About MRS

Michael Fitzsimmons, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and The University of Tennessee

Michael Fitzsimmons

Michael Fitzsimmons, fellow of the American Physical Society and the Neutron Scattering Society of America, is group leader for Thin Films and Nanostructures in the Quantum Condensed Matter Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Fitzsimmons also holds a joint faculty position as professor of physics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Prior to moving to Tennessee, Fitzsimmons worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 25 years as a research scientist in the fields of magnetism and neutron scattering.  In 1989 and 1990, Fitzsimmons was a Fulbright Jr. Research Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München Germany in Lehrstuhl Peisl.  When not studying defects in nanostructured materials with synchrotron radiation, Fitzsimmons was observed to have assisted in the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Fitzsimmons obtained a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Cornell University and a B.A. in physics at Reed College, Portland, Oregon. Fitzsimmons is an avid cyclist with a litany of related injuries.

While in Tennessee, Fitzsimmons developed means to control magnetism of interfaces in heterostructures and vertical-architecture-networked materials using strain and electric fields. Fitzsimmons is developing neutron science programs to map turbulent flow about objects in cryogenic helium at extreme Reynolds numbers, to monitor electric field assisted sintering of ceramics, and applications of polarized neutron beams to observe atomic and spin fluctuations in soft and hard matter.

Fitzsimmons has a long history with the Materials Research Society including symposium organizer and meeting chair (Fall 2008).  Most significantly, Fitzsimmons served six years, beginning in 2010, as the MRS Treasurer. During this period, the MRS undertook substantive changes to financial governance. With the MRS Executive Director, Fitzsimmons wrote the charter for the Finance Committee (prior to 2010 the MRS did not have a Finance Committee). Next, with the Finance Committee and the newly hired MRS Director of Finance, Fitzsimmons obtained Board of Directors (BoD) approval for several policies that:

  • greatly strengthened the financial sustainability (security) of the MRS,
  • enabled the BoD to effectively and efficiently execute its most important responsibility: fiduciary oversight,
  • provided quantitative means to identify funding that enables the Society to fulfill its mission and vision, e.g., funding for MRS Awards, MRS Foundation grants, student chapters, and new products to improve the value proposition for MRS members,
  • assured the livelihood of the MRS staff that depends on the Society’s well being.

Candidate's Statement

The MRS—a society to promote communication of materials science—recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.  The MRS is vibrant, innovative and forward-looking as ever.  The MRS mission, vision, values and financial security are sound. I will continue the BoD’s tradition to be thoughtful in providing strategic direction and meeting its fiduciary obligations. Upon reflection from my past tenure on the BoD, I see opportunities to further improve the Society.

Being inclusive of diverse perspectives and thinking

Embracing diversity of perspectives and thinking makes every community better, and is a strategic goal of the MRS. The goal can be achieved in different ways—a combination of approaches is likely to work well. During Leadership Breakfasts, I heard strong calls for proactive (though unspecified) measures to be taken to increase diversity of MRS Award winners (including Fellows). If elected, I look forward to hearing from MRS Awards Chair on which experiments worked, which failed and paths forward. I would like to hear from the MRS committees responsible for meeting content on creative options to further diversity. For example, options to invite more early career and postdoctoral speakers/authors—consistent with high quality presentations. These examples are ones of tactics to include more diverse perspectives and thinking.  The strategic challenge is to broaden the diversity of perspectives and thinking of the scientific community. To achieve this goal requires a discussion on what represents “diversity of perspectives and thinking”, how is diversity measured, how is change catalyzed, and what is MRS’ role?

Advocacy, Outreach and Publications

The MRS spends significant resources on advocacy of U.S. government officials. MRS, being an international society of materials scientists, obviously includes many non-U.S. members. Some of these members understandably question the value proposition for them that advocacy offers. In terms of past deeds, the MRS was key in the critical materials and the helium studies (partnered with the APS), which influenced legislation in the U.S.  Today this legislation impacts the global economy for critical materials. Presenting examples of how materials science improves the quality of life to legislators in Washington (advocacy) and beyond Washington (outreach) is needed now more than ever. On account of globalization, every person has a vested interest for the people living in the U.S. to be accurately informed and actively engaged in science. Presently, advocacy, outreach and publications are separate programs in the MRS that share a common goal—to inform and educate. A cohesive strategy leverages activities of different programs having a shared goal. I would like the BoD to consider recommendations from MRS operating committees for enhancing coordination between advocacy, outreach and publications.

The Spring Meeting

I voted to move the Spring Meeting to Phoenix. I did so after reviewing the data, including reports from our committees and surveys of our members (though perhaps given the results of the 2016 U.S. election, surveys might be less reliable than we thought?).  As the MRS Treasurer, fiduciary factors strongly influenced my decision, e.g., to realize an opportunity to reduce expenses incurred by our members. If elected, I look forward to reviewing the Spring Meeting decision.