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A Venue for Visionaries

A landmark gift from Jon Hagler ’58 empowered the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study to invite top-tier researchers to Aggieland in perpetuity.

A Venue for Visionaries

A landmark gift from Jon Hagler ’58 empowered the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study to invite top-tier researchers to Aggieland in perpetuity.

If the success of the Lead by Example campaign has sent one message, it is this: Texas A&M University is ready to take its next big step forward. With its resources, leadership and famously loyal network of former students, there is little reason for Texas A&M to aim for any standard less than that of the greatest public institution of higher learning in the country.

Investment magnate and philanthropist Jon Hagler ’58 felt similarly when he described his alma mater as a “sleeping giant” in 2017. His $20 million gift to name the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study that year wasn’t just a monumental landmark for the campaign, but also his way of awaking the giant.

Established by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents as the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study in 2010, the Hagler Institute annually invites a select group of about 10 of the world’s most acclaimed scholars to spend up to a year conducting research in College Station alongside Aggie faculty and students. During their time with the institute, these Fellows bring invaluable experience and prestige to the university as they come to understand the value of the resources and community that Aggieland has to offer.

Drs. Robert Kennicutt Jr., Alan Needleman and Leif Andersson are among the 11 Fellows who took on permanent positions at Texas A&M following their initial visits. As leaders in their fields, they are now actively enriching the university’s academic environment from the top down.

Dr. Robert Kennicutt Jr. is a renowned astronomer whose most famous contribution is the Kennicutt-Schmidt law, which empirically relates how many stars will form in a region of space over time given the region’s local surface gas density.

Reaching for the Stars

Dr. Robert Kennicutt Jr.

According to Dr. Robert Kennicutt Jr., there’s a reason a telescope is one of the best gifts you can give a child, even if they only use it a few times: A new dollhouse or video game can distract them for hours, but the stars can expand their world beyond their wildest imaginations. Like many growing up, Kennicutt took up a rabid interest in space. “At first, astronomy was a hobby,” he said. “But when I was 15 years old, I read a book that showed I could make money doing what I loved.”

Kennicutt earned his bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in 1973 before earning his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Since then, he has acted as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, the University of Arizona and the University of Cambridge.

His most famous contribution to his field is the Kennicutt-Schmidt law, which empirically relates how many stars will form in a region of space over time given the region’s local surface gas density. This relation was first speculated upon by the Dutch astronomer Maarten Schmidt. He wrote an early formula in 1959 based on data gathered from the Milky Way but was unable to define the exact value of all variables. His formula was dubbed the Schmidt law.

Using a treasure trove of images and data from deep space that Schmidt lacked access to in his time, Kennicutt readdressed the topic and, in 1989, found the solution Schmidt sought. His contribution earned widespread acclaim from the scientific community, prompting some astronomers to refer to the combined formula as the Kennicutt-Schmidt law. Kennicutt is quick to note that the new name was not his idea. “I still call it the Schmidt law,” he said. “I don’t do these things to become famous; I was simply curious about the answer.”

In addition to researching star and galaxy formation, Kennicutt’s other work includes helping determine the Hubble constant, or the rate at which the universe is expanding, and managing projects related to deep-space infrared telescopic imaging. Throughout his career, he has authored four books and more than 440 articles in peer-reviewed publications. His work has earned him the editor-in-chief position for The Astrophysical Journal, numerous high-profile awards and recognitions, and an offer to join the Hagler Institute as a Fellow in 2016.

That year, Kennicutt left Cambridge to take on an appointment at Texas A&M, a now-permanent position that he holds concurrently with a role at the University of Arizona. “Campus has been welcoming, the physics department is exceptional, and the astronomers here are terrific,” Kennicutt said. Though he now does more administrative work than ground-level science, he is proud to do his part helping graduate students and professors keep their eyes on the skies.

