Search launched for research center director

The University plans to launch a search this month to find a director for a new computational biology research center, one of the first of 10 research initiatives the University announced last year.

The computational biology center is the first research initiative to start its implementation process, which includes space allocation on the Virginia Campus and the launch of the director search.

Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said the computational biology center will focus on genomics, looking at how genes affect behavioral states and medical disorders such as cancer and autism.

“It’s a hot area,” Chalupa said. “I think we have a lot to offer here. I’m optimistic about the future of the center.”

Drawing on the expertise of departments across the University, the research initiatives seek to take advantage of Chalupa’s experiences as a neuroscience researcher and as the former director of the University of California at Davis Center for Neuroscience in GW’s bid to become a top-tier research institution.

Chalupa said last April he hopes to make GW a top-80 research university in five years. The University held the 92nd spot in last year’s National Science Foundation rankings of research and grant money issued from the federal government.

A search committee of faculty members from various University departments – including biology, statistics and computer science – will convene this month to begin searching for a director.

Gina Lohr, special assistant to the vice president for research, said earlier this week that the University was finalizing the membership of the committee.

Chalupa said he is looking to bring someone with international recognition in the fields of medicine or computer science to head the center.

“We’re not going to settle for someone who is very good,” Chalupa said. “Very good is not good enough.”

Chalupa said the search could take up to a year to find someone who could bring funding to the University and collaborate with the faculty.

“The key to success is to get a nationally or internationally recognized leader to build on what we have here already and lead us to pre-eminence,” he said. “We want someone first rate. We don’t settle for second-best.”

The amount of money the University will spend on the center will depend on who is chosen as its director, Chalupa said.

“If it’s the best person in the world, we’d be willing to go the extra mile,” Chalupa said. “It’s a competitive field and we’ll have to provide the necessary support. That being said, we’re not going to build a Taj Mahal to get someone in this area.”

The center will be located on the Virginia Campus, allowing it to establish partnerships with industry companies in northern Virginia, Chalupa said.

“This could be a tremendous success,” Chalupa said. “It’s the first one out of the shoot so to speak, but I’m optimistic.”

In addition to the computational biology center, the University will choose one more initiative to implement this academic year. Chalupa said the University is currently finalizing its second choice.

Other planned research centers include autism, science policy, energy, sustainability, neglected diseases, the global status of women, the arts, cancer and global security.

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