Meet Christopher J. Cramer, New Vice President for Research
When Chris Cramer started as the University of Minnesota’s new vice president for research this week, he brought with him ambitions to drive the University’s world-class research enterprise forward and align resources to support faculty, staff, and student researchers.
So the fact that the role piques his broad academic curiosity is just icing on the cake.
“One of the reasons I’m excited about this position is the opportunity to learn about new research efforts,” said Cramer, Ph.D., a Distinguished McKnight and University Teaching Professor of Chemistry in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). “I’m looking forward to exploring ongoing research efforts across a wide range of academic disciplines.”
As head of the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), Cramer will oversee the University’s $940 million research enterprise across all of its campuses and facilities, including the administration of sponsored projects, compliance and regulatory functions, and technology commercialization. OVPR supports faculty, staff, and students in their research efforts and works to strengthen ties with business and industry partners to bring people together in new ways and foster discoveries.
“I feel like my past roles—as a teacher, researcher, administrator, and leader of the Faculty Consultative Committee—have given me insights I can bring to this position,” said Cramer, who officially began in the role on November 12. “And I really get a kick out of connecting people to other people, as well as to new ideas and resources.”
The catalyst that sparked Cramer’s interest in chemistry came during his undergraduate years at Washington University in St. Louis. An organic chemistry class there inspired him to pursue chemistry as one of his two undergraduate majors, and then to delve further into the field by obtaining his doctorate at the University of Illinois.
In 1992, Cramer became part of the faculty at the U of M’s Department of Chemistry. Over the 26 years since, he has authored over 450 scholarly journal articles and his work has received about 46,000 citations. He also served for 15 years as editor-in-chief of the scholarly journal Theoretical Chemistry Accounts and for 20 years as an associate editor for the Journal of Physical Organic Chemistry.
In addition to conducting his own research, Cramer has experience working in research administration. He served as CSE’s associate dean for academic affairs starting in 2013, and transitioned to associate dean for research and planning earlier this year. In the latter role, he oversaw research and compliance activities related to CSE sponsored projects totaling around $140 million per year.
Existing Strengths, New Opportunities
In his new role leading OVPR, Cramer is excited to help forge connections inside and outside of the University that build on the institution’s myriad research strengths in fields ranging from agriculture and water quality to artistic pursuits and the health sciences.
One thing that makes the U of M stand out among higher education institutions in Minnesota, Cramer said, is the opportunities it provides undergraduates to immerse themselves in the research process. Students at the U can work alongside faculty in labs and gain hands-on experience using cutting-edge research technologies.
“These opportunities help students get the most out of their time at the U, both from an academic standpoint and in terms of career development,” he said. “That’s one of the many things that the U contributes to the state—we’re training the next generation of highly educated workers to better succeed in their careers, become leaders in their fields, and help Minnesota prosper.”
Going forward, Cramer believes OVPR must continue to ensure the University’s research infrastructure keeps pace with researchers’ needs. The office has a history of matching funds from U colleges, departments, and centers through its Research Infrastructure Investment Program, designed to help maintain the robust, state-of-the art equipment key to propelling research and innovation.
Along similar lines, Cramer said he intends to explore opportunities for enhancing the University’s Research Computing area, which is housed within OVPR and provides services like high performance computing, research data storage, and spatial computing. As larger amounts of data become increasingly integral to research across academic disciplines, the demand for reliable data and analysis resources will only grow.
“When you look at the researchers making use of these resources now, they already represent every college at the University,” he said.
In addition to pursuing the research priorities laid out in the U’s Grand Challenges Research Initiatives and MnDRIVE program, Cramer said he believes University researchers can play a key role in working to counteract the opioid epidemic and similar addiction issues now sweeping Minnesota and the US as a whole. Through the combined expertise from fields like neurology, public health, public policy, and sociology, the University is well-equipped to take on this mounting challenge.
As for OVPR itself, Cramer said the office carries a reputation for being professional and responsive, and he looks forward to meeting with staff across its units as he settles into the role in the coming months.
“This is a time of many transitions here at the U, including those of our president and provost,” he said. “I think it will be the work of our office and our units to call attention to and build on our strengths as a research institution—to keep our research enterprise healthy, growing, and relevant, even in the face of inevitable uncertainty.”
More about VP Cramer
- Serves as an American Chemistry Society expert on the remediation and destruction of chemical weapons.
- Research interests include converting sunlight into fuel by harvesting the energy in solar photons.
- Received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Served four years as an officer in the United States Army, including combat duty in Operation Desert Storm.
- Married to fellow chemistry professor Laura Gagliardi, Ph.D. The two frequently travel to Italy, where Gagliardi grew up.
- Has two adult sons and one daughter, the latter of whom studies neuroscience as an undergraduate at the University.
- Avid runner who enjoys the many green spaces the Twin Cities have to offer.
- Singer whose taste in music spans the musical theater, rock, and singer-songwriter genres.