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The new deans have taken office
Published 2 January 2024
Dean Per Persson, Deputy Dean Karin Rengefors and Vice-Dean Charlotta Turner have now taken office. Get to know them better through the interviews below that were conducted in the spring of 2023, in connection with the election. In addition to the three mentioned, Karin Hall will have an assignment as Vice-Dean during 2024.
A chemistry set under the Christmas tree sparked an interest in science. Being nominated for the position of dean was not something that professor of molecular geochemistry Per Persson was actively aiming for. But, at the same time, he cannot think of a more exciting role now that it is time to write the last chapter of his working life.
Per Persson is in a good mood when we meet in the foyer of the faculty office at Sölvegatan. The capricious March sunshine lights up the corridors as we stroll around in search of a vacant room for the interview. All the meeting rooms except Universum, with seating for 25 people, are booked. We sit down at the short end of the gigantic table. The faculty office is a familiar environment for Per Persson, who has spent countless hours in meetings here in his role as director of the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC). And it could soon be his new workplace. But when the Limhamn-born professor of molecular geochemistry was asked if he wanted to be a candidate for the position of dean of the Faculty of Science, his spontaneous answer was: “perhaps”.
“It’s not as if I was going around thinking ‘I want to be the dean’. But it is, naturally, very flattering. A contributory factor for me to say yes is that people I trust very much have given their support by nominating me,” says Per Persson.
A love of science was awoken early in life. Besides the chemistry sets under the Christmas tree – there would be a total of seven, in increasing complexity – a secondary school teacher, who was also an amateur mineralogist, played an important role. And so did the work experience period Per Persson spent at the Department of Geology and Department of Chemistry. Going on to higher education was not a foregone conclusion. Per Persson grew up in a non-academic home, with a father who sold lorries and a mother who only later in life went on to read economics at university level, but where the importance of education and learning was always upheld.
“But I always had a strong and solid interest in science. After military service, I started a four-year chemistry programme and then began my doctoral studies in 1986. Sven Lidin, the faculty’s current dean, was among an older generation of chemistry doctoral students. He was a role model even then,” says a smiling Per Persson.
After completing his doctoral degree, Per Persson went to Stanford University where he took up a postdoc position. The period in California not only gave him friends for life but also a strong affection for the place. In 1992, he returned to Sweden and two years later was working as a post-doctoral research fellow in Umeå. They were eventful years. Per Persson was promoted to professor, deputy head of department and later deputy dean. It was also in Umeå that he met his future wife, Marie. In 2010, Per Persson became a visiting professor at Stanford where he worked on technology linked to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). However, it was not long before it was time to move again and in 2012 Per Persson took up a visiting professorship in Lund funded by the strategic research area Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate (BECC). The following year he was appointed as a professor at the Department of Biology and Centre for Environmental and Climate Science and in 2020 he became the centre’s director. In parallel, he has also worked for the Swedish Research Council since 2001 and is currently the vice chair.
I believe and hope that as dean, if I am elected, I can utilise my experience in research policy and international work and that this can contribute to the development of the faculty. But it is, of course, a formidable task, towards which I feel very humble. There are major and very clear challenges, says Per Persson.
He mentions the faculty’s establishment of activities in Science Village and the planned merger of the Department of Geology, Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science and Centre for Environmental and Climate Science, as well as the prospective centre for computational science and the situation for what was until the start of this year known as the Department of Astronomy and Theoretical Physics.
“Here, I need to get a deeper insight in order to see the entire picture. But I always believe that feet are the best tools for the job. When I was deputy dean in Umeå, I spent a lot of time out in the organisation to solve problems when issues were lurking in the wings,” says Per Persson.
If Per Persson is elected as dean, he will devote considerable effort to improving conditions for researchers and teaching staff. Today, ancillary activities “have extended too far out into the capillaries” and it is important for researchers and teaching staff to have conditions that allow them to focus on their core duties.
“The group has grown in number, but the consequence has been that we are diluting the resources among more people. We are to set a high bar regarding recruitment, but we must take responsibility over a long period for those we employ and provide good conditions,” he says.