Funding Excellence in Aggieland

A gift to the Hagler Institute is a high-level commitment to establishing Texas A&M as an academic powerhouse. For a limited time, matching funds are available for the following three endowed naming opportunities:

Director’s Chair ($4 million)

Endowing a chair for the institute’s director would ensure that the Hagler Institute continues to forever be spearheaded by true leaders in academic administration. The director splits his or her time evenly between leading the institute and working within their professional college at Texas A&M, with funds from the chair supporting both the director’s research and his or her students. The Director’s Chair will attract many top candidates each time a new director is recruited.

Institute College Chair ($3 million)

An Institute College Chair would guarantee funding for a Fellow in the college of the donor’s choice in perpetuity. Chair endowment earnings provide both a salary for Fellows and funds for the host college, creating an immeasurable impact on the chosen college’s research capabilities. The donor’s gift will attract a sequence of Fellows to Texas A&M and tremendously impact the academic quality of the host college.

Graduate Student Fellowships ($800,000)

The institute provides two $30,000 graduate student fellowships annually per Fellow. These are awarded to students who collaborate on research with a Fellow, providing each student with career-changing opportunities that can only come from working alongside the best scholars in their fields. Funding a fellowship means creating transformative opportunities for deserving students decades after the fellowship is initially established.

An extraordinary applied mechanician, Dr. Alan Needleman's research concerns computation modeling systems that accurately simulate what happens at a macroscopic level when a material, such as a steel rod or an aluminum plate, is placed under enough stress to fracture and break.

Slipping Through the Cracks

Dr. Alan Needleman
Materials Science & Engineering

Every day, people calmly drive across bridges suspended hundreds of feet above water and work in office buildings 30 stories tall because they trust that the engineers behind them used materials strong enough to handle tremendous amounts of weight. Mankind’s discovery and efficient production of steel, concrete and other modern materials opened the door for new designs, new applications and new ways of life. Dr. Alan Needleman’s work is all about helping understand how those materials, among others, fail.

An extraordinary applied mechanician, Needleman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Harvard University. For more than 40 years, he served as a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University before making an unlikely career move.

“When my wife and I had children, our parents moved to help us take care of them while we were working,” Needleman explained. “We decided that when we had grandchildren, we would move to help our children and return the favor.” When Needleman’s daughter took a position at The University of North Texas (UNT), Needleman traded the Ivy League for the Lone Star State and took a position alongside her. In 2012, he accepted an offer to become a Fellow at the Hagler Institute while maintaining his position at UNT.

Needleman’s research primarily concerns computation modeling systems that accurately simulate what happens at a macroscopic level when a material, such as a steel rod or an aluminum plate, is placed under enough stress to fracture and break. Perhaps his most notable contribution to the field was successfully developing a methodology researchers can use to create computer models of ductile fractures—fractures characterized by a deformation called “necking” that occurs just before a material reaches its breaking point. This methodology allows researchers to understand the nature of ductile fractures more deeply in the interest of creating stronger materials.

Needleman’s incredible work has received due recognition. In 1977, he was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, while he is also a longtime member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2011, he was awarded the Timoshenko Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers—widely considered the highest international award in the field of applied mechanics.

When Needleman was offered a permanent position at Texas A&M, he hesitated only because he was unsure his wife would agree to move again. To his surprise, she encouraged the move, and they have since fallen for the humble yet proud culture that characterizes Aggie students, faculty and staff. “We love the people, the atmosphere, the university and the community,” Needleman concluded.

Where Leaders Feel at Home

In addition to Drs. Kennicutt, Needleman and Andersson, these esteemed researchers and former Fellows also decided to take on permanent faculty positions at Texas A&M:

Harold Adams ’61

Harold Adams ’61, architect, is known for building the firm RTKL Associates into a global design leader. He worked with President John F. Kennedy to design his presidential library and, later, Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Roger Howe

Dr. Roger Howe, mathematician, is highly regarded for his breakthroughs in representation theory, which allows mathematicians to translate problems from abstract algebra into linear algebra, substantially simplifying them and making them more manageable.

Dr. James Hubbard Jr.

