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Meet the New Dean

June 13, 2005

Julio de Paula, professor of chemistry and director of the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center at Haverford College, is the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Lewis & Clark. He took up his post on August 1.

I’ve been told you talk a lot with your hands. Where did that trait come from?

My Italian-Brazilian heritage. If I talk about something that excites me, I have to let that energy out. Are you talking with your hands now? No … I can’t. One hand is holding the phone, and the other doesn’t work alone.

You lived in Brazil with your brother and parents until age 17. What do you remember about it?

The weather, the food, the music—and, of course, soccer. We played pick-up games anywhere with a reasonably flat surface. Were you any good? Average, by Brazilian standards. I’m older and slower now.

How many languages do you speak?

Mainly Portuguese and English—with little bits of other things: Spanish, German, Italian, and French. Where did you pick up your love of science? My mother. She had little education … she was self-taught really; so was my father. But she gave my brother and me room to explore our intellects. She encouraged us to read books, collect rocks and insects, and do chemistry experiments with household substances.

Well, the one a lot of people probably remember doing: mixing vinegar and baking soda. For my mom and me, it was a major revelation. We thought the apartment was going to explode!

Your research interests sound diverse—photosynthesis, cancer therapies, naotechnology. What ties them all together?

Light. My research in photosynthesis (how plants use light to make their own food) led to the development of synthetic devices that mimic some chemical reactions in plant cells (turning energy from light into electrical energy). That work led to our efforts in nanotechnology; we are looking for ways in which our devices can be used as building blocks of very tiny optical and electrical components. Some of the molecules involved in photosynthesis can be used in light-activated cancer therapy (light obliterating tumors).

What’s an “integrated natural sciences center,” like the one you oversaw at Haverford?

Sometimes problems are solved more easily and efficiently with teams of researchers with expertise in diverse subject areas. Courses designed—and sometimes taught—by teams of faculty members also give students a broader perspective. Do you see that model working at Lewis & Clark? Some interdisciplinary work is already being done here. I think there’s great potential for more.

In your opinion, what are the most exciting things going on in science today?

Four things, and I’ll try not to be too selfserving: systems biology, an integrative approach to biology; nanotechnology, ways to exploit the unique properties of matter confined to very small spaces; space science, understanding the universe through integrating disciplines like astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology; and neuroscience, the quest to understand the brain by bringing together psychologists, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, and computer scientists.

Why is integration key?

The more integrated the view, the bigger and more useful the picture we have. Ultimately, we need to bring it all together—the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts—to more fully understand nature and humanity. It’s absolutely critical.

What interested you about the deanship at Lewis & Clark?

I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself, changing from a teacher and a researcher into an administrator. Plus, Lewis & Clark has a new president and a vibrant faculty and student body. I want to help the institution become the premier liberal arts college in the nation.

What’s on your “to do” list as the new dean?

That’s a hardball question (laughs). I want the faculty to realize its full potential. We’ll need to address, sooner rather than later, faculty governance and facilities. I look forward to helping faculty make its vision of Lewis & Clark a reality.

You’ve got a wife and two daughters. What did you think of Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ comments about women being genetically unpredisposed to excel in science?

Oh my gosh—don’t get me started! It was a major mistake on his part. I’ve taught for 16 years and have seen more and more women becoming excited by and excelling in science. My wife, Valerie, is a scientist. I’m also watching the development of my two daughters. I believe the key for educators is to provide a nurturing environment. As a country, we are not doing all that we can and must do to tap the intellectual potential of our children.

Why do you sign your e-mails “Peace”?

I started signing off with “Peace” the dayafter the 9/11 attacks. My hope was (and still is) that the recipients of my e-mails would read my sign-off and reflect a bit on peace. But I see no reason to change it now; we still need to think about and work for peace today. So … peace. 

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