-of-the-art laboratory contains equipment to perform experiments in chemical dynamics, energy transfer and kinetics and is associated with several interdisciplinary university research centers at Texas A&M.
Through the years, North and his group members have developed novel experimental techniques and theoretical models with applications that have improved our understanding of stratospheric photochemistry, tropospheric oxidation mechanisms of biogenic hydrocarbons, combustion chemistry, interstellar chemistry, and turbulent hypersonic flows relevant to aerospace engineering. His work has resulted in more than 120 peer-reviewed publications (19 co-authored with undergraduate students) as well as funding from the United States Air Force Office of Sponsored Programs, the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Robert A. Welch Foundation and other state and national agencies.
Beyond his research efforts, North is an accomplished educator who has taught a wide range of courses, from freshman chemistry classes with 300-student enrollments to upper-division courses. He also has led several impactful department-wide initiatives to revitalize the undergraduate curriculum in chemistry, including an overhaul of the upper division physical chemistry laboratory courses to better reflect the current state of modern research in the area. As evidence of his instructional excellence in both the classroom and the lab, North is a past recipient of Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Awards at both the university (2009) and college levels (2004 and 2010). He was nominated for the second of those college-level awards by his students. One of his most treasured overall career honors to date also came from his students — May 2019 Texas A&M chemistry graduates Julia Santell ’19 and Josiah Day ’19, both previous students in his freshman chemistry course, who asked him to officiate at their August 17, 2019, wedding.
“Dr. North has been an inspiration to me and to many of my fellow classmates from day one,” Josiah Day recounted in a related Texas A&M Science Q&A/feature. “He took the time to memorize our names, and throughout the four years we were with Texas A&M Chemistry, he always made sure we were making the best of our time with the department. I had the privilege of studying in his research group beyond taking two of his classes, and his passion for science and education really sparked a love of chemistry and appreciation for the complexity of the world we live in. If it hadn’t been for that inspiration, I probably wouldn’t have finished my degree in chemistry and made it long enough to meet Julia. When we were looking at someone to officiate our wedding, I wanted the person who has had the most impact on us during our time at Texas A&M, and we couldn’t think of someone better than Dr. North.”
North also served for nearly a decade as one of the primary advising and recruiting contacts for the Texas A&M Chemistry graduate program, which is the largest doctoral program at Texas A&M. He developed several successful initiatives to improve professional development, time to graduation, and retention rates during his tenure. He established the department’s annual graduate awards ceremony, raised funds to recognize excellence in graduate teaching and create endowed graduate fellowships, and helped develop a highly successful professional training program.
As head of Texas A&M Chemistry, North has strived to support faculty, students and staff — efforts that have resulted in increases in research funding, productivity and infrastructure, including three new nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, two X-ray diffractometers and three mass spectrometers. He also played a key role in the $100 million Instructional Laboratory and Innovative Learning Building, which will complement the Innovative Learning Classroom Building and be focused primarily on undergraduate teaching laboratories for chemistry, in addition to numerous successful fundraising efforts.
“Over his 23-year career at Texas A&M University, Dr. North has demonstrated excellence in research, teaching and service, and he has been a leading proponent for advancing diversity and inclusion,” said Dr. Valen E. Johnson, distinguished professor of statistics and Dean of Science. “I cannot think of another faculty member who is more deserving to be recognized by a University Professorship.”
Learn more about North and his teaching, research and professional service accomplishments.
For additional information about University Professorships, past honorees and their professorship namesakes, visit the Texas A&M Dean of Faculties website.
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Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or email@example.com or Dr. Simon W. North, (979) 845-4947 or firstname.lastname@example.org