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Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Professor
Ray Jayawardhana is the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University.
As the leader of the largest and most academically diverse college at Cornell, he is responsible for an institution with over 500 professorial faculty, 400 academic professionals and staff, 4500 undergraduates and 1300 graduate students. The College offers 40 undergraduate majors and 35 graduate fields, and boasts a network of over 65,000 alumni. For Fall 2021 admission, Arts & Sciences received the largest number of applicants in the College’s history, for both early decision and regular decision, with the early decision pool more than doubling in just three years.
Ray is focused on strategic priorities in the areas of research excellence, academic innovation and student experience, and public engagement and impact. He has overseen the recruitment of over 70 new faculty members and appointments to over 35 endowed professorships. Signature initiatives launched under Ray’s leadership include the Klarman Fellowships, a premier postdoctoral program for exceptional emerging researchers; the New Frontier Grants for novel research projects with potential for transformative advances; the Humanities Scholars Program, a curated and mentored pathway through humanistic inquiry for select undergraduates; the Distinguished Visiting Journalist program, to recognize excellence in journalism while fostering meaningful engagement between the media and the academy; and the Arts Unplugged series of marquee events that bring the campus community and the public together around themes of broad interest.
On his watch, the College has adopted a new undergraduate curriculum, introduced first-year advising seminars to all entering students, implemented the highly coveted Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, nearly tripled funding for Summer Experience Grants, expanded opportunities for undergraduate research, and enhanced career development support. The College has worked closely with the University’s senior leadership to establish the new Cornell School of Public Policy and the “super-departments” of Sociology and Psychology and to expand Economics. Ray has also partnered with select deans and faculty to formulate and advance two “big ideas” initiatives at Cornell on climate and AI.
Ray’s own research focuses on the diversity, formation and evolution of planetary systems. In particular, his group uses the largest telescopes on the ground and in space to do ‘remote sensing’ of planets around other stars (“exoplanets”), with a view to investigating prospects for life in the universe. He is a core science team member for the NIRISS instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope, and his group leads a Gemini Observatory large program on high-resolution spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres. Ray is the co-author of more than 140 refereed papers in scientific journals, with over 7500 total citations (h-index: 50, i10-index: 123 – according to NASA ADS), and the co-editor of two volumes of conference proceedings.
Ray is also a writer whose articles have appeared in publications including The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and Scientific American. His popular science book, Strange New Worlds, was the basis for “The Planet Hunters” television documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; his book Neutrino Hunters won the Canadian Science Writers Association’s Book Award. His latest, a picture book for children titled Child of the Universe, published by Penguin Random House in 2020, has received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.
Ray’s research, writing and outreach have led to numerous accolades, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, Steacie Fellowship, Steacie Prize, McLean Award, Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard, Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada, Nicholson Medal from the American Physical Society, and Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences.
Before moving to Cornell, he served as the Dean of Science at York University, following a decade on the faculty at the University of Toronto. Prior to that, he held a faculty position at the University of Michigan and a Miller Research Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a Ph.D. degree in astronomy from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy and physics from Yale University.
An avid traveler, he has visited more than 55 countries and all seven continents. His travels, for research and writing, have included numerous visits to mountaintop observatories in Chile and Hawaii, a meteorite collecting expedition in Antarctica, a parabolic flight with the European Space Agency, a solar eclipse chase in western Mongolia and a descent into a South African mine with geobiologists.
Beyond Cornell, Ray serves on Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Alumni Council and will be joining the Board of Trustees of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in July.
- Carl Sagan Institute