Physics Professor Melissa Franklin will replace fellow Professor Christopher W. Stubbs as the chair of the Harvard Physics Department next year, marking the first time in history that the position will be held by a woman.
Franklin will take over the rotating position for a three-year term after returning from Switzerland, where she is currently on sabbatical to analyze data from proton collisions in the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator.
Franklin, who was the first woman to receive tenure in the physics department, is widely known for discovering the existence of an elementary particle known as the top quark.
In a phone call from Geneva, Franklin said that she was excited to take on a number of different projects as chair, including improving undergraduate advising and restructuring the introductory physics curriculum.
She said that the current series of early physics classes—Physics 15a, 15b, and 15c—will likely be “replaced or modified” by the 2012 academic year.
Franklin also said that she hopes to continue Stubbs’s efforts to create a strong physics community—which included the creation of an undergraduate physics lounge in Jefferson Laboratory—while also working to attract a more diverse slate of students.
“It would be nice to have more women and more people of color in the department,” she said, adding that she also hopes to attract students who “are interested in physics but want to do other things” in their careers.
Stubbs said that his successor is widely known for her commitment to her students and her many accomplishments as a scientist.
“She’s one of the department’s most dedicated teachers,” Stubbs said. “I look forward to the work she puts forth.”
Vijay Jain ’11, one of the co-presidents of the Society of Physics Students, said that his experience as Franklin’s advisee made him confident that she will provide enthusiastic leadership for the department.
Jain, an inactive Crimson editor, recalled how Franklin took the time to Skype with him about his course selections earlier in the semester, even though she was busy with her Large Hadron Collider research.
“I think most of the undergraduates that do know Professor Franklin—especially her advisees—are really excited to see her as the new chair,” Jain said.
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