Sterling Brown professorship to bring visiting minority professor to campus

Starting next semester, the newly enacted Sterling Brown Professorship will bring to campus a visiting minority professor.

The first Sterling Brown Professor will be Joseph Francisco of Purdue University, a chemist specializing in atmospheric chemistry. Francisco will teach Chemistry 302: Physical Chemistry: Structure and Dynamics and Chemistry 401: Quantum Chemistry and Molecular Spectroscopy. While here, said Chemistry Department Chair John Thoman, Francisco “will be working on a Physical Chemistry Textbook that would be appropriate for use in these courses.”

“I nominated [Prof. Francisco] to be a Sterling Brown Visiting Professor because of his strength as a teacher and as a scholar,” Thoman said, who has published with Francisco and knew him when both were graduate students working with the same professor at MIT. “When [he] was on campus several years ago as a Sigma Xi [the scientific research society] National Lecturer, he and I talked about teaching at Williams, and he mentioned that the idea was quite appealing to him.”

Thoman said Francisco will arrive on campus during Winter Study, at which time he will work with Thoman and students Liz Roller ’01, Jacques Edelin ’01, Geoff Allen ’01 and Matt Kelty ’98 on a research project as part of the Winter Study course Chem 022 Introduction to Scientific Research. The group will investigate florinated compounds that may act as fire supressants. “This project will continue during second semester as part of Matt Kelty’s thesis work,” Thoman added.

“Prof. Fransisco is a well known computational/theoretical chemist and has an extensive publication record,” Kelty said. “I first became aquainted with his work last summer while doing chemistry research, as I came across his name quite frequently in the literature. I hope to learn a great deal working with Prof. Fransisco, especially since his area of specialty is outside of the normal undergraduate curriculum, making this a unique opportunity.”

Allen said, “I am very interested in Chemistry and really enjoyed having Prof. Thoman for Chem 101. When he mentioned the Chem 022 Winter Study, I met with him and thought Matt’s project would not only be very interesting, but would also give me the valuable lab experience I will need for the higher level chemistry. “I haven’t heard of Prof. Francisco, although now I might want to learn a little about him.”

At Purdue, Francisco holds appointments in both the Chemistry Department and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science. Additionally, he heads a research group called The Francisco Group, whose webpage (accessible from refered to the members as “Franciscans” and said,

“The Francisco group is a research group whose primary interest is atmospheric chemistry. The aim of this research is understand the chemical processes of the atmosphere through the knowledge of its constituents spectroscopy, kinetics, thermodynamics and chemistry.” In addition, Thoman said, “He has been especially interested in molecules such as chloro-fluorocarbons which deplete stratospheric ozone.”

Thoman said, “I should note that it is the current Williams students who will benefit the most from [Prof. Francisco] as a Sterling Brown Visiting Professor. In addition to his professional talents, [he] is an inspirational and humorous character. I hope you’ll take the time to meet him.”

Francisco earned his Ph.D. at MIT in 1983. He then did postdoctoral work in the United Kingdom, and subsequently returned to MIT as a postdoctoral fellow. After that, Thoman said, “He went to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where he rose through the ranks to become a full professor. About three years ago, [Francisco] moved to Purdue.”

As for the professorship which has made Francisco’s visit possible, Dean of Faculty David Smith said, “The purpose of the professorship is to commemorate Sterling Brown, a great scholar, teacher, and poet, and to bring to Williams distinguished professors who exemplify the values and commitments of Sterling Brown.”

Dean Smith said, “The Sterling A. Brown ’22 Visting Professorship was established with contributions from alumni. Members of the black alumni conceived and led this effort.” Though the necessary funds were in place two years ago, Smith added, “it has taken this long to arrange Francisco’s visit. Initially, a faculty member or department must nominate a professor for the program; the Dean of the Faculty makes the final decision about who will come.”

“The next Sterling Professor,” Associate Dean of Faculty Steven Gerrard said, “will be Professor Anita Allen of the Georgetown Law Center, who will be coming in Fall 1999.”

Allen’s official title is Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Research, and adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University Law Center. Professor Allen has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Michigan and a law degree from Harvard.

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