What’s a Chair?

For most of the world, it’s furniture. For a university, it’s a promise of profound and lasting impact.


Universities have used endowed faculty chairs for some 500 years to recognize the world’s top scholars—from Sir Isaac Newton to Marie Curie to Stephen Hawking. The honor is no less prestigious today, and actually serves as an important tool to bring the world’s greatest minds to lead the labs and classrooms here at UC San Diego.

Typically funded by a philanthropic endowment, chair positions provide a perpetual source of funds to support scholarly work, including research and teaching, as well as graduate student fellowships. Endowed chairs contribute to UC San Diego’s mission to improve the world by training the students of tomorrow and fueling the scientific and medical breakthroughs that will solve society’s most pressing problems.

Increasing the number of endowed chairs is a key initiative for the UC system. In 2014, UC President Janet Napolitano allocated $40 million in matching funds for eight endowed faculty chairs at each of UC’s 10 campuses. UC San Diego donors met the challenge and established eight new chairs, bringing our current total to 185 chairs, 34 years after UC San Diego’s first endowed chairs—the Irwin Mark and Joan Klein Jacobs Chair in Information and Computer Science, and the Chair of Judaic Studies—were established in 1981.

So pull up your own chair and meet some of the many minds making a difference at UC San Diego. Their impact is made possible by generous benefactors who believe in the power of an endowed chair.


Web - Chairs - Christopher Kane M.D.
Photo: Brennan Romeril, ’11

Christopher Kane, M.D.
Professor of Surgery, UC San Diego
Joseph D. Schmidt, M.D.
Presidential Chair

Research focus: My research is focused on improving prostate cancer imaging, diagnosis, risk stratification and outcomes of treatment.

Real-world impact: We are changing and improving the way that men with prostate cancer are treated. We are successfully avoiding treatment in men who can be safely followed, a strategy known as active surveillance. We are improving the imaging and biopsy processes for patients who we care for, and communicating those developments in the literature so that men around the world can have those same improvements.

What surprises you about your subject area, and why? Our understanding of prostate cancer has changed dramatically in the last three years. The new understanding of who needs treatment and who can safely avoid treatment is having a huge impact on patients. This new understanding brings great hope for improved outcomes for men with advanced disease.

Throughout history, whose chair would you most want to sit in? Next to Christ at the Last Supper—but it would be a hard night.


Web - Chairs - Tajana Rosing
Photo: Brennan Romeril, ’11

Tajana S. Rosing, Ph.D.
Professor of Computer Science
and Engineering
John J. and Susan M. Fratamico
Endowed Chair

Research focus: My group focuses on energy efficiency in all kinds of systems, from sensor nodes to data centers, transport networks and power grids.

Real-world impact: Longer battery life for your smartphone is just one example of the applications of my research. My work involves optimizing the battery life, communication and storage of portable electronic devices, including cell phones, laptops and sensors. I also work on large systems; for example, optimizing smart wireless servers to maximize quality of service while minimizing power consumption. This research translates into significant energy savings.

What does an endowed chair position mean to you? The chair allows me the freedom to focus on new and challenging research questions over the summer with my best and brightest students. That kind of freedom wouldn’t be possible without the funding from the Fratamico chair.

Throughout history, whose chair would you most want to sit in?
Marie Curie—she was amazing!


Photo by Jarrett Haley
Photo by Jarrett Haley

Shang-Ping Xie, Ph.D.
Professor of Climate, Atmospheric
Science and Physical Oceanography
Roger Revelle Chair in
Environmental Science

Research focus: I study the physics of climate variability and change, with a focus on the phenomena of El Niño and global warming.

Real-world impact: Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. In 2013, I attended a United Nations meeting where more than 100 national delegations approved a major climate assessment report my team authored. It was gratifying to contribute to the global understanding and discussion of climate change.

What surprises you still about your subject area, and why? I am often surprised at the far-reaching impacts our research has on society. In the 1980s, I built one of the first computer models of El Niño as a graduate student. It was a hot topic for scientists, but few in the general public knew the concept. El Niño’s rapid ascent in fame amazes me. Today, El Niño is everywhere.

Your research in one word? Meaningful.

Throughout history, whose chair would you most want to sit in? Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist who ever lived.



Web - Chairs - Denise DemetriouDenise Demetriou, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History
Gerry and Jeannie Ranglas Chair
in Ancient Greek History

Research focus: I explore the effects of multiculturalism in the ancient Greek world.  How did different ethnic groups living in communities that had different religions, languages and customs create distinct identities, and how did contact with each other change them?

Real-world impact: The themes of my research—immigration, ethnicity, multiculturalism—help us to gain perspective and acquire a deeper understanding of our own society by thinking about how other times and places dealt with remarkably similar problems we face today.  My research also informs my teaching, and the biggest impact of my research in the “real” world is on the hundreds of students I teach every year.

What does an endowed chair position mean to you? Funds from the chair enable me to sponsor lectures and hold conferences on cutting-edge topics to raise the visibility of the department and enhance UC San Diego’s reputation not only as a leading STEM university but also a university committed to the humanities.

Throughout history, whose chair would you most want to sit in? Stephen Colbert, on his old show.


Web - Chairs - Lane Kenworthy
Photo: Taylor Sanderson, ’15

Lane Kenworthy, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Daniel Yankelovich Endowed Chair
on Social Thought

Research focus: I study the causes and consequences of living standards, poverty, inequality, mobility, unemployment, economic growth, social policy, taxes, public opinion and politics in the United States and other affluent countries.

Real-world impact: Much of my research has direct policy implications, in that it aims to figure out what sorts of institutions and policies are effective in improving the lives of ordinary people. Whether policymakers listen is another matter.

What surprises you still about your subject area, and why? Social scientists usually are (rightly) skeptical of any single research finding. But we tend to be much more skeptical if the finding contradicts our prior beliefs or convictions than if the finding is consistent with them. It isn’t surprising that policymakers do this, but we scientists ought to know better.

Throughout history, whose chair would you most want to sit in? Gandhi during the Indian struggle for independence. He’s a complex and fascinating person—an important historical figure during an important historical struggle.


Photo: Brennan Romeril, ’11
Photo: Brennan Romeril, ’11

Martin Yanofsky, ’78, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Cell
and Developmental Biology
Paul D. Saltman Chair
in Science Education

Research focus: I study the fundamental questions in plant development. For example, how does a group of undifferentiated stem cells give rise to a flower, a fruit or a root?

Real-world impact: While we focus on basic science research, our studies have led to discoveries that have been utilized to dramatically increase the yield of agriculturally relevant crops. This can have many positive environmental impacts because it allows farmers to produce the same amount of yield on less land, with less water, chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

What does an endowed chair position mean to you? Funding from the endowed chair allows my team to take chances and explore high-risk projects that otherwise would likely go unfunded. For example, these funds helped us develop a project on plant embryonic stem cells that allowed us to make a major contribution to the stem cell field.

Throughout history, whose chair would you most want to sit in? Francis Crick. The discovery of the structure of DNA certainly changed my whole life, and lives of everyone to come.