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As you may know, Distinguished University Professor Ellen Williams will take a leave of absence beginning January 15 to serve as Chief Scientist at British/Beyond Petroleum.  BP is the third largest oil company and the fifth largest corporation on the planet, and as BP’s Chief Scientist Ellen will play a role in determining how developments in science and technology can contribute to sustainable, secure and environmentally responsible energy.

Ellen has made important contributions in condensed matter/surface physics in her extremely productive and prestigious career; our campus is infinitely richer and wiser for her 28 years here. Her research accomplishments and her ability to bring first-rate people into the Physics Department have played a huge role in bringing the department into the top tier.  But given the gravity of the environmental and energy issues facing the globe at this juncture, we can all appreciate and commend her willingness to focus her talents on these topics.

Since 1996, Ellen has directed the UMD Materials Research Science and Engineering Center in cutting-edge research, developing collaborations and innovative outreach. Among her special interests are surfaces at the atomic scale, thin films, low-dimensional interfaces and graphene.

In 2005, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences; two years earlier, she was selected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has been honored with the David Turnbull Lectureship for career contributions from the Materials Research Society, and has received from the American Physical Society both the David Adler Lectureship Award for work in materials and the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award for outstanding achievement as a young researcher.

Throughout her decades as an acclaimed scientist, she has been utterly committed to encouraging the involvement and success of women and minorities in physics and related fields. An interesting profile on her own ascent accompanied the publication of her inaugural article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. .

As physics chair, I certainly would prefer that Ellen Williams stayed here in College Park, doing cutting-edge research in her lab, giving invaluable guidance to her students, masterfully maintaining MRSEC and strengthening the department through her many skills and insights. But as a consumer of energy and a citizen of planet earth, I wish her the maximum possible success in her new job.