About MRS

Frances A. Houle, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Frances Houle

Frances Houle is Deputy Director for Science and Research Integration of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, and Senior Scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She received a BA from the University of California at Irvine and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology, and was a postdoctoral fellow at LBNL and UC Berkeley, all in chemistry.  Prior to her current appointment, she was a Research Staff Member in the IBM Research Division in San Jose, California, Manager of Materials Development at InVisage Technologies, a startup company making nanoparticle-based image sensors, and Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Chemical Sciences Division at LBNL. She has received numerous awards including the 2009 American Vacuum Society John A Thornton Memorial Award and Lecture, the 1999 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Northern California Section Research Project of the Year, and the 1998 IBM Environmental Affairs Excellence Award.

Her scientific interests are in the areas of mechanisms of surface, thin film and aerosol chemical transformations, particularly at the nanoscale, investigated using both experimental and computational techniques. She has worked broadly on materials ranging from liquids to polymers to semiconductors, and has enjoyed discovering the many similarities in factors that control their interfacial reactivity. She has over 140 publications and 28 US patents, and is co-author of the open-access stochastic reaction-diffusion simulation code Kinetiscope.

Because of her strongly interdisciplinary interests, she has joined and been active in several scientific societies since she was a student. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and Fellow of the AVS, and member of the American Chemical Society and the Materials Research Society. She began attending MRS meetings in the early 1980s and served as symposium co-chair in 1984 and 1990. She was active in establishing the African Materials Research Society, and participated in their first meeting in Dakar (2001). More recently, she was a member of the New Meetings Subcommittee (2012-2016), where she participated in development of streamlined processes for evaluating sponsorship of meetings in areas of MRS interests. She has had a broad range of society governance experiences in the AVS and APS. In the AVS, her service includes the Board of Scholarship Trustees (1990-1992), and Chair line of the Electronic Materials and Processing Division (1993-1995). In the APS, she has served as General Councilor (2002-2005), member of the Executive Board (2004-2005), member of the Budget Committee (2004-2006), Fellowship Committee (2010-2012), general member (2009-2011) and member of the Chair line (2015-2018) of the Panel on Public Affairs. Over the years she has been active on a number of executive committees of technical units and regional chapters, including the APS Division of Condensed Matter Physics, the Far West section of the APS and the Northern California Chapter of the AVS. She has served as Gordon Research Conference Chair (1994) and on the Selection and Scheduling Committee of the Gordon Research Conferences (1996-2002), where she gained experience in conference portfolio management.

Candidate's Statement

When I attended my first MRS meeting in the early 1980s, it consisted of a few parallel symposia in part of a hotel in Boston. I remember well how excited I was to be joining an international, multidisciplinary community of scientists and engineers who were also working on complex materials compositions and processes. As an industrial scientist, I especially appreciated that this community blended researchers from all kinds of institutions, and sponsored in-depth discussions in topical symposia rather than discipline-centric meetings. Since that time MRS meetings have become large and the Society has evolved considerably, but its focus and mission to promote the leading edge of materials science and engineering and to serve a diverse membership remain. MRS accomplishes this by continual improvement of the quality of meetings and publications, welcoming and engaging new members from around the world, and clearly communicating the value of materials research to non-experts. If elected, I will strive to ensure that work on these elements remains strong and that the Society continues to be vibrant and adaptive to change.

One notable area of change is in the blurring of boundaries between disciplines. No scientific society has ever been completely independent of the others. As scientific frontiers have moved outward in the past few decades, however, important problems have required strongly interdisciplinary and often international research teams, and the overlap of interests between the major scientific societies has become significant. This is especially so for any area of science and technology that involves materials and affects all on Earth – energy, computing, communications, transportation, medicine, food production and clean water. Scientific overlap offers opportunities for societies with related interests to work together on projects of broad mutual interest, such as quality of life, strengthening education at all levels, development of new generations of scientists and engineers, promoting international cooperation on large projects in science and engineering, providing impartial assessments of scientific and technological issues, and promoting ethical conduct. I have had direct experience in one joint project, a collaboration of APS and MRS that resulted in the 2011 APS publication “Energy Critical Elements: Securing Materials for Emerging Technologies”. This initiative and the resulting report have had broad impacts on natural resource policy and research investments. I believe that the role and scope of joint projects can be expanded to include much broader multi-society collaborations on technical topics as well as policy matters. The blurring of boundaries between disciplines has had other effects as well. It is increasingly challenging for active researchers to participate in all the conferences covering their areas of interest, particularly when their work crosses disciplines, because of the time required and the cost. Even at large meetings that seek to offer such programming, one often needs to be in two places at once to hear the latest relevant work. It is essential that scientific societies sponsor conferences that meet the needs of their membership as effectively and efficiently as possible, and MRS can lead the way. If elected to the MRS Board of Directors, I hope to be able to contribute to projects in inter-society partnerships and meeting vitality, and to the continuing success of MRS.