Former Vice President of ETH Zurich
Prof. Chen was born in 1960 in Salt Lake City, USA. After attending public schools in Akron, Ohio, he studied Chemistry at the University of Chicago where he earned his B.S. in 1982. Following his Ph.D. at Yale University in 1987, he moved to Harvard University, where from 1988 to 1991 he was Assistant Professor and from 1991 to 1994 Associate Professor. In 1994, he was elected Full Professor at ETH Zürich, the position he currently holds. Within the ETH Zürich, he has served on numerous commissions, among them the Research Commission, which he chaired, with the task of evaluating and distributing the ETH’s internal research budget. He has served twice as Chair of the Laboratorium für Organische Chemie, a research and teaching unit with eight professors and 150 doctoral students. From September 1, 2007 until September 30, 2009, he was Vice President for Research and Corporate Relations, in charge of research, strategic planning, and technology transfer for the ETH Zürich. In 2010, he became vice-chair of Division IV at the Swiss National Science Foundation, in charge of national (Swiss) research initiatives. From 2012-2015, he chaired Division IV, becoming also a member of the Executive Board of the Swiss National Science Foundation. He was naturalized Swiss in 2012.
In addition to numerous consultancies with companies in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of Clariant Ltd, a leading specialty chemicals company, from 2006-2018, where he chaired the Board’s Technology and Innovation Committee. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of CSEM SA, an engineering company in the area of micro and nanotechnology, and the CEO’s Advisory Board of OC Oerlikon, a diversified technology and manufacturing company. He has an interest in Spin-Off companies, having engaged in the founding of one in 1999. Prof. Chen initiated and managed the negotiations which led to the establishment of the strategic partnership between IBM and the ETH in 2008, embodied in a US$ 100 Mio shared research lab and a broadly aligned R&D program in micro- and nanosciences. He further managed the negotiations with Disney for the establishment, on the ETH campus, of the first university-based Disney Research Center outside of the United States (only the second worldwide). He negotiated the intergovernmental deal for the founding of the Singapore-ETH Centre in the CREATE campus in Singapore. From 2010-2013, Prof. Chen served on the Governing Board of the EIT Climate KIC, an initiative at the European level.
Prof. Chen was a member of the Defense Science Study Group, sponsored by the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia. He was the organizer for the International Symposium on Reactive Intermediates and Unusual Molecules (ISRIUM) in Ascona, Switzerland, five times, in 1998, 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2018. He has been the President of the Alfred Werner Foundation, a non-profit foundation that raised funds from private industry and supported Assistant Professors in the Chemical Sciences in Switzerland, and subsequently funds Master’s students coming into Switzerland from abroad. In a similar way, he negotiated a scholarship fund with Swiss industry for doctoral students in the Chemistry Department at the ETH Zürich. From 2007 to 2009, Prof. Chen served on the Board of Directors of the ETH Foundation, a non-profit fund-raising organ of the ETH Zürich. He was a Director of Society-in-Science, an ambitious, international fellowship program financed by the entrepreneur and philanthropist, Branco Weiss. In 2020, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, an ambitious new university just outside Vienna.
In his research he combines detailed physical measurements with the planning and synthesis of molecules, making it possible to design and test qualitative and quantitative models of the energetics and reactivity of reactive intermediates in organic and organometallic chemistry. The mechanistic work lays the foundation for the design and synthesis of functional systems, presently in the area of homogeneous catalysis. In this field, he has supervised over 100 doctoral students, postdocs, and senior scientists, and is the author of approximately 200 papers and 9 patents. In the past twelve years, he has given over 250 invited or plenary lectures at conferences, university departments, and chemical companies. His research has been distinguished by numerous awards, among them the “National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator,” “Camille and Henry Dreyfus Distinguished New Faculty Fellow,” “David and Lucile Packard Fellow,” “Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar,” “Alfred P. Sloan Fellow,” “ACS Cope Scholar,” and an “ERC Advanced Investigator” award, as well as numerous visiting professorships and named lectures. In 2021, he was awarded the “James Flack Norris Award for Physical Organic Chemistry” by the American Chemical Society. Prof. Chen has extensive teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate level, for which he was given the “Golden Owl” twice, in 2005 and 2015, an honor of which he is especially proud because the award is voted by the students for the best teaching in each department.
Reflections on Building Internationally Competitive Science