Dr. James Hubbard Jr., mechanical engineer, focuses his research on advancing technology for autonomous vehicles in the interest of creating machines that can handle tasks considered dangerous and inefficient for humans.

Dr. Robert Skelton

Dr. Robert Skelton, electrical and aerospace engineer, integrates system science and materials science in an interdisciplinary fashion to create new material systems. His work with demystifying “tensegrity” structures seeks to serve mankind both on Earth and in outer space.

Dr. Edwin “Ned” Thomas

Dr. Edwin “Ned” Thomas, materials scientist and engineer, notably developed novel photonic materials, or materials that selectively emit and modify light. These materials are used in countless gadgets, especially displays, and for other innovative purposes.

Dr. William Unruh

Dr. William Unruh, physicist, has previously worked with Steven Hawking and is now refining the foundations of quantum mechanics in relation to black holes, with additional research in general relativity. He splits his time between Texas A&M and The University of British Columbia.

Dr. Christodoulos Floudas (In Memoriam)

Dr. Christodoulos Floudas (1959-2016), chemical engineer, was a respected authority in mathematical modeling and the optimization of complex systems. His research touched many fields, including chemical process synthesis and design, process control and operations, and molecular biology.

Dr. J. Karl Hedrick (In Memoriam)

Dr. J. Karl Hedrick (1944-2017), electrical engineer, was a pioneering researcher in nonlinear control theory, which has been widely applied in automated highway systems, software design and autonomous vehicles.

Among the world’s most renowned scholars in the genomic and molecular study of domestic animals, Dr. Leif Andersson analyzes genes and mutations among species to understand the molecular mechanisms that affect specific underlying traits, such as gaits in horses. 

Curiosity in His Genes

Dr. Leif Andersson
Animal Genetics

Modern advancements in genetic research and education have given humanity a much deeper understanding of each person’s genetic makeup and how certain traits pass down through familial lines. Still, the average person’s understanding of genetics concerns relatively cosmetic differences, such as eye color, hair type and height. But according to research conducted on domestic animals by Dr. Leif Andersson, small changes in genes can affect unbelievably complicated traits.

Growing up in Stockholm, Sweden, Andersson was determined to work in nature conservation. Emboldened after reading “Silent Spring,” the controversial 1962 book by Rachel Carson accusing chemical companies of downplaying the adverse effects of pesticides on the environment, Andersson scrambled to find a job in conservation after graduation. When his search came up empty, he took a temporary position as an assistant on a genetics research project through the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, inadvertently stumbling into his lifelong passion.

What originated as a one-off job for Andersson turned into a doctorate. He soon began researching traits in domestic animals, such as the differences in horses’ coat colors. The technological limitations of the 1980s made identifying genetic differences in these animals an incredibly labor-intensive, time-demanding task. “At that time, we didn’t have access to DNA technology,” Andersson said.

With advancements in DNA technology and computing, however, Andersson’s domestic animal research took off. His studies exploring the differences between wild boars and domestic pigs, for example, gave insight into muscle development—a much-appreciated finding for breeders and the meat production industry. One of his most widely publicized findings came following a study in which he discovered that a mutation in a single gene in a horse could determine whether or not they could pace, or move both legs on the same side at once.

“My first reaction when I saw that there was only one major gene determining that trait was that there had to be something wrong with the data,” Andersson said. “It was amazing to see such a complex trait have such a simple genetic basis.”

Though he accepted a Fellow position at the Hagler Institute in 2013 and elected to take on a permanent position at Texas A&M, Andersson still calls Sweden home and conducts research both in College Station and at the University of Uppsala more than 5,000 miles away. His work at Texas A&M currently revolves around studying chickens, but he has an idea for a future project that might interest a few Aggie drill sergeants. “Now that we’ve discovered a gene that influences a horse’s gait, maybe we should collaborate with the Corps of Cadets, study Fish that have trouble synchronizing their arms and legs, and see if a similar mutation is to blame!” he joked.

To learn how you can support the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study, contact Jason Penry '08, assistant vice president for development operations, by calling (979) 458-5913 or by submitting the form below.