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Ray Jayawardhana

Provost, Johns Hopkins University

Provost Ray Jayawardhana serves as the chief academic officer of Johns Hopkins University. He is also a Professor of Physics and Astronomy.

As Provost, he is responsible for advancing the University’s research, teaching and outreach mission, and partners closely with President Daniels to realize the ambitious goals of the Ten for One strategic plan. He oversees its nine schools as well as a number of interdisciplinary programs, academic centers and support functions.

Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Jayawardhana served as the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University and the Hans A. Bethe Professor and professor of astronomy. As dean, Jayawardhana positioned the College as “the nexus of discovery and impact,” and focused on strategic priorities in the areas of faculty renewal and support, research and creative excellence, academic innovation and student experience, and public engagement. He oversaw the recruitment of 130 new faculty members and appointments to 65 endowed professorships. During Jayawardhana’s tenure, the College garnered over $308 million in new gifts and commitments and set consecutive fund-raising records. Signature initiatives launched under his leadership include the Klarman Fellowships for exceptional emerging researchers, New Frontier Grants for novel research projects with potential for transformative advances, Nexus Scholars program for undergraduate research, Humanities Scholars Program for select students, Distinguished Visiting Journalist program to recognize excellence in journalism while fostering meaningful engagement with the academy, the Arts Unplugged series of marquee events, and the $110M renewal of the iconic McGraw Hall. On his watch, the College adopted a new undergraduate curriculum, introduced first-year advising seminars to all entering students, implemented the highly coveted Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, tripled funding for Summer Experience Grants, and enhanced career development support. Arts & Sciences increased media engagement dramatically, quadrupling annual media hits and increasing placement of faculty op-eds. Jayawardhana played a key role in establishing the new Cornell Brooks School of Public Policy and the “super-departments” of Sociology and Psychology and expanding Economics. He also partnered with select deans and faculty across the university to formulate and lead three signature initiatives –on climate, AI and quantum research.

Before his time at Cornell, Jayawardhana served as the Dean of Science at York University, following a decade on the faculty at the University of Toronto, where he held a Canada Research Chair. Prior to that, he held an assistant professorship at the University of Michigan and a Miller Research Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. Jayawardhana received his PhD in astronomy from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy and physics from Yale University.

Jayawardhana’s research explores the diversity, origins, and evolution of planetary systems as well as the formation of stars and brown dwarfs. In particular, his group uses the largest telescopes on the ground and in space to do ‘remote sensing’ of planets around other stars (“exoplanets”), with a view to investigating prospects for life in the universe. He is a core science team member for the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRISS instrument, and his group leads a Gemini Observatory large program on high-resolution spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres. He is the co-author of 150+ refereed papers in scientific journals, with over 8600 total citations (h-index: 53, i10-index: 134 – according to NASA ADS), and the co-editor of two volumes of conference proceedings.

Jayawardhana is also an acclaimed writer whose articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Economist, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. His popular science book Strange New Worlds was the basis for “The Planet Hunters” television documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; his book Neutrino Hunters won the Canadian Science Writers Association’s Book Award. His latest, a picture book for children titled Child of the Universe published by Penguin Random House in 2020, received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.

Jayawardhana’s research, writing and outreach have led to numerous accolades, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, Steacie Fellowship, Steacie Prize, Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard University, visiting professorships from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Stockholm University, University of Canterbury and the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada, Nicholson Medal from the American Physical Society, and Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences. Asteroid (4668) Rayjay is named after him.

An avid traveler, he has visited more than 55 countries and all seven continents. His travels, for research and writing, have included numerous visits to mountaintop observatories in Chile and Hawaii, a meteorite collecting expedition in Antarctica, a parabolic flight with the European Space Agency, a solar eclipse chase in western Mongolia and a descent into a South African mine with geobiologists.

Ray serves on the Board of Trustees of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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