Ray Jayawardhana

Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Professor


Ray Jayawardhana is the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

As the leader of the largest and most academically diverse college at Cornell, he is responsible for an institution with over 520 professorial faculty, 400 academic professionals and staff, 4500 undergraduates and 1300 graduate students. The College offers 40 undergraduate majors and 35 graduate fields, and boasts a network of over 65,000 alumni. For Fall 2020 admission, the College received the largest number of applicants in its history, for both early decision and regular decision.  

Ray is focused on strategic priorities in the areas of research excellence, academic innovation and student experience, and public engagement and impact. He has overseen the recruitment of over 55 new faculty members and appointments to over 30 endowed professorships. Signature initiatives launched under Ray’s leadership include the Klarman Fellowships, a premier postdoctoral program for exceptional emerging researchers; the Humanities Scholars Program, a curated and mentored pathway through the humanities scholarship for select undergraduates; the Distinguished Visiting Journalist program, to recognize excellence in journalism while fostering meaningful engagement between the media and the academy; and the Arts Unplugged series of marquee events that bring campus and local communities together around themes of broad interest.

On his watch, the College has adopted a new undergraduate curriculum, expanded first-year advising seminars to all entering students, nearly tripled funding for Summer Experience Grants, and enhanced career development support. The College is also working closely with the University’s senior leadership to establish the new Cornell School of Public Policy and the “super-departments” of Sociology and Psychology and to expand Economics.

Ray’s own research focuses on the diversity, formation and evolution of planetary systems. In particular, his group uses the largest telescopes on the ground and in space to do ‘remote sensing’ of planets around other stars (“exoplanets”), with a view to investigating prospects for life in the universe.  Ray is the co-author of more than 130 papers in scientific journals and the co-editor of two volumes of conference proceedings.

Ray is also a writer whose articles have appeared in publications including The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and Scientific American. His popular science book Strange New Worlds was the basis for “The Planet Hunters” television documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; his book Neutrino Hunters won the Canadian Science Writers Association’s Book Award. His latest, a picture book for children titled Child of the Universe published by Penguin Random House in March 2020, has received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.

Ray’s research, writing and outreach have led to numerous accolades, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard, Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada, and Nicholson Medal from the American Physical Society. 

Before moving to Cornell, he served as the Dean of Science at York University, following 10 years on the faculty at the University of Toronto. Prior to that, he held a faculty position at the University of Michigan and a Miller Research Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a Ph.D. degree in astronomy from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy and physics from Yale University.

An avid traveler, he has visited more than 55 countries and all seven continents. His travels, for research and writing, have included numerous visits to mountaintop observatories in Chile and Hawaii, a meteorite collecting expedition in Antarctica, a parabolic flight with the European Space Agency, a solar eclipse chase in western Mongolia and a descent into a South African mine with geobiologists.

In the news