Mathematical physicist Arlie Petters will succeed Lee Baker as dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate education, the University announced Tuesday.
Petters currently is a professor of mathematics and physics in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of business administration in the Fuqua School of Business. He will begin his new position July 1 and will serve through June 2020. Baker will return to the faculty as a professor of cultural anthropology after serving two terms as dean of academic affairs.
“Petters’ life experiences make him especially well suited to shepherd Duke’s undergraduate academic program,” Dean of Trinity Valerie Ashby said in a Duke Today release. “As a minority man in the sciences, he has learned how to thrive and crafted a deeply successful career.”
Born in Dangriga, Belize, Petters moved to New York as a teenager and became the first in his family to attend college. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Petters’ research on the mathematical theory of gravitational lensing, which he was the first to develop, examines how light is affected by the warping of space and time. He has pioneered applications of gravitational lensing in physics and the development of tests for theories of gravity such as Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Petters’ work has also focused on the nature of space-time around black holes.
Before coming to Duke in 1998, Petters was the director of graduate studies at Princeton University and served on the faculty at MIT.
At Duke, he has been a faculty in residence for six years in Wilson and Bassett residence halls. Petters has also served as a pre-major advisor and the director of undergraduate studies for the mathematics department. In addition, he previously directed Duke’s Reginaldo Howard Scholars program.
In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences inducted Petters into its Portrait Collection of Distinguished African American Scientists. He was also named a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England in 2008.
To give back to his home country of Belize, Petters founded the Petters Research Institute, which fosters national development through entrepreneurship in mathematics, science and technology, in 2005.
“Education is the great equalizer, and I don’t correlate a humble beginning with the idea that you won’t do well in life,” Petters said in the release. “Mentoring needs to be in the DNA of our undergraduate experience, and it is extremely important for minority and international students who are dealing with so much in addition to the curriculum.”
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