UNLV has named Edmund “Ed” Synakowski, Ph.D., as its next vice president for research, effective Aug. 30. He will also be appointed as a professor in the university's department of physics and astronomy.
Synakowski comes to UNLV from the University of Wyoming, where he is the vice president for research and economic development and a professor in the department of physics and astronomy. He steps in for Interim Vice President for Research Lori Olafson, who has worked to improve services for researchers at UNLV over the past couple of years. This fall she will return to her faculty position in the department of educational psychology and higher education in the College of Education.
"Ed has a stellar track record for strategic research planning and a knack for identifying mutually beneficial partnerships,” said UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield. “I’m confident that he will continue to build on UNLV’s strong momentum in this area. As one of the nation’s premier urban public research universities, UNLV's research advances are vital to our community’s economic recovery, development, and sustainability. We’re thrilled to welcome Ed to UNLV.”
Synakowski said he was attracted to UNLV in part for its rich research opportunities, from humanities and arts to the STEM fields that are poised for growth.
“I am also drawn to the strong institutional commitment to research growth and to the readiness of UNLV to act on the conviction that research can provide the ultimate platform in experiential learning for students,” he said. He added that he is eager to promote interdisciplinary work and “take on challenges whose complete solutions demand attention and new kinds of partnership.”
Executive Vice President and Provost Chris Heavey said he looks forward to working with Synakowski and UNLV Vice President for Economic Development Bo Bernhard to amplify UNLV’s research and to boost the types of innovation needed to drive economic development and economic diversification in Southern Nevada. In recent years, UNLV has demonstrated the strength, partnerships, and know-how to bring research to market and make a difference in people’s lives, Heavey said.
“I also want to thank Dr. Olafson for championing and supporting researchers at UNLV,” Heavey said. “And I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of the search committee led by Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the School of Public Health, for recognizing the expertise and leadership of Dr. Synakowski for this critical role.”
Synakowski said he is determined to include faculty in thoughtful, strategic planning to guide smart choices for investment.
Among his goals for UNLV, Synakowski said he wants to help sharpen UNLV’s own sense of identity and purpose in research and establish a plan that has a lasting impact regionally, nationally, and internationally. His leading near-priority is to hold a series of listening sessions with campus stakeholders and faculty. He said the sessions will be conducted in parallel with work within the research office to help him advocate for resources needed to increase research intensity at UNLV to benefit campus and the state.
“We are working our way through several extended, extraordinary passages in this country that demand attention from across the disciplines,” he said. “This moment requires a new kind of research university that responds quickly to societal needs, partners well, and is grounded in discipline-level excellence. UNLV, as an urban university of great cultural richness, can rise to become this nimble, high-performance university that has an undisputed reputation as a regional and national leader.”
Prior to joining the University of Wyoming in 2017, Synakowski was associate director of science for fusion energy sciences in the U.S. Department of Energy where he was responsible for strategic planning for national fusion energy program, program, as well as its budget formulation and execution and construction project oversight. In that role, he was instrumental in forging intra-agency partnerships and overseeing collaborations, including collaborations with universities, private industry, national labs, and research institutions overseas.
For his federal service, Synakowski was awarded the Secretary of Energy’s Meritorious Service Award in 2017.
Synakowski is an accomplished researcher in fusion and plasma physics. He has published more than 160 peer-reviewed journal articles over the course of his career. He has received awards for excellence in plasma physics research from Princeton University and the American Physical Society.
Synakowski holds a Ph.D. in physics from The University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor of arts in physics from Johns Hopkins University. He has been elected as a fellow of the American Physical Society and the UK’s Institute of Physics.