Matsuda named dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies

Chemistry Department Chair Seiichi Matsuda has been appointed dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies. The E. Dell Butcher Professor of Chemistry and a professor of biochemistry and cell biology, Matsuda will assume this new role Jan. 1.

“Seiichi will bring energy, passion, extraordinary commitment and a great track record for innovation to his new position,” Provost George McLendon said.

Seiichi Matsuda

“I am honored to serve as Rice’s dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies,” Matsuda said. “We have dynamic graduate and postdoctoral programs in each of the schools of Architecture, Business, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences. I look forward to working with students, faculty, staff and administration to build on the momentum established under Dean Paula Sanders, with the twin objectives of promoting individual achievement and programmatic excellence.”

Matsuda joined the Rice faculty in 1995 as an assistant professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and cell biology. He was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2001, full professor in 2004 and department chair in 2007.

As chair of the Department of Chemistry, Matsuda focused the graduate program on promoting the highest level of achievement for each doctoral student. “The program is highly selective, admitting only about 20 graduate students a year,” he wrote on the department’s website. “These small numbers ensure that Rice graduate students have unusual access to faculty time, instrumentation and other resources. As a consequence, chemistry graduate students at Rice develop unusually strong publication records.”

When Matsuda won the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching in 2007, he said that Rice students are “exceptionally smart and industrious but they are not spoiled.” He said he did not focus on becoming a teacher but rather went to graduate school to do research. ”Only later did I learn that a central component of doing research is transmitting knowledge, understanding and passion for the discipline to others. I have found that the opportunity to help people develop their thinking processes to be an enormous privilege.”

Matsuda’s research focuses on plant defense compounds products. Plants are organisms attached directly at the base that defend themselves against herbivores and infection through their exceptional ability to synthesize organic molecules that serve as insecticides, antibiotics and other defense compounds. Part of Matsuda’s research program is to mine the genomes of sequenced organisms to identify new compounds. He is also interested in the atomic-level details of how the relevant enzymes promote catalysis and how plants develop enzymes that generate new structures.

A native of St. Louis, Matsuda has a B.A. in chemistry from Bethel College, from whom he received the Young Alumni Award in 2001, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard. Among his other honors are the Matt Suffness Award from the American Society of Pharmacognosy and the Herman Frasch Foundation Award in Agricultural Chemistry.

McLendon thanked the search committee chaired by Dean of Architecture Sarah Whiting for its work and commitment in vetting and identifying candidates for the dean position and also Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Paula Sanders “for shaping the duties and building the office for the dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies.”

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.