Joe Francisco leaves Purdue to become dean at University of Nebraska

Joe Francisco
Joe Francisco

After almost 20 years and a wealth of accomplishments, honors, and having a hand in training the next generation of chemists and atmospheric scientists while at Purdue, Joe Francisco started his new position as dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Science at the University of Nebraska July 1.

Recently a former Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education for the College of Science along with his appointments in the departments of Chemistry and Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Francisco left a lasting impression on the college and Purdue University as a whole.

Francisco’s research focuses on chemical processes in Earth’s atmosphere. He helped discover an unusual molecule that is essential to the atmosphere’s ability to break down pollutants, especially the compounds that cause acid rain. 

According to a Science News article from 2008: “It's the unusual chemistry facilitated by this molecule, however, that will attract the most attention from scientists. Somewhat like a human body metabolizing food, the Earth's atmosphere has the ability to ‘burn,’ or oxidize pollutants, especially nitric oxides emitted from sources such as factories and automobiles. What doesn't get oxidized in the atmosphere falls back to Earth in the form of acid rain. ‘The chemical details of how the atmosphere removes nitric acid have not been clear,’ Francisco says. ‘This gives us important insights into this process. Without that knowledge we really can't understand the conditions under which nitric acid is removed from the atmosphere.’ ”

Francisco said the discovery allows scientists to better model how pollutants react in the atmosphere and to predict potential outcomes.

While teaching or championing the college’s 1,000-plus graduate students, Francisco’s leadership was realized as president of the American Chemical Society (2010) and National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (2006-08). He served on President Barak Obama’s Committee on the National Medal of Science since 2010.  

Awards included Purdue’s McCoy Award (2007) and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 2013, Francisco was elected into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States.

A native of New Orleans, Francisco earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas before moving on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received his PhD and later became a Provost Postdoctoral Fellow. Decades later, Francisco could be seen around Purdue campus sporting his beloved MIT red ball cap.

Joe and family

Joe Francisco (right) with his family during his last day at Purdue.

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