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UMass Amherst Establishes Armstrong/Siadat Endowed Professorship in Materials Science

Barry Siadat

Armstrongs (left) and Siadats

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation has established an endowment fund to be known as the Armstrong/Siadat Endowed Professorship in Materials Science with a cash gift of $750,000 from John and Elizabeth Armstrong and a $750,000 pledge from Barry and Afsaneh Siadat. The endowed professorship will be awarded to a researcher in the area of materials science in the UMass Amherst chemical engineering department. Barry Siadat says, “The endowed professorship will attract an outstanding leader who will be a bit like a magnet, building a world-class program that will improve the quality of life.” John Armstrong says he hopes the professorship will be the center of a cluster of renowned scientists working to solve problems and create new materials.

“Material science has been crucial to all kinds of modern and technological scientific progress,” says Armstrong. Elizabeth Armstrong sees the new professorship as a powerful addition to the flagship campus of the UMass system. “By joining together, we have a more impactful gift compared to what two smaller gifts could do,” she says.

Materials science is an interdisciplinary field of science and engineering which deals with the study of matter and its properties and is largely concerned with the discovery, design, and engineering of new materials. This relatively new field forms the leading edge of nanoscience and nanotechnology research.

Timothy J. Anderson, the dean of the College of Engineering, will select the holder of the Armstrong/Siadat professorship. The appointment is non-renewable and lasts for no more than five years. At the conclusion of that period, the college will rotate the professorship to another scholar in the field.

The spendable income from the professorship will be used to support partial salary for the position and funding for graduate students, equipment, and other costs associated with establishing and conducting a research program in materials science.

The Siadats and the Armstrongs have been longtime donors and devoted friends of UMass Amherst and the College of Engineering.

In addition to the new professorship, the Siadats also established the Barry and Afsaneh Siadat Early Career Faculty Development Award in the ChE department in 2012. For his professional accomplishments and many efforts on behalf of UMass Amherst, Dr. Siadat received a Distinguished Achievement Award in 2014.

Dr. Siadat earned his M.S. in Polymer Science and Engineering in 1977 and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 1979 from UMass Amherst. He is the co-founder, president, and managing director of SK Capital Partners. His career as a scientist, business leader, and investor comprises senior leadership in both privately held and major public corporations. Dr. Siadat is author of over 25 scientific publications and over 20 patents. In 2012 Dr. Siadat was selected by the College of Engineering to receive its Outstanding Senior Alumni Award.

The Siadats’ Early Career Faculty Development Award supports the research program of an untenured faculty member in the Chemical Engineering Department who demonstrates promise in establishing a nationally visible, externally funded, research program.

Dr. Shelly Peyton was chosen to receive the first such award. Among other research projects, she engineers authentic replicas of brain, lung, bone, liver, and other organs from synthetic polymers in her lab and uses these “tissue mimics” to test her new theory for the deadly problem of why breast-cancer cells metastasize to certain organs. Then she studies how to block cancer cells from spreading in this way.

Because of the Armstrongs’ history as major supporters of UMass Amherst, the university gave them Honorary Alumni Awards in 2003 and the President’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the university, in 2004.

The Armstrongs moved to Amherst in 1995 after John Armstrong completed a 30-year career with IBM that included positions as vice president for science and technology and director of research. He also was a presidential appointee to the National Science Board, chaired the governing board of the American Institute of Physics, and served as a member of the National Academy of Engineering. John Armstrong has served on the College of Engineering Dean's Advisory Committee, the UMass Amherst Foundation, and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Committee. Elizabeth Armstrong has co-chaired the Hampshire County United Way de Tocqueville Society campaign and has been a founding member of the Emily Dickinson Board of Governors.

Besides the new fund, the Armstrongs also created the Armstrong Professional Development Professorshipin 2001 with their endowment of $850,000 and a $650,000 matching grant from the University of Massachusetts President’s Distinguished Professorship Initiative.

The first Armstrong Professor was David McLaughlin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department who became the director of the $40 million Center for Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). During McLaughlin’s tenure as Armstrong Professor, CASA developed the prototypes for its revolutionary weather-tracking radars, which provide unprecedented high-resolution, low-altitude images of tornadoes and other life-threatening weather and send out faster, more accurate, storm warnings that save lives and property.

The Armstrongs also established their Fund for Science Awards in 2006 to identify and support promising research that does not yet have enough data for standard funding channels. (August 2014)

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