The University of Central Florida Office of Research has announced the appointment of Joseph Harrington, a Pegasus Professor in the Department of Physics and UCF’s Florida Space Institute, as the interim associate vice president for research and scholarship.

In this role, Harrington’s duties will include overseeing UCF’s institutes and centers and research strategy councils; participating in collaborative efforts with the Faculty Senate Research Council; directing Institutional Review Board and Office of Animal Welfare operations; participating in academic program reviews and assisting in implementing strategic research initiatives to drive increased research, scholarship and creative works.

“Joe brings valuable experience as a former Faculty Senate Chair and longtime UCF faculty member,” says Winston Schoenfeld, UCF’s interim vice president for research and innovation. “He has a true passion for establishing strategic initiatives to support UCF faculty success, and we are fortunate and delighted to have him join the Office of Research leadership team.”

History of Innovative Research

Harrington began observing and modeling giant planets as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his bachelor’s in physics and doctoral degree in planetary science. His pre-impact model of the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994, part of his Ph.D. thesis, was published on the cover of Nature and garnered international popular attention.

Harrington then held a National Research Council Fellowship at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, during which he modeled the aftermath of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact and also identified the majority of planetary waves known on planets other than Earth. From 1997 to 2006, he worked as a staff scientist at Cornell University, where his interests shifted to observing extrasolar planets. He was part of the team that first measured light from an extrasolar planet, a result published in Nature in April 2005.

He joined UCF’s Planetary Sciences Group in the Department of Physics, part of the College of Sciences, in 2006, where he continued his exoplanet work by being the first to measure the difference between day and night on an exoplanet. His recent work includes the detection of carbon dioxide on a planet outside the solar system and finding water on an ultra-hot exoplanet, both using the James Webb Space Telescope. A leader in the open-source and open-science movements, he worked on a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine study that defined the open-science policies now implemented in NASA’s grant programs.

Experienced Faculty Leader

Harrington has been a member of UCF’s Faculty Senate for 10 years and has served on numerous committees, including the Senate’s Steering, Bylaws, Governance and Information Technology committees. He served as chair of the Faculty Senate and on the UCF Board of Trustees from 2020 to 2022, guiding UCF’s response to COVID-19 and the development of UCF’s strategic plan.

He was one of five founding faculty in UCF’s planetary science program, which established Ph.D. and M.S. tracks in physics and began accepting students in 2009. He also developed and taught graduate Planetary Atmospheres and Advanced Astronomical Data Analysis and undergraduate Introduction to Numerical Computing.  His most recent course was a section of introductory astronomy taught entirely through a video game, with no separate textbook or lecture.

In 2020, Harrington was named a UCF Pegasus Professor.

Unleashing Potential

Harrington says he’s excited to join the Office of Research, where he can help foster innovation and empower faculty.

“A university’s research office should be a place where faculty eagerly go for help in turning our ideas and ambitions into results that advance knowledge and improve society,” Harrington says. “I look forward to connecting with faculty in every college to learn what our best opportunities are, to learn what faculty need to make them reality, and to develop and execute a strategy that helps all faculty achieve our biggest scholarly visions.”