New Dean for Public Health

Environmental scientist and endocrinologist Andrea Baccarelli studies the biological impacts of pollution.

Andrea Baccarelli

Andrea Baccarelli | PHOTOGRAPH BY DIANA REDDY, CoLUmbia university; montage by harvard magazine

Andrea Baccarelli, an environmental health sciences scholar, will become dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) on January 1, 2024. An expert in the molecular mechanisms that link environmental exposures to human disease, he succeeds Jane Kim, who is serving as interim dean, and Michelle Williams, who stepped down in June. The deanship represents a return to Harvard for Baccarelli, who was an associate professor in the department of environmental health from 2010 to 2016.

President Claudine Gay praised Baccarelli in a statement announcing the appointment, both for his professional accomplishments and his character. “Andrea is an outstanding scientist, teacher, mentor, and academic leader,” she said. “I have been deeply impressed by his thoughtfulness, curiosity, personal warmth, and contagious enthusiasm.”

Currently, Baccarelli is the chair of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health’s department of environmental health sciences, where he is also the Hess professor of environmental health sciences and epidemiology. Aside from his professorship, he is an epigeneticist and endocrinologist.

Baccarelli’s hire combines the benefits of finding an insider and an outsider. Since leaving Harvard, Gay said, Baccarelli “has maintained strong relations with colleagues at Harvard, and he will bring both a fresh perspective and a deep appreciation for the school’s distinctive culture, strengths, and promise.”

A scientist with broad interests, Baccarelli said he was excited to help the school address various public health challenges. Today’s issues “demand collective action and innovative thinking,” he told the Harvard Gazette. “Whether it’s the threats of pandemics, the complexities of mental health, the multifaceted challenges of environmental and social determinants of health, or new opportunities offered by artificial intelligence, data science, and the latest discoveries in human biology, together, we can craft solutions and drive change.”

Born in Italy in 1970, he received an M.D. from the University of Perugia, an M.S. in epidemiology from the University of Turin, and a Ph.D. in occupational health and industrial hygiene from the University of Milan. From 2000 to 2004, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland. In 2020, he was elected to both the National Academy of Medicine and the presidency of the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology.

Baccarelli studies the processes by which pollution harms human bodies. Recently, he found that older women’s bones degenerate twice as quickly in cities with poor air quality as in places with cleaner air. His work, according to Gay, “has supported international best practices for air pollution control developed by multiple agencies worldwide,” and informed “the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to enforce stricter guidelines for human exposure.”

The appointment of Baccarelli as dean demonstrates Harvard’s continued interest in addressing climate change as well as the health effects of air pollution, two related problems that engage interdisciplinary efforts across the University’s many schools.

Read more articles by: Max J. Krupnick

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