Regents' Professor is leading scholar of law, policy and science

February 15, 2012

Editor's Note: This professor profile is part of a series that looks at the achievements of seven outstanding faculty members who were named ASU Regents' Professors in 2011.

Gary Marchant always loved science. As a boy growing up in Squamish, British Columbia, chemistry sets topped his Christmas lists, and he spent hours tinkering with test tubes and colored liquids in a homegrown laboratory in his parents’ basement. Gary Marchant Download Full Image

But Marchant’s passion for a specific type of science was sparked by his mother, Elsie Anderson, who, cruelly, or so her then 10-year-old son thought, kept him home from football practice one afternoon to watch a documentary about genetics. Her decision, however unpopular, eventually helped him make his mark on the world.

“I was totally peeved, grumping around for the first half hour,” recalls Marchant, a professor at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “By the end of the show, I had decided I wanted to be a geneticist.”

Some 15 years later, Marchant earned his doctorate in genetics from the University of British Columbia, then obtained a joint Master of Public Policy and Juris Doctor from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School. He has since amassed numerous accolades for his knowledge, teaching, research and scholarship in the field of law and emerging technologies – the most recent accolade being named a Regents’ Professor at ASU.

“Professor Marchant is the first and remains the leading scholar on issues of law and policy and their intersection with science and technological innovations,” says Elizabeth D. Capaldi, provost and executive vice president of ASU. “His research into the impact of genetics, nanotechnology, neuroscience, biotechnology and other emerging technologies on society has helped advance the goals of the College of Law, specifically, and the university, more broadly.”

Marchant was praised by interim dean Douglas Sylvester, a longtime colleague and Center Faculty Fellow, who has worked with him over the years on nanotechnology projects.

“Gary is a fantastic scholar, teacher and colleague,” Sylvester says. “He is, simply put, the quintessential Regents’ Professor. I could not be happier for Gary on getting this well-deserved recognition.”

Marchant’s zest for teaching, thirst for learning and dedication to ASU is felt across the university. He is a professor in the ASU School of Life Sciences, a Senior Sustainability Scientist in the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability, and the ASU Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics.  

“He’s one of the leading Lincoln professors,” says Peter French, director of ASU’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. “Gary is the exemplar of a Regents’ Professor. He meets all the criteria, and I think it is not only well deserved, but in the best sense of the term, he’s really earned it.”

At Harvard Law, Marchant was editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology and the Harvard Environmental Law Review, and he graduated at the top of his class.

He practiced primarily environmental law at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., for nine years, and taught at nearby universities, developing the first Law, Science and Technology course at George Mason University School of Law.

In 1999, Marchant accepted a professorship at the ASU College of Law and became executive director of the Center for Law, Science and Technology two years later. A popular professor, he teaches courses in law; environmental law; science and technology; nanotechnology law and policy; biotechnology, law and policy; genetics and law; and law and research ethics.

In the past five years, Marchant has authored or co-authored 16 book chapters, five books and three dozen articles; has organized 12 major conferences and workshops; and delivered more than 140 presentations worldwide on topics ranging from the murder gene, adolescent brain scanning and robotic insects, to nanotechnology oversight, personalized medicine and human gene patents.

When he’s not on the road, in the classroom, testifying before Congress, or contributing as a member of a National Academy of Sciences’ National Research committee, Marchant is in his law school office. Books are wedged onto his bookshelves, newspapers are crammed into a cranny under his computer, and 4-foot-tall stacks of papers are everywhere that photographs of and drawings by his two children aren’t.

“I love my work,” Marchant says. “The greatest thing about academia is the freedom. When a new technology raises a new policy issue, I have to merge right into that and not worry that I have to do something else for a client.

“And there’s so much going on. I have had a couple colleagues wonder what their next paper is going to be, but I already have my next 50 laid out.”


Most recent book
"The Growing Gap Between Emerging Technologies and Legal-Ethical Oversight: The Pacing Problem"

Most recent publications
“Genetic Susceptibilities: The Future Driver of Ambient Air Quality Standards?”
“Physician Liability: The Next Big Thing for Personalized Medicine?”
“International Governance of Autonomous Military Robots”

2011 Professor of the Year, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
2009 Outstanding Faculty Award, Arizona State University Alumni Association
2007 Professor of the Year, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
2003 Law Professor of the Year, Maricopa County Bar Association

1990 Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, Harvard Law School (Class rank 1/540)
1990 Master of Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
1986 Ph.D. in Genetics, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia
1980 B.Sc., University of British Columbia

Other academic appointments
• Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
• Faculty Director, Center for Law, Science & Innovation, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
• Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law & Ethics, Arizona State University
• Professor of Life Sciences, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University
• Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability

