Science, Math Hires Add to School’s Traditional Strengths, New Focuses

The University of Texas at Dallas is marking its 50th anniversary this academic year, but the roots of the institution’s School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics reach back almost a decade earlier.

In 1961, the founders of Texas Instruments Inc. created the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest (GRCSW). That center brought together geologists, biologists and experts in physics, relativity and space science whose research and teaching would comprise the academic core of the University when the GRCSW became UT Dallas in 1969.

Dr. Bruce Novak

Today, the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics is home to more than 100 tenured or tenure-track faculty members and enrolls nearly 4,000 students in the departments of Geosciences, Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Physics, Mathematical Sciences, and Science/Mathematics Education.

This fall seven new faculty members have joined the school’s ranks, adding expertise in math, statistics, organic chemistry and biology.

“The founding faculty had an unbridled intellectual curiosity and commitment to education, and that has continued throughout UT Dallas to this day,” said Dr. Bruce Novak, dean of the school and Distinguished Chair in Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “We’re continuing to expand our traditional strengths in science and math while adding new competencies and programs, including building a center of excellence in synthetic organic chemistry.”

In January, the school initiated a new undergraduate degree program in data science, offered jointly with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. This fall, about 70 students are enrolled.

“Our math department and the computer science department have worked effectively to bring the data science program to fruition, and it’s already very popular,” Novak said. “It’s a field that’s in tremendous demand, and our students will be well positioned for pursuing those jobs.”

The new Science Building, on track to open in fall 2020, will house the Department of Physics, the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, several classrooms, offices, and teaching and research labs. It will also feature 150-seat and 300-seat lecture halls, and an open courtyard with green space and seating areas.


New Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty

Dr. Baris Coskunuzer

Dr. Baris Coskunuzer, professor of mathematical sciences

Previously: visiting associate professor, Boston College

Research interests: minimal surfaces, geometric topology

Quote: “My research focuses on the existence and uniqueness of minimal surfaces in 3-manifolds. If we take a closed wire and dip it in and out of soapy water, the soap film that forms across the hoop is a minimal surface. These surfaces are present in nature and are studied in many different scientific disciplines. My aim is to transfer my experience and research in this field to students and to share my work with colleagues. Dallas is a great place for my family, and the UT Dallas math department is growing, with a promising future.”


Dr. Vladimir Gevorgyan

Dr. Vladimir Gevorgyan, professor of chemistry, Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry

Previously: Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago

Research interests: synthetic organic chemistry, reaction discovery, high-throughput synthesis and screening, photochemical activation of molecules

Quote: “My research area involves uncovering new reactions in organic chemistry that will allow us to synthesize a broad range of organic molecules of practical importance in polymer and materials science, biology and medical applications. Our goal is to establish a center of excellence at UT Dallas for reaction discovery and high-throughput synthesis. This center would involve launching a close collaboration among a broad range of scientists at UTD and UT Southwestern Medical Center, including synthetic chemists and biologists, which is unprecedented in Texas.” 


Dr. Qiwei Li

Dr. Qiwei Li, assistant professor of statistics

Previously: assistant professor, UT Southwestern Medical Center

Research interests: biostatistics and bioinformatics, Bayesian statistical methodologies, genetic analysis, digital pathology imaging

Quote: “I focus on using Bayesian statistical methodology to analyze complex biological and medical data, such as using digital pathology images to diagnose cancer and select the best treatment. I’m also interested in modeling high-dimensional count data, for example, microbiome count data. The goal is to explore and quantify the association between the abundance of bacteria in the body and certain diseases. I’m excited to work at UT Dallas because I love teaching and the university environment, and I am close by to collaborate with colleagues at UT Southwestern.”


Dr. Stephen McKeown

Dr. Stephen McKeown, assistant professor of mathematical sciences

Previously: postdoctoral research associate and lecturer, Princeton University

Research interests: differential geometry and geometric analysis, spaces with multiple edge structures, mathematical physics

Quote: “UT Dallas has a strong tradition in math and science, including in differential geometry, which is the field I work in. My research includes conformal geometry, which is studying spaces where one knows how to measure angles but not length. There are a lot of interesting ways to bring analysis and differential equations into this line of research, and I’d like to involve students in studying these questions. The math department is growing so much and in so many directions — it’s an exciting time to be here.” 


Dr. Jyoti Misra

Dr. Jyoti Misra, assistant professor of biological sciences

Previously: postdoctoral research associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Rutgers University

Research interests: genetics, cell and developmental biology, regulation of growth control

Quote: “I am interested in understanding how our organs achieve specific size and shape during development. My research group studies how an evolutionarily conserved family of proteins called protocadherins plays a crucial role in this process. I decided to come to UT Dallas not only because it provides a highly supportive environment for the success of faculty, but also for an opportunity to teach and train undergraduates in research.”


Dr. Chuan-Fa Tang

Dr. Chuan-Fa Tang, assistant professor of mathematical sciences

Previously: postdoctoral fellow, department of biostatistics, University of Washington

Research interests: order-restricted inference, shaped-constrained inference, empirical processes, survival analysis, mathematical statistics, kernel smoothing, model selection

Quote: “I study the survival times under different medical treatments with ordered hazard rates and provide statistical models for further predictions and inferences. I also study the extreme value theorem, which has applications to the insurance industry with regard to catastrophic risk, such as floods and hurricanes. Students at UT Dallas are self-motivated and willing to pursue knowledge, and I am more than happy to help them to be more successful.”


Dr. Eric Welin

Dr. Eric Welin, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry

Previously: American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow, California Institute of Technology

Research interests: organic synthesis and catalysis, drug discovery

Quote: “Our research is concerned with the small, carbon-based molecules related to life, known as natural products, and their promise as novel anti-cancer agents and antibiotics. Because it is not possible to rely on natural sources to supply these products, synthetic chemists develop new techniques to prepare and study them in the lab, a process called total synthesis. My group is also developing new methods that incorporate visible light to forge bonds between various atoms, a process that is conceptually similar to the way plants use photosynthesis to produce glucose. What attracted me most to UTD was the rapid growth of the university while maintaining high academic standards. I couldn’t be more excited to contribute to the chemistry department and UTD through the combination of teaching and research.”


New Faculty Series

News Center is publishing profiles of tenured and tenure-track professors who have recently joined the University. The following school profiles have been published:

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].