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Junichiro Kono named director of the Smalley-Curl Institute

By Prasi Desai     4/16/24 10:14pm

Junichiro Kono succeeded Naomi Halas as director of the Smalley-Curl Institute on Feb. 1. Kono currently also serves as director of the applied physics graduate program, housed in SCI. He is also the Karl F. Hasselmann Chair in Engineering. 

“The opportunity to build upon the incredible legacy of Rick Smalley and Bob Curl is both a privilege and a challenge, which I embrace wholeheartedly,” Kono wrote in an email to the Thresher. “I am really looking forward to working with the talented researchers and students at Rice University.”

Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said she supports Kono’s appointment. 

“I was director for ten years, and in that time the Institute has changed a lot,” Halas wrote in an email to the Thresher. “Jun is not only an outstanding scientist, but a very hard-working and organized, impactful individual who gets things done.”

Douglas Natelson, professor of physics and astronomy, is a member of the SCI steering committee. Natelson and Kono have both worked at Rice since 2000 and currently have an ongoing scientific collaboration. 

“[Kono] is energetic and creative, with a long track record of collaboration and education-related activities,” Natelson wrote in an email to the Thresher. “His scientific experience touches on all the elements that make up the SCI, from carbon nanomaterials to quantum information.”

According to Executive Vice President for Research Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Kono has long-standing ties with Rice, both as a professor for over 20 years and as a father to two Rice graduates.

“Professor Kono is a person who is profoundly passionate about applied physics and about Rice,” Ramesh wrote. “He knows our community inside and out, so I couldn’t be happier knowing that he’ll be helming such an important and pioneering institute as the SCI.”

Kono said the research opportunities and personnel at SCI have provided him with mentorship, collaboration and unique research opportunities, such as his work on carbon nanomaterials. 

“I immediately fell in love with the community represented by these highly multidisciplinary groups of researchers,” Kono said. 

According to Natelson, continued support for the applied physics graduate program and growth of postdoctoral positions within the SCI would benefit research at the institute. 

“I’m excited to see how the institute grows and evolves under his leadership as the university has restructured the support and expectations for institutes,” Natelson wrote. 

According to Halas, the SCI is endeavoring to support a National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. 

“It will be SCI’s goal to work well with [the Rice Advanced Materials Institute] in establishing larger center proposals such as a MRSEC and other funding mechanisms,” Halas said. 

Ramesh said he hopes to see further merging of the main research themes within SCI—quantum information science, nanoscience, and quantum materials — during Kono’s tenure. 

“The sky's the limit in terms of the work they’re able to produce,” Ramesh wrote.

Kono said he hopes to further encourage multidisciplinary collaborations both within and outside of SCI. As director, Kono also intends to support international collaborations through workshops and a visiting scientist program. 

“We are building a tightly-knit community around these three intertwined scientific pillars to create a stimulating international venue for interdisciplinary scholarship,” Kono said. 

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