Jean Fréchet, an organic chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been named vice president for research
A multibillion-dollar-project of the Saudi leader, KAUST has replaced the traditional departmental structure with nine interdisciplinary research centers focused on economically relevant topics such as plant stress genomics, water desalination, and renewable energy. In his new position, Fréchet will oversee the current centers and help launch new ones.
Fréchet is a prolific chemist who has authored 800 scientific papers and helped start nine companies. He says that he had declined repeated queries about relocating to the Middle East until he visited KAUST’s home on the Red Sea in December. “I was stunned by what I saw,” Fréchet says. “The facilities are absolutely world class.” Fréchet was also impressed by how the research centers have brought together experts from a wide range of disciplines to tackle research questions that are critical to the region. “This is enormously appealing,” Fréchet says.
Fréchet says he expects to begin full-time at KAUST this summer. “I’m going there full-time. If things work, I may stay.”
In the meantime, Fréchet plans to retain his lab at Berkeley, which he joined in 1997 after being on the faculty at the University of Ottawa and Cornell University. Among the group's notable achievements is the development of chemical reactions that amplify themselves, which enabled the production of photoresists that are used to pattern integrated circuitry for computers. He also pioneered developments in branched polymers known as dendrimers, and on using polymers to target the delivery of drugs, vaccines, and DNA.
The 65-year-old Fréchet says that taking leave from Berkeley was a difficult decision. "But sometimes in one’s life it’s good to jump and do something new,” he says. “I can’t think of an experience that seems more new.”