When Per Persson is not working, he spends time with family – his wife Marie and children Emma and Nils. The summer cottage in Kivik takes up a lot of time. In his leisure time, he likes to listen to music, with Dylan, Puccini, Thåström and the Eagles high on the playlist. He also likes to cook and socialise with friends.
“I have a group of friends who usually meet up in Falsterbo and play golf three times a year. Sometimes there can be slight schisms between golfers and ornithologists, of which we have many at CEC. So, I keep a low profile,” says Per Persson and smiles.
Text and photos: Johan Joelsson. The interview was conducted in spring 2023.
For a long time, Karin Rengefors struggled to choose between painting and biology, but in the end limnology took the upper hand. She is humble about her nomination for the post of deputy dean, and if entrusted with the role she will work hard to create the right conditions for the faculty’s staff.
Professor Karin Rengefors welcomes us into her bright office in the Department of Biology. There are neat piles of theses on her desk, and the walls are hung with watercolours in soft pastel colours. On the pinboard are photos of family and friends. Karin Rengefors has been based in Lund since 2001. Her interest in biology, however, was piqued in her childhood, which was spent in Brazil, Italy, Chile and Austria, thanks to her father’s career as an economist with industrial conglomerate Atlas Copco.
“It was a nomadic lifestyle, but I learned a lot about different cultures, as well as several languages. It was not until I was 21 that I came to Sweden,” she says.
Her academic career began with her studying biology at Uppsala University, where she obtained a doctoral degree in 1998 with her thesis on limnology (the study of inland aquatic ecosystems). The subject’s environmental and societal relevance provided a more powerful draw than the genetics she had previously been interested in. After receiving her doctoral degree, Karin Rengefors took up a postdoc position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts – one of the oldest oceanographic research institutions in the world. In 2001, she arrived at Lund University to take up a post as an assistant professor. She successfully applied for a lecturer position in 2005, and in 2008 she was promoted to professor. During her career she has served on the Academic Appointments Board, initiated and ran GENECO (Graduate Research School in Genomic Ecology), and been director of doctoral studies for the Department of Biology. Besides that, she sat on Formas’s Scientific Council and has held several international posts, including in the academic collaboration between Chile and Sweden (ACCESS) and in research societies for limnological research and research into algal bloom research. When she found out she had been nominated for the position of deputy dean of the Faculty of Science, she was both surprised and delighted.
“I have ten years to go until retirement. I still find research and teaching exciting. Yet I feel a need to do something that means something to people beyond me and my research team,” she says.
A potential future as deputy dean is something Karin Rengefors looks upon with humility. It might be difficult to approach it in any other way. The issues set to dominate the faculty leadership’s agenda for the upcoming term of office are not exactly trifling matters. Karin Rengefors and Per Persson (the Nominating Committee’s recommendation for dean) will, if elected, have to get stuck into the Faculty of Science’s establishment in Science Village and the planned merger between the Department of Geology, the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science and the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science. As if that were not enough, there are plenty of potential challenges in intricate questions relating to the winding up of the Department of Astronomy and Theoretical Physics and the planned establishment of a centre for computational science.
I am someone who is driven, I engage a lot with the projects I get involved in. Challenges really get me going. I do hope this is not something I will come to regret saying, she chuckles.
Doctoral education is something Karin Rengefors is particularly passionate about. In 2008, she was awarded the Lund students’ prize for excellence in teaching for her graduate school GENECO, and she knows the importance of getting sufficient resources. Issues pertaining to organisation, internationalisation and recruitment are also important to Karin Rengefors.
“I have a lot of confidence in Per Persson. We worked together in the Department head’s advisory council and his was actually the name I mentioned when the Nominating Committee asked who I would most like to work with,” she says.
When she is not working, Karin recharges by spending time with her son Atle who is studying architecture, and Frossie the cat. As well as that, she spends at least two evenings a week in the riding stables and jogs around the hills of Sankt Hans backar. Karin Rengefors likes to spend her summers in the family’s cottage in Trosa, or in Italy, where she spent eight years and still has family. So what became of the artistic career? It is still very much alive. Karin Rengefors paints – often landscapes in watercolours – and exhibits as often as she can. From 1 January 2024 however, her focus is very likely to be on sketching out the future of the Faculty of Science.
