College of Science names Brittain as chair of physics and astronomy
CLEMSON – Sean Brittain, an astrophysicist who studies the stars but who is also deeply grounded in supporting students and enhancing diversity and inclusion, has been named chair of the department of physics and astronomy in the College of Science at Clemson University.
As a faculty member, Brittain has demonstrated sustained excellence in scientific discovery, learning and engagement. His leadership skills have been further honed in the Faculty Senate, as a graduate coordinator, and by his accomplishments in outreach and engagement. Brittain replaces Terry Tritt, who will retire this summer.
“As we collectively advance Science Forward at Clemson, Sean will continually challenge norms and push us all to be better,” Dean Cynthia Young said. “He will be an excellent leader in terms of recruitment, development and retention of top talent. Sean is a champion for inclusive excellence.”
Brittain has experience at both the department and university levels. He has been a graduate coordinator since 2012 and a member of the Faculty Senate from 2009-2012. He was also a member of the Athletic Council from 2009-2017 and the Athletic Admissions Review Committee from 2009-2017.
“I am honored and humbled to be selected for this position,” said Brittain, who joined Clemson in 2006. “We have excellent leadership, and I look forward to learning from previous chairs. I’m also excited about finding ways to facilitate our planning at the department level. As a strong advocate for shared governance, I want to do my best to draw on the insight of all my colleagues as we pursue the goals described in our SciForward strategic plan.”
Brittain’s career highlights include:
National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award (2010).
- Michelson Fellow (2004-2006).
- Board of Trustees Award for Faculty Excellence (2010).
- Fifty-seven refereed journal publications and 19 other articles.
- Helped lead a Math/Science Partnership with Laurens County/District 55 (2015-2017).
- Clemson University’s lead representative for the Citizen CATE project, where he helped operate one of 68 telescopes positioned across the path of totality during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
- Supervised 36 undergraduate researchers, graduated eight Master of Science students and five Ph.D. students (2006-2017).
Brittain earned his Bachelor of Science (1997) at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, and his Master of Science (2001) and Ph.D. (2004) at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently on a year-long sabbatical at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, where he is working with a team funded by NASA to study the chemistry of planet-forming disks.
“We are studying how the composition of volatile molecules in disks evolve and eventually provide the ingredients for the emergence of life,” Brittain said. “The next step will be to take what we’ve learned and expand on it in outer space.”
Brittain will follow in the footsteps of one of Clemson’s most accomplished scientists. Tritt, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (1980) and Ph.D. (1985) at Clemson, was named the 2017 recipient of the “Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.”
“Terry has had a spectacular career at Clemson University,” Young said. “Please join us in thanking Dr. Tritt for his leadership. We wish Terry and his wife, Penny, the very best as they embark on their new adventure.”
When he is not gazing at the stars, Brittain enjoys hiking in the woods with his wife, Beth, and children, Olivia, 15, Sam, 13, Charlotte, 8, and their 2-year-old rescue dog, Cali.
“One of the best-kept secrets at Clemson is that the physics program provides amazing engagement opportunities and prepares students for a wide range of careers,” Brittain said. “I want to make this less of a secret.”