Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Dean’s Chair in the College of Sciences

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Campaign Georgia Tech concluded in historic fashion on Dec. 31, 2015. Better than any other unit at Tech, the College of Sciences remembers that final, dramatic day. Just hours before the close of the 10-year campaign, Georgia Tech secured the commitment of John Clark Sutherland to establish an endowed dean’s chair in the College of Sciences.

College of Sciences Dean Paul M. Goldbart was in London, England, on the way to a New Year’s celebration, when an email arrived with the most anticipated news: John Clark Sutherland had met with Georgia Tech President G. P. “Bud” Peterson and made the gift of the Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Dean’s Chair in the College of Sciences. At that meeting, John Sutherland, who earned B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Georgia Tech, expressed a wish: that Georgia Tech might provide a memorial to his wife, Betsy, and her work.  

“We took John’s request to heart,” Goldbart says. “And today we are pleased and proud to share the website we’ve created to celebrate the life and work of the Sutherlands.”

Betsy Middleton Sutherland, an alumna of Emory University and the University of Tennessee, devoted her scientific career to the study of damage to DNA caused by radiation and how that damage is repaired. John pioneered synchrotron radiation circular dichroism and built instruments for fluorescence-based analytical techniques. The couple worked in Brookhaven National Laboratory, collaborating for more than 30 years, until Betsy’s untimely death in 2009. As the website states: “Their research naturally overlapped, as John’s knack for inventing instruments and physical methods allowed Betsy to systematically address biological questions.”

The website’s main feature is a dynamic, free-scrolling timeline of the Sutherlands’ scientific life together, beginning with their first meeting in 1961, on a blind date. A section explaining the goals of the Sutherland Chair, an essay about Betsy Sutherland’s legacy by School of Biological Sciences Associate Professor Francesca Storici, and John Sutherland’s perspective on giving back to one’s alma mater make up the rest of the content.

“This website will be a living document,” Goldbart says. To be added when information is available is a section to chronicle how the endowment funds are empowering the College to support bold initiatives in research and education. “We want this website to be a resource for current and prospective students, faculty, staff, and alumni – that they may know about, and be inspired by, the scientifically curious, creative, and generous individuals behind the Sutherland Chair.”

“Their life together as incisive, collaborative, and path-breaking scientists is inspiring,” the website says about the Sutherlands. “Through the Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Dean’s Chair in the College of Sciences, their legacy continues.”     


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