Turgut Gür joined the Stanford Center for Materials Research (CMR) in 1990. In 1997, his success in maintaining CMR's effectiveness during turbulent change drew so much praise that he was selected to receive the prestigious Marshall O'Neill Award for outstanding support of research at Stanford University.
"He's been the oak tree, standing there, making it all work," says Professor Bill Nix, the former chair of Materials Science and Engineering. "He's a roll-up-the-sleeves, solve-the-problem kind of guy."
CMR, with core support from the National Science Foundation, manages a total $4.5 million annual budget, part of which funds and maintains labs for researchers trying to understand the behavior and properties of different materials.
"I don't know if CMR would still exist without Turgut," says Brian Holloway, who recently earned his doctorate from Stanford and worked under Gür as assistant manager of the X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy lab, that houses one of CMR's high-priced analytical instruments. "With funding cuts and staff cuts, it would have been easy for CMR to degrade into an ineffective program."
As his supporters underlined in their nominations, Gür is driven by a deep-seated desire to help researchers. Malcolm Beasley writes that when he became CMR's director in 1991, the place "was in serious trouble . . . I believe it is now healthy. The hidden hero is Turgut Gür."
Gür's responsibilities are wide-ranging, from dealing with 80 faculty and 400 graduates doing multidisciplinary research to overseeing the operations of a dozen labs.
"The most important thing is to be able to provide and meet the needs of the research community," he says. "We try to anticipate and understand [this] in terms of new tools, equipment and instruments so they can stay at the leading edge of science in their own fields."
"Boundaries with other disciplines are so fluid and so flexible that research really benefits greatly from interaction," Gür says. "The point is that the sum [is] greater than the individual components."
During the last three years, Gür has taken on added responsibility by overseeing the day-to-day operations of the renovation and design of the renovation of McCullough and the design of the new Annex laboratory building, which will in part house what is now called the Laboratory for Advanced Materials (LAM). As part of this complex project, Gür has been in charge of moving labs and offices to seven buildings, all without interrupting research. At the same time, he has been partly responsible for overseeing a funding proposal to the NSF, through the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) program, that will ensure the center's survival for the next five years. When the last proposal was completed in 1993, CMR competed against 155 other universities to end up as one of only 10 grantees. "You have to be really on your toes and do exceptional science," Gür says.
Gür supervises 12 staff who run the center's analytical tools and instruments, such as electron microscopes. The center also supports the development of new techniques and tools, sometimes put together from commercial components. These are used to make new materials, such as very thin films. While CMR is not involved in applied research, some of the work it has supported has led, for example, to the invention of infrared sensitive thin films used in night vision goggles. Research has also developed a technique to grow multiple layers of thin films that have made possible the construction of X-ray telescopes.
Gür also acts as the chief matchmaker for materials researchers across campus. After being at Stanford for so long, he knows most of the faculty and their ongoing projects connected to CMR. A collaboration might involve, for example, people from the medical school and those in materials science who are searching for ways to apply a carbon coating to a hip replacement, a process that theoretically would make the artificial part less likely to be rejected by the body if the coating could disguise it.
After hours, when Gür is not tied up with CMR business, he tries to further his own research. Since 1990, he has published 40 papers and obtained two patents in research related to solid-state electrochemistry.
"I do value it very highly to intellectually challenge myself," he says about his research. "Frankly speaking, that's the fun part. The other part is my job, my responsibility, it's what I get paid for."
From the Stanford Report Online, November 12, 1997
Back to the Marsh O'Neill Award home page