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Stanford honors staff for decades of exceptional research support

Flexible Cleanroom Manager Thomas Carver and Mass Spectrometry Director Allis Chien received the 2022 Marsh O’Neill Award for Exceptional and Enduring Support of Stanford University’s Research Enterprise.

For decades, a member of the Stanford staff has helped shape the university’s mass spectrometry capabilities while another has supported thousands of users in the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities.

In recognition of their work, Stanford honors Flexible Cleanroom Lab Manager Tom Carver and Stanford University Mass Spectrometry Director Allis Chien with the 2022 Marsh O’Neill Award for Exceptional and Enduring Support of Stanford University’s Research Enterprise. The award is administered by the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research (VPDoR).

The prestigious award was inspired by the career of Marsh O’Neill, ’49, associate director of the W.W. Hansen Laboratories from 1952 until 1990. O’Neill managed more than 700 research projects totaling more than $361 million, which fostered the beginnings of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, tunneling microscopy, medical accelerators, and more.

O’Neill was the inaugural recipient of the award, and until his death last December, O’Neill shared his input on nominations with the selection committee.

The award is presented annually to university staff members along with a $5,000 cash prize in recognition of faculty appreciation for outstanding contributions to Stanford’s research mission. This year, 62 faculty members nominated 15 staff for the award. It will be presented on June 7 at a reception hosted by VPDoR.

Thomas Carver, flexible cleanroom lab manager, Stanford Nano Shared Facilities (SNSF)

To many, Carver is “synonymous with outstanding support of Stanford’s research mission,” said Yuri Suzuki, director of Stanford Nano Shared Facilities (SNSF), in Carver’s nomination for the award. Suzuki is a professor of applied physics. Eight faculty members wrote nomination letters in support of Carver.

Thomas Carver

Thomas Carver, Flexible Clean Room Manager, Stanford Nano Shared Facilities (SNSF) (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Carver joined Stanford as technical staff working originally for the Ginzton Lab in 1985 and has been part of SNSF since it was created in 2012. In that time, Carver has supported more than 10,000 users, Suzuki wrote, “providing training, tool service-maintenance, and user support far above and beyond what is expected.”

Carver’s impact on ongoing research is evident in numerous patents and publications, which recognize his significant contributions through co-authorship and acknowledgments, Suzuki wrote. Carver’s creativity and skills led to a solo patent on the mass production of scanning tunneling microscope (STM) tips, which led to co-inventorship on subsequent atomic force microscope (AFM) tip patents, all eventually licensed by companies.

More than 30 years ago, Carver supported Suzuki as she worked on processing high-temperature superconducting samples for her graduate thesis.

And long before she was vice provost and dean of research, Kathryn A. “Kam” Moler was a student in a lab that Carver managed.

Olav Solgaard, director of the Edward L. Ginzton Laboratory and the Robert L. and Audrey S. Hancock Professor in the School of Engineering, worked with Carver both as a student in the 1990s and as faculty since returning in 1999. In the decades since then, Carver helped several dozen of Solgaard’s students achieve their research goals, making the process “easier, more enjoyable, and ultimately more successful,” Solgaard wrote in his letter of support.

Seeing students and faculty accomplish their goals is very rewarding, Carver said. “The people I work with are all great. We work really well as a team, and have each other’s backs,” Carver said.

He also enjoys the wide variety of the lab’s work, which currently includes more than 300 users from 17 departments – everything from applied physics to radiology. “If I was working in the industry, I’d probably be doing one particular thing forever and that would get pretty old after a while,” Carver said. “Here, it’s something new every day.”

The lab is “the place to go when you want to do sort of oddball things not allowed in other labs,” Carver explained. “I know they want to do something that’s kind of strange so I figure out a way to let them do it without causing trouble.”

In one project, Carver worked with a group making a probe that uses a combination of light pulses and a focused array of ultrasonic transducers to create detailed images for checking prostate tumors, resulting in far more detailed images than what is possible with just X-rays or ultrasound alone.

