It is my pleasure to announce that Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor of Astronomy and Physics, has agreed to serve as the new director of the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities for a period of three years. Professor Richard Prum, who has served as the inaugural director of the program since 2012, will step down on June 30th having built an innovative and thriving program that bridges schools, academic divisions, and local disciplines within the university.
Prof. Natarajan is a theoretical astrophysicist who is recognized for her seminal contributions to the study of dark matter and the formation of black holes. One of her key interests is in the mapping of dark matter. In addition to her undergraduate degrees in Physics and Mathematics from MIT and a PhD in Astrophysics from Cambridge, she has done graduate work in the History and Philosophy of Science at the MIT Science and Technology Studies Program. The recipient of many awards and honors for her work including a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Guggenheim and Radcliffe fellowships, she is a fellow of the American Physical Society, and the incoming Chair of the Division of Astrophysics at the APS. She previously served as Chair of the Women Faculty Forum at Yale. As a prominent public intellectual, she is a strong proponent of inter-disciplinarity and is also deeply invested in the dissemination of science. Her research work and writing about science have both been widely published and written about. She is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and her first book, Mapping the Heavens: Radical Scientific Ideas that Reveal the Cosmos was published last year by Yale Press.
The Franke Program in Science and the Humanities, housed in the Whitney Humanities Center, was endowed through the generosity of Richard and Barbara Franke in 2012. The Frankes’ vision was to foster substantive intellectual conversation between scholars who shared questions and interests but whose methods came from the distinct traditions of scientific and humanistic inquiry.
Rick Prum has made that vision a reality during his term as the inaugural director. Under his direction, the program has sponsored a wide variety of events that have made an important contribution to intellectual community at Yale. These ranged from traditional formats–such as lectures by world-renowned scholars and authors and jointly-taught seminars–to plays, gallery exhibitions, and musical performances. Together these significantly enhanced the diversity of intellectual connections across the university. From a discussion of the philosophy of time to a performance of a long forgotten 19th century symphony about the Passenger Pigeon, the program succeeded in bringing diverse audiences together across disciplines.
As we thank Prof. Prum for the exuberance, imagination, and roving intelligence he brought to the program, we are also grateful for the unflagging support of Gary Tomlinson, Director of the Whitney Humanities Center, and the staff of the Franke Program and the Whitney. Throughout, the program has been spurred on by the ever-curious Rich and Barbara Franke, who have made it all possible.
We look forward to the fresh leadership that Prof. Natarajan will bring to the Franke Program and to seeing the program grow and thrive in new ways in the coming years.
Bird White Housum Professor of English and Professor of American Studies
Dean of Humanities