PSD dean named provost of Columbia University

January 18, 2024

Angela V. Olinto, the Albert A. Michelson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, and the Enrico Fermi Institute, has been named provost of Columbia University, effective March 1, 2024. As provost, Angela will serve as Columbia’s chief academic officer, overseeing the work of its faculty and students.

Angela Olinto headshot

Angela has served as dean of the PSD since 2018. Her dynamic leadership and vision built on the division’s strong foundation to achieve new heights of eminence. Angela was instrumental in developing the University’s Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation and the Data Science Institute. She oversaw the creation of new academic programs in data science and supported new initiatives in the origins of life, plant biology, climate and life, and biological physics. Angela increased undergraduate enrollment in the division, expanded the PSD faculty, and launched new academic and teaching initiatives. In collaboration with key partners, she led the planning and development for a new research infrastructure for engineering and science units and the University’s new High Bay Research Building. Angela spearheaded the PSD Trailblazers project and has championed rigorous and diverse communities of scholars across the division. She also helped launch the annual South Side Science Festival, which has drawn thousands of community members to campus, and served on the Committee on Freedom of Expression that developed the “Chicago Principles.”

A member of the University since 1990, Angela joined the faculty in 1996. She was the first woman tenured in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the first woman chair of a PSD department, and the first woman dean of the PSD. Angela is a leading scholar in astroparticle physics whose research has significantly contributed to the understanding of the inflationary origins of the universe, the cosmological effects of magnetic fields, the structure of neutron stars, and the highest energy cosmic rays, gamma-rays, and neutrinos. She is the principal investigator of NASA’s Probe of Extreme Multi-Messenger Astrophysics space and balloon missions and the Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon mission and was also a leading member of the Pierre Auger Observatory.

“We are deeply grateful to Angela for her extraordinary contributions to the PSD and to the University. In her 33 years at UChicago, Angela served as an exemplary University citizen in all of her roles, and her contributions will have enduring impact,” said President Paul Alivisatos and Provost Katherine Baicker in their message to PSD community members.

“The PSD community is a vibrant place, where our brilliant faculty, postdocs, students, and staff continually push the boundaries of knowledge. It has been an honor to conduct research and teach beside such inspiring scientists and mathematicians, and it has been a privilege to help advance the research and educational mission of the division as dean over the past six years,” Olinto said in a message to the division. 

Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Ka Yee C. Lee to step in as interim dean

Executive Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Ka Yee C. Lee will serve as interim dean of the Physical Sciences, effective February 5, 2024.

A distinguished academic whose research focuses on membrane biophysics, Ka Yee is the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Chemistry, the James Franck Institute, the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, and the College. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Trustees for NORC, the Field Museum Board, the Chapin Hall Board of Directors, and the UChicago Charter School Board of Directors. She also was the inaugural chair of the Faculty Advisory Board for The Hong Kong Jockey Club University of Chicago Academic Complex | University of Chicago Francis and Rose Yuen Campus in Hong Kong. Ka Yee has garnered numerous honors throughout her career, including recognition as a Searle Scholar, a David and Lucile Packard Fellow for Science and Engineering, and a Sloan Research Fellow. She is also an elected member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, a fellow of the Biophysical Society, and a fellow of the American Physical Society.

In addition to these accolades, she has received the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Furthermore, she holds the distinction of being the inaugural recipient of the Arthur L. Kelly Prize for Exceptional Faculty Service in the Physical Sciences Division. Previously, Ka Yee served as provost of the University, vice provost for research, the director of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, and associate director of the James Franck Institute. These accomplishments and experiences underscore her outstanding contributions across the mission of PSD and UChicago.

This article has been adapted from the following announcements:

Division of the Physical Sciences Leadership Transition

Interim dean of the PSD


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