March 8, 2016

New CCE Leadership Chair Honors the Past and Supports the Future

A new leadership chair in Caltech’s Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE) will amplify the Institute’s support of its scholars’ freedom to pursue the most interesting and challenging lines of inquiry.

Established through a $10 million gift from a couple who wish to remain anonymous, the chair will be named in honor of the late Norman Davidson, a longtime Caltech faculty member whose scientific contributions represented in part the beginnings of molecular biology.

“Through this gift, CCE can maintain its excellence and move forward in new frontiers in chemistry,” says Jacqueline K. Barton, Caltech’s Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry and inaugural holder of the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair. “There are things you cannot anticipate—seed funding for new ideas, instrumentation that needs upgrading, support for new faculty—and CCE needs the freedom, in any given quarter and in any given year, to address these priorities.”

At Caltech, endowed leadership chairs generate discretionary funds—invaluable resources that enable academic leaders to respond quickly to new ideas and emerging opportunities.

Barton currently plans to direct income from the chair primarily toward graduate fellowships and startup packages for new CCE faculty. Her investment will allow talented investigators to explore freely novel research paths, giving her division a competitive advantage in attracting the next generation of leading scholars in chemistry and chemical engineering.

“Through this gift, CCE can maintain its excellence and move forward in new frontiers in chemistry.”
- Jacqueline K. Barton, Caltech’s Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry and Norman Davidson Leadership Chair

“Leadership chairs are an extraordinary mechanism to seed new areas of research and help define new schools of thought,” says Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “They also require extraordinary donors, friends of Caltech who appreciate the capacious nature of the Institute’s approach to research. We extend our sincere appreciation to the donors who have made the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair a powerful reality.”

The anonymous benefactors—one of whom is a Caltech alumnus—describe the years they spent on campus as some of the best of their lives. This commitment is a tribute to their experience as members of the Caltech community. It is also a reflection of their belief that flexible funding will enable CCE researchers to accelerate the pace of discovery across many fields, including advancing our understanding of synthetic molecules, multi-protein complexes, and bacteria that could lead to applications across medicine, agriculture, and biotechnology.


Norman Davidson (1916–2002)
Norman Davidson (1916–2002)

In dedicating their gift to Norman Davidson, the donors hope that others will be inspired to use philanthropy as a way to honor people who have been important in their lives. For generations to come, they say, CCE leadership will be reminded that Davidson was a pioneer in chemistry at Caltech.

Davidson served on the Caltech faculty from 1946 until his death in 2002, rising through the ranks within CCE, serving briefly as chair of the Division of Biology (today’s Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, or BBE), and eventually being named Caltech’s Norman Chandler Professor of Chemical Biology. Over the course of his career, Davidson made lasting contributions across numerous areas, including physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, the biophysical chemistry of nucleic acids, and neurobiology of chemistry and biology. After developing physical methods to monitor the kinetics of chemical reactions, he went on to pioneer new methods of electron microscopy, enabling progress in genetic mapping and elucidating the chemical properties of DNA and RNA.

Davidson’s family—including sons Brian Davidson and Jeff Davidson, daughter Laureen Clark, and eight grandchildren—were surprised and delighted by the naming gift.

“It’s a great honor to our father and his legacy,” Brian Davidson says. “Given our father’s deep love for Caltech, his colleagues, and students, we know he would be thrilled by this very generous gift.”

In addition to the Davidson Chair, Caltech has received generous contributions to create the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair, the Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair, the Otis Booth Leadership Chair in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, the William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair in BBE,  the Ted and Ginger Jenkins Leadership Chair in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, and the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair in the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.