Chemistry Professor Holden Thorp to Speak at December Commencement

Professor Holden Thorp ’86, chair of UNC’s chemistry department who has a passion for music and a history of service, will deliver this year’s December Commencement address.

“Holden Thorp is one of our star faculty members,” said Chancellor James Moeser, who will preside at the ceremony, set for 2 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Dean E. Smith Center. “He’s a leading chemist, a great classroom teacher, a musician and a Tar Heel born and bred. He will be an absolute inspiration to our graduates.”

Thorp, who plays jazz bass and keyboard, is the Kenan professor of chemistry, directed the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center (2001-05) and is faculty director of fundraising for the Carolina Physical Science Complex, a $205 million facility that is the largest construction project in the University’s history. In 2002, he was recognized by the UNC General Alumni Association with its Distinguished Young Alumnus Award.

Moeser chose Thorp in close consultation with the University’s Commencement speaker selection committee. The committee, chaired by Executive Associate Provost Steve Allred, is made up of an equal number of students and faculty.

Thorp said he plans to use his address to draw connections between science and other interests and to convey the importance of human factors in innovation.

“What I hope to tell people is that success in anything, including science, requires an understanding of the human element,” he said.

“I’ll try to connect how innovation arises in multiple fields to try to get people to see how originality and creativity are common themes underlying advances in disparate disciplines.”

As director of the Morehead Center, Thorp expanded the original emphasis of the planetarium to encompass science education in new areas. He also established momentum for the Morehead Center’s first major renovation since its construction in 1947.

Thorp, a Fayetteville native, has won more than a dozen teaching- and research-related honors, including the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Philip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. In 2002, he was named an honorary member of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the campus’s oldest honorary society.

Thorp holds 18 U.S. patents and has published more than 130 academic papers. He writes a column for Wake County Physician magazine and has written opinion editorials for The News & Observer and The New York Times.

Thorp has been on several University committees, boards or task forces over the course of the past decade. He is on the Morehead Scholarship central selection committee; the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee; the Faculty Working Group for the Performing Arts; and he is leading an effort to create a minor in scientific entrepreneurship as part of the Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative, a campuswide effort designed to help UNC students, faculty and staff learn to create new ventures of all kinds.

After graduating from UNC with highest honors in chemistry in 1986, he went on to receive his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1989. He joined the UNC faculty in 1993 as assistant professor of chemistry.

Related coverage is available online:

  • Thorp Leaving Morehead Center to Head Chemistry Department
    News report from February 2005
  • Thorp Named Distinguished Young Alumnus From the November/December 2002 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.
  • The Art of the Possible: He spent a lot of time as a kid hanging from the theater rafters. Holden Thorp ’86 didn’t know he’d be a brilliant chemist, but he was learning how to make science sing and dance. Now the University has shoved him to center stage.
    From the January/February 2002 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.

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