Associate VP for Research discusses cars, hockey and chemistry

Photo Courtesy of Rob Felt

Christopher Jones is Tech’s new Associate Vice President for Research and has been a professor at Tech for more than a decade.  When he is not researching for Fortune 500 companies, directing students in his own “vigorous research program” or lecturing on chemistry, Jones can be found cheering on his favorite hockey teams or racing his Audi TT-RS.

Technique: What is your current position at Tech?

Jones: I am the New-Vision Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) and the Associate Vice President for Research (AVPR).

Technique:  When did you come to Tech and why?

Jones: When I interviewed for faculty jobs in 1999, I was looking for a great engineering school that was also strong in the sciences, was in an urban location and if I was lucky, was in a great city with diverse people and great weather.

When I was offered a position at Tech, it was if I had won the lottery!

Technique: You’ve graduated from the University of Michigan and Caltech. How do those college atmospheres compare with Georgia Tech’s?

Jones: Michigan is similar in many ways to Tech.  It’s a world-class public university with a great athletics program—a true sister school of Tech, but with a slightly broader academic base (more professional schools like medicine, law).

On the other hand, other than the fact that it is a science and technology focused school, Caltech could not be more different.  It is a private institution and very small, with about 1000 undergraduate and 1000 graduate students.  It has a stronger emphasis on graduate education, whereas I feel Tech strikes a nice balance between emphasizing undergraduate and graduate education.

Technique: As both a Chemical Engineering professor and as the new Associate Vice President for Research, what is your favorite part of working here?

Jones: I like the people.  I enjoy coming to work every day.  The faculty, staff and students in ChBE are great.  I expect I will find the same is true of other units on campus as I get to know the institution more broadly in my new role as AVPR.

Technique: Was becoming a Chemical Engineering professor always a goal of yours?

Jones: I was (am?) a nerd, and I knew I wanted to be a chemist or chemical engineer after I took my first chemistry course in high school.  I loved it.  In the sophomore year of my undergraduate studies at Michigan, I had an inkling that I would like an academic life, and my experiences doing an industrial internship and undergraduate research convinced me that a career in research and teaching would be fulfilling. I was career-focused to the extent that I choose my graduate school with the idea that it would prepare me to be a professor.

Technique: As a child, what did you hope to grow up to be?

Jones: When I was four, I wanted to be a garbage man, of all things. I was fascinated by the massive machine that would drive down the street and crush all our garbage. I would stand in my yard and watch it go down the street every week. By the time I was in high school, my initial infatuation with mechanical equipment had matured to a love of chemistry, experimentation and a desire to be an engineer.

Technique: What is your overarching goal for research at Tech?

Jones: There are only a few places in the world with a collection of world-class scholars and innovators representing all facets of science, engineering, technology and business.  Tech is one of them.

What will make Tech stand out among this select group is that while we have the scholars, visionaries and innovators, we also have a culture and infrastructure that makes us easy to work with among academic organizations.

Whether you represent a small business, a branch of the government, a foundation or a multi-national corporation, I believe we have the ability to adapt to work with that organization as a research partner.

We need to continue to emphasize our outstanding scholarship and innovation while also being administratively nimble, adapting to find ways to work with the full variety of organizations that seek academic research partners.

Thus, I hope to play a role in expanding and strengthening our portfolio of research partners.

Technique: How do you see startups playing a part in research’s progress at Tech?

Jones: One of the key roles for a technological institution is to innovate, develop new ideas, and with them, new technologies or services.

Facilitating student, faculty and staff entrepreneurial ambitions is a key way to drive innovation and impact society.

Technique: You’ve done research for a number of Fortune 500 companies. What was the most interesting research project you ever worked on?

Jones: They’re all interesting in my view, otherwise I would not have agreed to work on them!  I’ll say that the most unusual project I am working on is working with a startup company, Global Thermostat, developing a technology to remove CO2 directly from the ambient atmosphere.

Such a technology can allow for on-the-spot CO2 concentration for industries that use CO2 as a feedstock, and hopefully in the long run, a way to combat climate change by capturing CO2 directly from the air for underground sequestration.

Technique: I’ve heard you are a pretty big hockey fan. What is your favorite team?

Jones: I am a huge hockey fan.  I had season tickets to the Atlanta Thrashers for a decade before they left.  I had four tickets, and would routinely use two and give two to students for every home game.

I most closely follow the Detroit Red Wings, but I love watching almost any hockey.  A goal of mine is to see a game in every NHL arena, and I am well on my way.  I plan to see games in Miami, Phoenix and Ottawa in the next 12 months.

Technique: I’ve also heard you enjoy auto racing. How did you get involved with that sport?

Jones: I grew up in metro Detroit, where car culture runs strong.  I love cars as examples of outstanding engineering and as excellent examples of art and design.  I like driving on road courses (Road Atlanta, Barber Motorsports Park, Atlanta Motorsports Park) with my cars when I can.

I like unusual cars. I have a 550 HP station wagon with a manual transmission (Cadillac CTS-V Wagon), and I recently sold my Lotus Elise track car to buy a more practical but similarly fun Audi TT-RS.

Technique: If you could buy any car ever, what would it be?

Jones: Realistically speaking, I will own a (used) Ferrari one day.  After a very large windfall, the McLaren P1.

Technique: Any advice for aspiring researchers at Tech?

Jones: I advise all Tech undergraduates to try their hand at research.  R&D drives innovation and the country needs more inventors and scholars.

The best way to know if you enjoy something is to try it. Tech is the perfect environment for your first research experience. The infrastructure and programs to facilitate and support undergraduate research are here for you.