Beginning in July, Professor Matthew Shores will take the helm of Colorado State University’s Department of Chemistry as its new chair.
Shores is keen to build on the success of his predecessor and current chair, Professor Chuck Henry, who has held the position for the past four years. Henry has been a leader in bolstering a successful graduate program, revamping the undergraduate major, bringing new accomplished faculty on board, and overseeing the creation of the new Chemistry Research Building. This summer, Henry will return to his full-time faculty role in the classroom and laboratory.
Looking ahead, Shores said, “there are a lot of opportunities for growth.” And having worked with many kind and capable senior colleagues over the past 13 years at CSU, he said, “I would like to pay it forward.”
“Matt has a great deal of support from faculty, staff and students,” said Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “I am confident in his abilities to provide strong vision and direction for the department and pleased to welcome him to the College leadership team.”
Shores earned his B.A in chemistry and philosophy from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota in 1997 and completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at University of California, Berkeley, in 2002. There, he dived into inorganic chemistry, starting his work with single-molecule magnets. This field took him to a postdoctoral position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through 2005. Later that year, he joined the CSU chemistry department in the College of Natural Sciences as an assistant professor.
One of the things that drew Shores to CSU was the department’s investment in facilities and infrastructure. “They already had the instrumentation I needed to do my magnetic measurements – so I could start on day one and do the science I wanted to do,” he said. That ability to jump right in was thanks, he said, to senior faculty who “had been thinking ahead about what kind of instrumentation scientists would need to be successful.” And he hopes to be able to continue that approach.
“Just look at this new Chemistry Research Building,” he said. Such new top-rate facilities help in recruiting top-level faculty and graduate students. “We’ve really punched above our weight for so long,” he said, noting the steady number of 30 tenure-track faculty members for more than a decade. “The people hired since me are really rising stars in their fields. And we expect to keep hiring in that way.”
And the department will be doing a substantial amount of hiring in the next several years, filling vacancies left by numerous faculty who are transitioning to retirement. As senior faculty retire, he said, “we’re not looking to hire a direct replacement for that person – we’re looking to the next frontiers,” including biological, environmental, materials and sustainability chemistry.
At the same time, Shores is dedicated to upholding the University’s land-grant mission, providing broad, foundational research and learning opportunities. The chemistry department teaches some 70 percent of all students at CSU – an overall number which has grown substantially in the past decade. “We would love to mirror the growth of the student population,” he said. “But we also recognize that it takes quite an investment from the University to start up a successful new chemistry faculty member.”
In addition to teaching students from across campus, the department is also home to CSU’s Central Instrument Facility (CIF). “CIF is sort of the jewel of the core facilities, which is centered in chemistry but serves so much of the rest of the University,” Shores said. He noted that half of the facility’s use is now by people outside of the chemistry department.
Room to grow
The Chemistry Research Building, which opened in 2017, has provided new world-class research infrastructure to campus. But, noted Shores, “this only gets a third of our faculty into a new space, so there is a challenge of how to get good space for everyone.” One of his top goals is “making the old Chemistry Building as awesome as the new one. That building has good bones, but it definitely needs an updating,” he said.
The graduate program continues to expand, now boasting 187 graduate students. And the undergraduate major, which has 169 students, is in the midst being updated. “The current major is demanding and fairly rigid,” Shores noted. “But chemistry is really broad,” he said. There are exciting advances happening in biological, environmental, materials and sustainability chemistry, “so we want our major to reflect that.”
Looking at the department today, particularly with the addition of the Chemistry Research Building, he said, thanks to the leadership of Henry and Dean of the College Jan Nerger, “We have an opportunity to change the way people do science. And that’s a good time to be chair. I am looking forward to making this place even better.”