UCI Names Laser Institute Director to Chair After Talk of Move to USC

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Michael W. Berns, a pioneer in laser medicine at UC Irvine and director of the Beckman Laser Institute, has been named to the university’s Arnold and Mabel Beckman Chair.

The appointment, announced Thursday by Chancellor Jack W. Peltason, came 6 weeks after Berns said he was considering a move to the University of Southern California. At about the same time, the Beckman Laser Institute and USC entered into a partnership to seek a $15-million federal grant to develop a new laser technology.

Berns reportedly was impatient that he had not been appointed to the chair, which was created more than a year ago with a $250,000 donation from the UCI College of Medicine Board of Trustees and a $250,000 matching gift from Dr. Arnold Beckman, the multimillionaire inventor who built Beckman Instruments.


Peltason said Thursday that Berns, the founding director of the Beckman Laser Institute, is the best candidate for the chair.

“After an extended search, it was decided by the academic committee appointed to fill the chair that Michael Berns was the most qualified individual at this campus or any other to hold the position.

“Dr. Berns is recognized throughout the world for his expertise as a laser researcher,” Peltason said. “His work has led to a number of medical breakthroughs, including the development of laser treatments for cancers, cardiovascular surgery and vision correction.”

Beckman, who has contributed $5 million to the laser institute since 1982, has said that he endowed the chair with the expectation that Berns would be named to fill it. Endowed chairs, used to attract or honor top scholars, provide research funding from interest earned by the endowment.

Berns said he learned of his appointment Thursday morning.

“I’m very flattered and pleased and excited,” he said. “The endowment will provide a certain amount of unrestricted funding a year, which is guaranteed for the laser program for as long as I sit in the chair. I look at it as an eternal, lifetime grant of funds. And it certainly brings national recognition to the university.”

He said the search process to fill the chair “was the right thing to do,” and added, “I am not negotiating with (USC); I am not contemplating going there.”


The partnership between USC and the Beckman Laser Institute, a private organization with close ties to UCI, prompted speculation that the institute might move to the Los Angeles campus of USC. Berns said in March that decision would be up to the institute board and confirmed Thursday that no move is anticipated.

Berns said the income from the chair will help to finance two laser projects he is working on. One, called optical trapping, uses a laser to move chromosomes around in cells, an experimental procedure that may have applications for disease treatment or prevention. He is also studying the effects and applications of the free electron laser, which operates at a higher intensity and broader frequency than other lasers, making a single laser potentially helpful in treating a variety of illnesses.