While keeping the lab running smoothly, training people, and helping people with their projects is his main job, Carver also enjoys hands-on work, such as making small custom machines, he said.

“I really enjoy helping people brainstorm ways to do things or troubleshoot their processes along the way,” Carver said. “It’s satisfying seeing things go from just a vague idea on the blackboard to an actual working device. And it’s really nice getting to know everybody along the way.”

Allis Chien, director, Stanford University Mass Spectrometry (SUMS)

Allis Chien is the inaugural director of the Stanford University Mass Spectrometry (SUMS) shared resource laboratory, and has been leading campus collaborative mass spectrometry efforts since 2000.

Allis Chien

Allis Chien, Director, Stanford University Mass Spectrometry (SUMS) (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“Allis’ long-standing devotion to the campus mission is palpable in all that she does,” said Jennifer Dionne, senior associate vice provost for research platforms/shared facilities, in her nomination letter. “Her 20-plus year effort has shaped our institution’s mass spectrometry capability from its inception and has had a significant impact on the wider shared facilities infrastructure.”

Dionne was on the award review committee and recused herself from the review of Chien’s nomination. Fifteen faculty members wrote nomination letters in support of Chien.

“Chien and her team have performed countless analyses for Stanford researchers and educated thousands of students, providing expertise and guidance to accelerate research progress for an increasingly large and interdisciplinary community of users,” Dionne wrote.

Chien has also ensured the lab remains cutting edge with the latest technology by securing more than $4 million in instrumentation funding over the last five years through grant proposal writing.

Chien first worked with a mass spectrometer as an instrument teaching assistant at Stanford taking care of a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer. After receiving her chemistry PhD in 2000, she was offered the chance to set up and care for a new, more advanced mass spectrometer, just as the field of mass spectrometry was growing.

“I think part of what fascinated me so much is that the field was developing so fast every year,” Chien said. “Every year there’s some new exciting developments, new technology, new techniques, and new reagents, just really clever ways of using chemistry and mass spectrometry together to get answers to big questions.”

Some of that work leads to real world impact such as drug discovery, disease prevention, and treatment.

“Mass spec is inherently a really useful technique,” Chien said. “You can actually look at the molecules in a sample and say they have these specific masses … so it tells you a lot that your eyes can’t see.”

Chien loves seeing the science develop, playing with the technology, working with people, and witnessing studies become the foundations for research careers at Stanford and beyond, she said.

“The exciting thing about Stanford is that people are so smart and dedicated, and they have these amazing ideas and sometimes the technology and expertise are there to support those ideas,” Chien said.

Of note, Chien is particularly excited about educational opportunities made possible with the support of a new initiative called the Community of Shared Advanced Research Platforms (c-ShARP), which reimagines shared facilities spanning science, engineering, medicine, and sustainability with new accessible and advanced research platforms.

“c-ShARP has been such a source of inspiration and support,” Chien said. “And just the attention and support that Stanford is giving to shared resources right now, I think, is such an encouragement to staff.”

When Moler called to let her know she received the award, Chien said all she could say was thank you. “There are so many people here, who devote years and decades of their lives to working and making things better here. There are so many awesome people, so it’s a little bit humbling, because it could have so easily been a thousand other people.”

The committee reviewing the 2022 Marsh O’Neill nominations were the VPDoR Senior Associate Vice Provosts:

  • Jennifer Cochran, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research; Addie and Al Macovski Professor in the School of Engineering, Professor of Bioengineering
  • Jennifer Dionne, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research Platforms/Shared Facilities; Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy
  • Judith “Jodi” Prochaska, Senior Associate Vice Provost, Clinical Research Governance; Professor of Medicine (Stanford Prevention Research Center)
  • David Studdert, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research; Professor of Health Policy (PCOR) and of Law
  • George Triantis, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research; Charles J. Meyers Professor in Law and Business, Law School
  • Kristi Geerke, Dean’s Assistant and Special Projects, staffed the committee.