Carnegie Mellon University

Jeanne VanBriesen Headshot

August 03, 2021

VanBriesen Named Division Director of the National Science Foundation’s CBET

Duquesne Light Company Professor Jeanne M. VanBriesen has been appointed to lead the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The opportunity will allow VanBriesen to build on her sustained record of leadership and leverage her experience bringing interdisciplinary methods to help solve elaborate problems.

“This role has a direct parallel to my work over the past decade leading faculty teams and collaborating to advance science and the mission of NSF,” said VanBriesen. “When I approached CMU leadership about my considering this opportunity, they were very supportive — not surprising as CMU values faculty service to the research community.”

VanBriesen joined Carnegie Mellon in 1999 as an assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and was awarded the Duquesne Light Company chair in 2014. She recently served as CMU’s vice provost for faculty (2019-21), and she previously served as chair of the Faculty Senate.

VanBriesen’s research focuses on biodegradation and thermodynamics of microbial systems, and she has published more than 70 journal articles over the course of her career. Throughout her tenure, she’s emphasized the importance of aligning this research with environmental concerns in the region, in particular, improving water systems. “When there’s a new water problem in the region, I often say, ‘That’s interesting and complicated. I’m in,’” she said.

Dave Dzombak, Hamerschlag University Professor and CEE Head, has collaborated with VanBriesen on numerous projects.  “Jeanne has thrived in the interdisciplinary culture of CMU and has led many research efforts engaging collaborators from across the university and from a wide range of external organizations,” says Dzombak.  “Her interdisciplinary experience and mindset coupled with her strong leadership skills provide an excellent foundation for Jeanne as the next leader of CBET.  We in CEE are happy for and proud of our colleague Jeanne.”

The opportunity to not only lead CBET but collaborate across other divisions within the NSF aligns perfectly with her confidence that cross-disciplinary work creates more fertile research. The mission of the CBET Division is to support innovative research and education in the fields of chemical engineering, biotechnology, bioengineering and environmental engineering, and in areas that involve the transformation or transport of matter and energy by chemical, thermal or mechanical means.

“By focusing between two traditional areas, you’re often solving a really important problem that hasn’t gotten enough attention,” VanBriesen said.

VanBriesen credits CMU for always allowing her to “color outside the lines” when it comes to research, exploring topics that didn’t fall in strict disciplinary areas. She’ll carry that approach with her as she begins her NSF term on Aug. 16.

“What excites me most about this opportunity is the alignment between what I want to do in my life, what CMU has enabled me to do for 20 years and what the NSF will allow me to do in having a bigger impact in multiple engineering fields,” said VanBriesen.

Thanks to the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA), which allows the temporary assignment of university faculty to agencies of the federal government, she’ll fulfill her appointment at NSF while remaining part of CMU. This will enable VanBriesen to continue to mentor her four current Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD students. After all, working with the next generation of researchers is her favorite part of being at Carnegie Mellon.