Robin L. McCarley appointed Fralin Life Sciences Institute’s executive director
After a national search, Robin L. McCarley will join the Virginia Tech community as the Fralin Life Sciences Institute’s executive director, effective Dec. 1.
McCarley, currently the Barbara Womack Alumni Association Endowed Professor of Chemistry at Louisiana State University, will shape the vision of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute (FLSI) by leveraging existing institute and university strengths to enhance resources for Virginia Tech’s environmental and life sciences community. McCarley will report to Dan Sui, the senior vice president for research and innovation.
“As an accomplished scientist with national leadership experience to promote interdisciplinary research, Dr. McCarley is the ideal candidate to lead the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at this pivotal time,” said Sui, who is also the chief research and innovation officer for Virginia Tech. “I am confident that the Fralin Life Sciences Institute will reach a new level of excellence under Dr. McCarley’s visionary leadership in the coming years.”
X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and professor of internal medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has served as interim executive director since last December.
“I sincerely appreciate Dr. X.J. Meng for serving as the institute’s interim executive director during the past year. X.J.’s exemplary leadership has not only maintained continuity, but promoted growth for the institute’s strategic areas,” Sui said.
McCarley will be responsible for overseeing investments, including recruitment and start-up support for new institute-affiliated faculty members, retention and recognition of established faculty members, investments in thematic research centers, seed funds for new research projects, equipment purchases, core services, graduate student recruitment and support, undergraduate research support, and support for outreach activities.
Environmental and life sciences research initiatives encompassed within the institute’s portfolio include infectious disease, global change, coastal studies, plant sciences, drug discovery, ecology and organismal biology, molecular and cellular biology, and cancer biology. McCarley will continue to identify opportunities to support university research priorities, such as the Research Frontiers, and build on the foundation of the institute’s success to support Virginia Tech’s research enterprise.
"The stellar contributions and successes of the FLSI-affiliated students, faculty, and staff in multidisciplinary research help catalyze evolution of the great public university that is Virginia Tech,” said McCarley. “I am honored by the opportunity to work with all stakeholders in guiding investments and developing crucial capabilities in the life and environmental sciences, which align with the institute’s mission and those of its partner units across the university to make the Ut Prosim [That I May Serve] difference. Such alliances aimed at amplifying transdisciplinary research, education, and outreach across boundaries are exciting, as they may offer synergistic outcomes and unique experiences that hold great potential to transform the lives of people at Virginia Tech, across the commonwealth, and beyond."
From 2018 until September 2022, McCarley was on loan from Louisiana State University (LSU) to serve as a program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Chemistry in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, managing budgets totalling more than $50 million. Among his accomplishments with NSF, McCarley diversified and improved division function and research funding opportunities by establishing program collaborations, co-funding of interdisciplinary science projects, and developing data management systems.
At LSU, he leads the McCarley Research Group focusing on the chemistry of stimuli-responsive molecular systems, both in solution and on surfaces, and within living mammalian cells. McCarley’s research interests include fluorescent probes of disease-linked biomarkers, liposomal drug delivery systems, surface chemistry, polymer chemistry, nanoscience, and bioanalytical/physical chemistry, with current interests in enzyme-activated materials for measurement science applications and imaging of cancerous tissue.
McCarley has received more than $20 million in external research and educational funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Dreyfus Foundation. He holds 14 patents and applications, has published over 100 scientific peer-reviewed articles with over 7,500 citations, and delivered more than 90 invited seminars or talks.
His passion for educational training focuses on integration of research into lecture and laboratory courses, which has led to numerous funded projects for laboratory instrumentation improvements as well as production of instructional videos for chemical instrumentation. Mentoring more than 40 doctoral, five master's, and 30 bachelor's students and 10 postdoctoral fellows, McCarley’s students and fellows have advanced in notable chemistry and materials science-related careers as industry and government agency scientists and academic professors and researchers.
McCarley began his academic career at LSU in 1992 as an assistant professor of chemistry. Subsequent to rising through the ranks to full professor, he served as chair of the Institute for Advanced Materials-shared Instrumentation facility, which he helped establish, and co-directed the LSU Superfund Research Center funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Over his career, McCarley has served in numerous external professional roles, including consulting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and several intellectual property law firms. He also has been a proposal reviewer for the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Research Council, Israeli National Science Foundation, and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.
Notable contributions to service to the scientific community include being an elected officer in the Division of Analytical Chemistry of the American Chemical Society and Co-Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Bioanalytical Sensors, the latter for which he helped champion a diversity workshop aimed at the challenges facing women and the LGBTQIA+ community in the biosciences/bioengineering arena.
An American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, McCarley also earned Stanford University’s Top 2% Scientist honor and LSU’s Distinguished Research Master award among numerous accolades, awards, and honors.
McCarley received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining Louisiana State University in 1992, McCarley was with the University of Texas at Austin as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow.
“I am very pleased that Dr. McCarley will be assuming the role of the FLSI executive director,” said Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor, who chaired the search. “As a well-established researcher and educator, Rob brings extensive knowledge of the funding landscape and an inclusive, collaborative leadership style to the life science research community.”
“I want to thank members of the search committee for their active engagement throughout a very competitive recruitment process,” Roberto said, who is also the executive director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment.
The Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech is an investment institute that leverages university funds to invest in targeted research areas with a particular emphasis on interdisciplinary programs. The institute is committed to enhancing the quality, quantity, and competitiveness of environmental and life sciences research, education, and outreach across Virginia Tech and the world. Residents of the institute's five flagship buildings Steger Hall, Fralin Hall, Latham Hall, Integrated Life Sciences Building, and Life Sciences 1 are considered affiliated faculty members.