Alexander Spokoyny named next Chemistry & Biochemistry Chair

By Penny Jennings

This article was originally published by UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry

Professor Alexander Spokoyny has been named the next Chair of the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

“I am delighted to announce that Professor Alexander Spokoyny has agreed to serve as chair of the department from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2026,” said Distinguished Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Senior Dean of the College and Dean of Physical Sciences, Miguel Garcia-Garibay. “Alex has a deep commitment to the highest standards of research, teaching, and service based on a vision of inclusive excellence.”

Garcia-Garibay commended Spokoyny for his recent work, who along with Professor Paula Diaconescu, created an exciting curriculum and a robust business plan for the Self-Supporting Master Degree in Applied Chemical Sciences (MACS), successfully stewarding their proposal through a very complex review process that included the UCLA Academic Senate and administration, the UC Office of the President, and the UC Board of Regents.  More recently, Spokoyny served as a Department Vice-Chair helping to optimize the use of space and overseeing renovations for new faculty joining the Department.  His leadership expands to the entire UC system as shown by his commitment to the continued success of the UC Chemical Symposium where he oversees the fundraising and organization of the annual scientific gathering of chemistry and biochemistry graduate students from nearly all the UC Campuses at the UCLA Arrowhead Conference Center.

Spokoyny has also shown a deep commitment to community engagement as shown by his participation in the UCLA Prison Education program, which is aimed at making post-secondary education accessible to women and young people who are incarcerated.  “It should go without saying that in addition to his excellence in teaching and service, Alex maintains an impressive interdisciplinary research program centered on problems that span chemistry, biology, and materials science with an emphasis on molecular cluster chemistry,” Garcia-Garibay said.  “While Alex continues the scientific legacy of Hosmer Stone, Herb Kaesz, Fred Hawthorne, Chuck Strouse, Joan Valentine, and Jeff Zink, I believe he will be the first-ever Inorganic Chemist to serve as Department Chair!”

Garcia-Garibay also announced that, in order to help Spokoyny and the Department take advantage of emerging opportunities at the interface of Chemistry and Biology, biochemist Professor Joe Loo has agreed to serve as a Special Assistant to the Dean of Physical Sciences and work with Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty to help explore effective ways for the Division of Physical Sciences to invest in funding opportunities and programs for research and education in Biochemistry and the various Chemistry-Biology interface areas, including Bio-Analytical, Bio-Physical, Bio-Inorganic, Bio-Organic, and Medicinal Chemistry.

Garcia-Garibay also thanked outgoing chair Professor Neil Garg, who served from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2023, for his service. “I hope you will join me in thanking Professor Neil Garg for an extended and successful term as Department Chair,” he said. “While leading the department through the challenges of COVID-19, a budget reduction, and many other complex issues, Neil has overseen countless initiatives, including the hiring of ten new ladder faculty, spanning all four Divisions.  Neil has also presided over the largest growth in the Department endowment, including the establishment of new endowed chairs in Chemistry & Biochemistry and a fund for graduate student support.  All the while, he has maintained uncompromised excellence in research, education, and service.”

A true-Bruin, Spokoyny received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UCLA in 2006 where he conducted research in Professor M. Frederick Hawthorne’s group and was introduced to the area of boron clusters. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern University in 2011 where his work with Professor Chad Mirkin provided him with a unique multidisciplinary training in materials inorganic chemistry. He then received training in organometallic chemistry and chemical biology during his joint postdoctoral appointment (2012-2014) with Professor Brad Pentelute and Professor Stephen Buchwald at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Spokoyny joined the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2014 and quickly built a world-class research program focused on the fundamental chemistry and practical applications of organomimetic cluster molecules. Spokoyny was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure July 1, 2020.

A passionate and committed educator, Spokoyny’s chemistry courses have been actively engaging and educating large cohorts of undergraduate students by incorporating knowledge creation assignments including  writing articles for Wikipedia, mock grant panels and social media engagement on Twitter and TikTok. He recently led the effort developing the first general education (GE) undergraduate chemistry appreciation course for non-STEM students. Spokoyny has received multiple awards for his educational efforts including a Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar Award (2018) for his creative contributions to education in chemistry and physics, the department’s prestigious Hanson-Dow Award for Teaching Excellence (2019), and the recent Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2020), UCLA Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award (2021) and Community Service and Praxis Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award (2022).

Through his outreach efforts, Spokoyny has shown his commitment to bringing chemistry to the community, especially those who are under-served. He has been teaching chemistry to incarcerated students in Southern California prisons as a part of the UCLA Prison Education Program and his group has done extensive outreach for K-12 students.

His many other awards and honors for his group’s research activities include the UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Week Faculty Mentor Award (2020), NSF Career Award (2019), an NIH/NIGMS Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award award (2017), an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship(2017), the AXE 2017 Glenn T. Seaborg Award (2017). In 2016, Spokoyny was named one of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) “Talented 12” and he received a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award and an American Chemical Society (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund New Investigator Award.

The new department leadership team appointed by Spokoyny will be announced on July 1, 2023.