• Member, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Assessment of Solid State Lighting
• Principal Investigator, “Governing Nanotechnology Risks and Benefits in the Transition to Regulation: Innovative Public and Private Approaches,” ELSI Grant from Department of Energy Genomes to Life Program
• Principal Investigator, “Adapting Law to Rapid Technological Change,” National Science Foundation
• Principal Investigator, “Mechanisms for Transnational Coordination and Harmonization of Nanotechnology Governance,” ELSI Grant from Department of Energy Genomes to Life Program
• Principal Investigator, “Genetic Susceptibility and Environmental Regulation,” R01 Grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Janie Magruder
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Lisa Robbins

Editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Regents' Professor weaves tales of land, culture and community

February 15, 2012

Editor's Note: This professor profile is part of a series that looks at the achievements of seven outstanding faculty members who were named ASU Regents' Professors in 2011.

It’s a small class, and the students sit in a circle, with Simon J. Ortiz at the head. Ortiz is a striking figure, with his dark skin, turquoise and red-coral earrings, and longish graying hair. Simon Ortiz Download Full Image

He begins his informal lecture to the students taking his class, “Indigenous Rhetoric: Creative Struggle Concerning Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community.” He speaks first of the urban American Indian community of 100,000 or so in the Phoenix metro area; the surrounding tribes, such as Ak-Chin and Gila River; and the difficulties native youths face upon returning to the reservations. “Young people want to go home, but there are no jobs,” he says.

As Ortiz speaks, what seems at first like random thoughts tacked together begins to emerge as a story: a story the students in this classroom will help write during the semester. It will be their story, since all of the students are of the Indigenous peoples of Arizona – the story of how they relate to both the city-dwelling native peoples, and to the ones at home on their tribal lands.

The students perhaps don’t realize what a privilege they have, sitting in a small class with Ortiz, who has just been named a Regents’ Professor. But they become aware when a visitor tells them the news.

That Ortiz weaves tales of land, culture and community in his class is no surprise. Ortiz is a renowned poet, scriptwriter, storyteller, author and essayist in the ASU Department of English.

He was among the first to be published in the Native American literary renaissance of the 1960s, along with such icons as Leslie Marmon Silko, N. Scott Momaday, Joy Harjo, Laura Tohe and Lawrence Evers.

His was a circuitous path to the university classroom. He was born in the early 1940s at the Indian Hospital in Albuquerque and raised on the Acoma Pueblo reservation in New Mexico. Following high school he worked in the uranium mines and processing plants of the Grants Ambrosia Lake area.

After working a year at the mines, he quit and went to college to study chemistry – although he was also interested in writing at the time. But college, at the time, was not a good fit, so he enlisted in the Army “to see new places and meet people.”

After the Army, Ortiz returned to college and began writing again, having his first poems and stories published in small literary journals. But again, college didn’t seem to work out, so Ortiz dropped out again and began publishing small newspapers.

In the 1970s, Ortiz began a new battle, one familiar to his family: alcoholism.

“I knew the harm as a child, he said. “I grew up in a dysfunctional family and felt belittled in school. Alcohol subdues your feelings. And, my father was an alcoholic.” Ortiz is celebrating his 18th year of sobriety – “a major accomplishment,” he says.

That Ortiz has written so many books – in English – is amazing, considering his heritage as a native speaker and his distrust of the English language.

Ortiz said, in “A Circle of Nations: Voices and Visions of American Indians,” that he “wasn’t really sure that writing stories and poems was the best way to express myself as an Indian. I felt that expressing myself in the ‘Mericano’ language –English – was a modern-day trait that worked against me as an Indian, against all of us as Indians. Like most Indians of that time, I didn’t trust the Mericano language, because it had been used so often to hurt us.

“English was the language of the dominant culture, of government, of treaties, of Indian schools where children were taught that there was something wrong with being Indian. Although I couldn’t articulate it then, I had begun to realize that only when we had gained a stronger sense of our Indian selves would we be able to use English to express ourselves for who we are.

“By comparison, the language of my childhood, the ancestral language of the Acoma Pueblo People – Aaquumeh hano – is imbued with a sacred and mythic power that embraces everything of spiritual and human importance. Our culture, our identity, is conveyed by language, by the oral tradition. It carried the knowledge of creation and existence. It is the way we perceive and express the meaning of our lives, the way we know ourselves as a strong and enduring people. And for this reason, it is sacred.”

His nomination for the title of Regents’ Professor; his noted 24 books, including “Going for the Rain” and “From Sand Creek;” his work with public school curriculum design; his organization of the Simon Ortiz-Labriola Center Indigenous Speaker Series; his mentorship of students; and his community participation all have had “a significant positive impact on native and non-native communities.”

The students in “Indigenous Rhetoric: Creative Struggle Concerning Indigenous Land, Culture and Community” will doubtless feel that impact as they write their own stories, and the stories of those Indigenous peoples who surround them.