Text and photo: Johan Joelsson. The interview was conducted in spring 2023.
Charlotte Turner’s career has included everything from laboratory-produced hand sanitiser to protests at doctoral degree conferment ceremonies. As the Faculty of Science’s new Deputy Dean for first and second-cycle education, the colourful chemistry professor wants to work for change, well-being and to bring people together.
After a couple of late summer weeks characterised by high pressure, September is once again showing a more familiar side. Despite the steel-grey sky, drizzle and early-morning fog, Charlotta Turner is in good spirits when she meets me outside Kemicentrum to guide me through its labyrinthine corridors. Her office is full of books. One shelf is adorned with two framed photographs of her receiving awards from the King and the then prime minister Ingvar Carlsson.
“Carlsson was handing out funds from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research. Funding that allowed me to start my own research team. The picture of the King is from a ceremony at the palace, where I was given a prize for my focus on sustainability in chemistry research,” she says.
The first time I met Charlotta Turner was in March 2020, during the early stages of the COVID 19 pandemic. She was busy mixing ethanol, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide along with her doctoral students.
“A relative working in the hospital had told me that there was a shortage of hand sanitiser. So it was just a case of rolling our sleeves up,” she says.
Her love of science was awoken early. Charlotta Turner spent a lot of time in the woods and always had pets.
“I kept everything from dogs and rabbits to birds and discarded gerbils that I got from the university’s animal testing department,” she says with a smile.
Charlotta Turner grew up in the Professorstaden neighbourhood in Lund. It was the 1970s and her parents – an economist father and a high school teacher mother – rented out parts of the house to international students. They took turns to cook meals which were often eaten sitting on the floor. A stern bust of Karl Marx watched over the family’s library.
When her parents divorced, Charlotta Turner moved to Gävle with her father. In upper secondary school, she fell for chemistry, thanks to “an intense teacher whose blackboard was covered in scrawled formulae.”
After finishing school, she had to choose between studying physiotherapy or chemistry. Since her grades were not good enough to study to become a physiotherapist, she ended up on the chemistry programme in Lund. She got hooked on analytical chemistry and won a place to study for a PhD in the mid-90s. And it was through chemistry that she met her husband, Kuria Ndungu from Kenya, who was reading a Master’s programme in Lund. In 2001, Charlotta Turner obtained her PhD in analytical chemistry. But when the time came for the doctoral award ceremony, she chose to boycott the event. The reason being that the University wanted to spell her surname with a ‘t’ on the end – something that had followed her around in bureaucratic contexts.
“It was my grandfather’s grandfather who emigrated to America, changed his name and then returned to Sweden with the name Turner. But the three Swedish families who already bore the name did not approve. That was why he had to spell it with a ‘t’ on the end,” she says with a smile.
After gaining her PhD, it was time for a move to Albany, outside Berkeley, where Charlotta Turner completed her postdoc. Her research included supercritical carbon dioxide and she studied castor oil. It was also at this time that she had her first son. After her time in California, her next move was to Uppsala, to become a postdoctoral research fellow. Her work was a great success and Charlotta Turner’s interest in sustainability within chemistry research paid off. She received funding and started her own research team, Green Technology Group, which among other things studied waste products in order to extract antioxidants.
“I missed teaching though. So when, in 2009, I was headhunted by Lund, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was able to bring all my instruments and my entire research team with me. That was a real luxury. Not only that, but my teaching was also needed in Lund,” she says.
For the past year, Charlotta Turner has worked as the faculty’s representative on the establishment in Science Village in Brunnshög – a role she is going to miss.
“But the lessons learned there are things I will take with me. It’s about getting people to start talking and getting to know each other across subject boundaries. There is an incredible power in collaboration,” she says.
The winds of change are blowing through the faculty. As well as the Science Village project, a lot of time will be spent on the planned merger of the Department of Geology, the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science and the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science, CEC. That is a task that Charlotta Turner is looking forward to getting stuck into.
“There is so much exciting stuff happening within the faculty at the moment. And a lot of it is about change. That suits me very well,” she says.
Text and photo: Johan Joelsson. The interview was conducted in spring 2023.