Rice University chemist Zachary Ball has been named director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB). The institute promotes interdisciplinary research and education encompassing physics, chemistry, biology and engineering.
Ball succeeds Jane Grande-Allen, who will continue to serve as the Isabel C. Cameron Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering.
“Zach is our first chemist in the role of IBB director and I am very excited about how he will expand the scope of our collaborative research,” said Yousif Shamoo, Rice’s vice provost for research, who announced the appointment.
Ball sees his role with IBB as an opportunity to soften boundaries between departments at Rice and to help faculty connect with outside researchers in the Texas Medical Center.
“There is this inherent tension at a university,” Ball said. “We still need a traditional department structure, but there’s also a need to empower faculty in ways that are bigger and broader than traditional departments can provide. That’s a big reason why IBB is and remains a hugely important part of the Rice research ensemble. It’s uniquely situated to encourage faculty collaboration.”
“Zach brings an objective clarity on integration,” said Paul Cherukuri, IBB’s executive director. “He has a great analytical understanding of all the things we’re doing at IBB and how to integrate our activities across the disciplines.”
Ball used his own recent experience at Rice as an example. “Since my lab moved to the BioScience Research Collaborative, we’ve been near new people and it’s really changed how we think about some research problems,” he said. “I see on a small scale how bringing together people with different views can help build research that goes in new directions.”
Ball’s Rice lab designs, builds and studies novel transition-metal complexes with unique structures and functions for applications in chemical biology and medicine, including the development of next-generation protein drugs.
“I’m a chemist who clearly works on biological problems, but I’ve also traditionally viewed myself as on the fringes of what IBB does,” he said. “So I think it’s both a strength and a challenge that I arrive at IBB with a different perspective. I’ll try to use that unique perspective while also relying on the strong network of IBB faculty to effectively enable progress in the many diverse fields that IBB encompasses.”
Ball, an associate professor of chemistry, joined the Rice faculty in 2006. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University in 1999 and a Ph.D. at Stanford in 2004.