Recently, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau announced that he will be stepping down as UC Berkeley chancellor and returning to the lab as a physics and materials science professor. In his announcement letter to the campus, he wrote that he hopes to “have one more truly significant physics/materials science experiment still to come in my academic career.” But after his extended hiatus from research, does Birgeneau have what it takes to return to the cutting edge of these two fast-moving fields? To find out, I spent some time poring through his C.V. and research homepage for a closer look at the caliber of researcher he was before becoming an administrator.

Birgeneau’s research career spanned four decades, starting with his graduate studies at Yale in the mid-1960’s and lasting until he become president of the University of Toronto in 2000. He published his first academic paper in 1964 in Physical Review while he was a summer intern at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories in Ontario, Canada. According to the paper’s abstract, he used quantum theoretical calculations and inelastic neutron scattering measurements to characterize the thermodynamic properties of nickel and compared them to those of copper. Titled “Normal modes of vibration in nickel”, the paper has been cited an impressive 167 times – not bad for a first-time author.