Professorships empower School of Physics faculty to tackle high-risk, high-reward questions.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was first published in the Winter 2017 issue of Philanthropy Quarterly.
Back when Douglas Dunn was a Georgia Tech student (PHYS 1964, MS IM 1965), he worked in the physics department, breaking labs down and setting them back up again every weekend. That experience, he recalls, made the department as much a part of him as he was of it. So when the Dunn Family Foundation designated a gift for an Institute Chair at Georgia Tech, it was with one request — that the first term-of-years recipients would be in the School of Physics. Thereafter, the Office of the Provost will periodically re-deploy the Dunn Institute Chair across other academic disciplines.
For this appointment, Paul Goldbart, dean and Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair in the College of Sciences, proposed an idea: Split the endowment between two physics faculty members.
Dunn said that was fine with him. “With gifts, you want the recipients to use the money wisely and well,” he said.
This endowment is one of three major gifts to Georgia Tech from the Dunn Family Foundation, which was established upon the death of Dunn’s father, an educator. “Our family has always believed in education as a source of strength for our society,” Dunn said. “This is our way of supporting faculty as they engage in their research, teaching, student, and community service agendas.”
Goldbart says this gift could not have come at a better time for the two recipients. “A natural but thorny challenge is what we sometimes call ‘the bootstrap problem,’” he said. “How to achieve lift-off with the most innovative and adventurous projects when the path forward isn’t yet clear and it’s too early to secure extramural support. The Dunn family’s generosity overcomes precisely this challenge, empowering our professors to tackle high-risk, high-reward questions. That is exactly what we want them to do.”
The current recipients of Dunn Family Institute Professorships are physicists Deirdre Shoemaker, director of the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, and Daniel Goldman, a leader of the Physics of Living Systems Network.
“Shoemaker’s theoretical work on the astrophysics of black holes and gravitational waves, and Goldman’s experiments on animal locomotion and its implications for robotics, are splendid examples of adventurous projects that are producing high-impact results,” Goldbart said. “We are very proud to have them as our colleagues, and we are deeply grateful to the Dunn family for their tremendous support.”
Dunn Family Associate Professor Deirdre Shoemaker discusses the astrophysical implications of the LIGO discovery confirming the existence of gravitational waves with Ph.D. candidate Karan Jani and Postdoctoral Research Fellow James Clark.
Dan Goldman, Dunn Family Associate Professor in the Georgia Tech School of Physics, is shown with the “MuddyBot” robot, which uses the locomotion principles of the mudskipper to move through a trackway filled with granular materials.
To inquire about making a gift to the School of Physics, contact Art G. Wasserman, director of development for the College of Sciences, at 404.894.3529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.