Leonidas Bachas appointed interim director of Frost Institutes

Leonidas G. Bachas is leading the Frost Institutes of Science and Engineering as it transitions from vision to reality with its first center, the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

By Maya Bell

Leonidas G. Bachas is leading the Frost Institutes of Science and Engineering as it transitions from vision to reality with its first center, the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Leonidas Bachas appointed interim director of Frost Institutes

By Maya Bell
The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences takes the helm of the Frost Institutes of Science and Engineering’s first center during key transition phase.

With the search for the inaugural director of the University of Miami’s Frost Institutes of Science and Engineering about to start and the design phase for its first center almost complete, the University has enlisted the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to take charge of the transformative project on an interim basis.

Provost Jeffrey Duerk has appointed Leonidas G. Bachas, a distinguished analytical and biological chemist who has led UM’s largest college for nearly a decade, to serve as interim director of the Frost Institutes umbrella organization, and its first individual interdisciplinary research center, the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science (FICMS). The five-story facility will be erected just east of Memorial Drive on the Coral Gables campus.

Already moving the needle, Bachas is planning a series of related workshops and seminars and establishing a fellows program to encourage interdisciplinary research in chemistry and molecular science.

“Dean Bachas is ideally suited to lead the Frost Institutes, particularly its Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science, through this critical transition period,” said Duerk, UM’s executive vice president for academic affairs. “From the earliest stages of his career, Leonidas recognized how essential interdisciplinary collaboration is to solving complex problems. His leadership and experience will be invaluable as the Frost Institutes evolve from vision to reality.”

Though Bachas did not seek the position, he said he accepted the additional responsibility because he believes in the mission of the Frost Institutes. A key initiative of the Roadmap to Our New Century, the Frost Institutes took flight when UM’s longtime benefactors, Philip and Patricia Frost, made a landmark $100 million gift to create a multidisciplinary research hub that will focus on scientific discovery and solutions.

“I feel so strongly about the concept of the Frost Institutes as an interdisciplinary enabler of scientific discovery, I could not say no,” said Bachas, whose own research lies at the interface of chemistry, biochemistry, and environmental science. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build something from the ground up with the aim of exploring some of the major challenges chemistry and molecular science can address. Fortunately, I have very effective associate deans, chairs, directors, and staff who will continue to help me oversee the college operations.”

Patterned after the National Institutes of Health and its network of institutes, the Frost Institutes are designed to elevate the University’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics enterprises to address some of the most pressing problems confronting the world.

Although the inaugural director will decide which research challenges the FICMS will pursue, the workshops and seminars slated to begin later this year will explore the essential roles chemistry and molecular science have in future global issues, such as clean water, disease, and energy and food production.

The College of Arts and Sciences is also about to launch the Frost Junior Fellows, a mentoring initiative to encourage young faculty to team up with more senior faculty from other departments across the University to develop interdisciplinary projects related to chemistry and molecular science.

Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science
Rendering of the Frost Chemistry and Molecular Science Institute provided by Harvard Jolly Architecture

But however FICMS’ mission evolves, Bachas said, the inaugural director will have a state-of-the art incubator to propel the institute’s success—the glass-encased facility that Bachas will soon see rising from the window of his second-floor office in the Ashe Administrative Building. Construction on the L-shaped building, which is now in the City of Coral Gables permitting process, is expected to begin later this fiscal year.

Designed by Harvard Jolly Architecture, a Florida firm with expertise in higher education, the 94,000-square-foot building will have few interior walls, which makes as big a statement as its location. Laboratories will overlook the McLamore Fountain and Palm Court on Memorial Drive. Much of the interior space will have an open design, allowing for the free flow of both ideas and people.

“The location of the building makes a statement about its importance to the University, and where we want to go,” Bachas said. “And the absence of walls indicates how we will get there. A lot of great new ideas come from the convergence of different fields, and the best way to develop them is to have people from different disciplines interacting and collaborating in a common space.”

Bachas has spent most of his life in interdisciplinary pursuits. His UM lab, which includes chemists, material scientists, and biochemists, designs devices with a broad range of objectives, from removing pollutants from the environment to designing new materials. He has authored about 200 papers—half of them with collaborators from disciplines outside the College of Arts and Sciences.

His love for education was imparted by his father, who was an academician on the Greek island of Chios, where Bachas was born, and in Athens, where his family moved when he was 12.

After earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of Athens, Bachas went to the University of Michigan, where he earned his doctorate in chemistry while pursuing his master’s degree in engineering, specializing in oceanic sciences. He also met his wife, Sylvia Daunert, at Michigan, where she was studying pharmaceutical chemistry.

Today, Daunert chairs the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and directs BioNIUM—the Dr. John T. Macdonald Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami.

After leaving Michigan in 1986, the couple moved to the University of Kentucky, where during his second year on the faculty, Bachas wrote his first interdisciplinary grant for research and education. By the time he and Daunert moved to UM in 2010, Bachas, then chair of UK’s Department of Chemistry and associate dean of research and academic programs in its College of Arts and Sciences, had a reputation as a pioneer in fostering interdisciplinary initiatives.

“I think it’s in his DNA,” Duerk said. “Just as chemistry touches everything from biology to engineering, and from medicine and health sciences to oceanography, so too, has Dean Bachas.”