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Marchant joins ranks of ASU’s most distinguished scholars
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.
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,” recalled Marchant, a professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. “By the end of the show, I had decided I wanted to be a geneticist. It really caught me.”
And so it did as, some 15 years later, Marchant earned his Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of British Columbia, then added the frosting to the cake by obtaining 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 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. His research into the impact of genetics, nanotechnology, neuroscience, biotechnology and other emerging technologies on society has helped advance the goals of the Sandra Day O'Connor College, specifically, and the university, more broadly,” said ASU Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth D. Capaldi. “He also is a phenomenal teacher, and we are fortunate to have him at ASU.”
Marchant, Faculty Director of the Center for Law, Science & Innovation at the College of Law, will join six other new Regents’ Professors at a ceremony hosted by ASU President Michael M. Crow on Feb. 18.
The Regents’ Professor is the top faculty award at the university, and Marchant is the fourth ASU law professor to be so recognized. David Kaye was named Regents’ Professor of Law in 1990, Jeffrie Murphy was named Regents’ Professor of Law, Philosophy & Religious Studies in 1994, and Michael Saks was named Regents’ Professor of Law and Psychology in 2009. Kaye, now at Penn State, The Dickinson School of Law, was affiliated with the Center for Law, Science & Innovation, as is Saks.
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 said. “He is, simply put, the quintessential Regents’ Professor. I could not be happier for Gary on getting this well-deserved recognition.”
In ASU’s announcement of the Regents’ award, Marchant was described as a world leader on one of the most important topics of our time: how to realize the benefits of the future while avoiding its dangers.
“Marchant is perhaps the most prolific scholar in the world on these topics (law, science and emerging technologies) and has two National Academy books among his publications,” the announcement stated. “In addition to his sustained research productivity and leadership in the university and community, he supervises at least 50 thesis papers per year, devoting hundreds of hours to mentoring students and working with them on scholarly projects.”
His zest for teaching, thirst for learning and dedication to ASU is felt across the university. Marchant 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,” said Peter French, Director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at ASU, with which Marchant became affiliated in 2005. “His joining the Lincoln Center was an important step in our finding our real focus – ethics and emerging technologies. It’s one of our main objectives, and is due in large measure to Gary’s contributions and the fact that he works so well with the other Lincoln professors.”
Marchant is the Lincoln Center’s lead expert on issues relating to law, ethics and emerging technologies. One of his newest projects there is the Judicial Clearinghouse on Emerging Technologies, a speakers’ bureau of Center faculty experts who will traverse the country to teach judges to better understand the implications of technology in their courtrooms. Already, Marchant has addressed thousands of judges, from California to Florida, who are struggling to keep up with rapid developments in forensic science, neuroscience and genetics, among others.
“These are areas where judges wouldn’t normally, as a process of their own education, pick up this information, yet many are faced with making legal decisions about them,” said French, noting the project is expected to launch in 2012 under Marchant’s supervision. “Our goal is for these decisions to be better made and more supported, which is in everyone’s interest, plaintiffs and defendants.”
About the Regents’ award, French said, “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. We feel very proud to have a Regents’ Professor in the Lincoln Center.”
Among the many adjectives that come to mind when describing Marchant – gifted, genius, go-to guy – his mother is most proud that he is also a genuinely nice person.
“He was always interested in what was going on, always seemed to know the right thing to be doing, always mature in his ways,” said Anderson, a retired teacher who lives in Campbell River, British Columbia.
He had a remarkable memory and was an off-the-charts reader, and yet, the compliment that stands out most in Anderson’s mind, from one of her son’s principals, has nothing to do with his smarts. “His principal told me what a good kid he was, that he didn’t get all egotistical because of his talents, and that he would never brag about himself,” she said.
After high school, Marchant earned a biology degree from the University of British Columbia in 1980. Two years later, while working on his Ph.D., he wrote the first of what now approaches 100 academic papers. In his research for “Genetic Disease and the Right to Procreate,” he surveyed 100 citizens at a mall and 100 geneticists on whether prospective parents with very high risks of producing children with serious genetic diseases should undergo mandatory sterilization or be discouraged from reproducing by losing insurance coverage. The geneticists were overwhelmingly against mandatory sterilization, far more so than the general public.
It was a turning point for Marchant, who decided to study the social issues of science policy as a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. One summer, he worked at a law firm on environmental and regulatory cases, among others, and that sparked an interest in law school.
He enrolled in Harvard Law, but it had no law and science program, so Marchant spent most of his time across the Charles River at Boston University School of Law with Michael Baram, a law professor and founder of the school’s Center for Law and Technology. Baram hired Marchant as his research assistant on a national project to investigate the potential legal issues raised by biotechnology, then a brand new field.
“We hit it off,” said Baram, now an Emeritus Professor at BU Law. “Not only did Gary have a degree in molecular biology, he also had an exquisite instinct for regulatory and legal issues. He did several outstanding papers for me, and throughout, he was an extraordinary guy. I was really impressed with his motivation and genuine interest and intellectual capabilities.”
Baram said he has followed Marchant’s progress, from his days at Harvard Law, where edited the
Harvard Journal of Law & Technology
Harvard Environmental Law Review
, and graduated at the top of his class in 1990, to his subsequent career as an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C. Baram also is aware of the work Marchant has done at ASU.
“I’ve spent some 50 years of my life in academia and public and private practice, and I consider Gary to be the most capable and professional among the many fine jurists, lawyers and law faculty I have worked with,” said Baram, a former MIT professor and partner in the firm of Bracken and Baram. “He’s truly outstanding, and I want to congratulate Gary and also congratulate ASU and the law school for honoring him.”
Following his graduation from law school, Marchant practiced primarily environmental law at Kirkland & Ellis for nine years and was named partner just five years into his practice. He represented clients before the U.S. Supreme Court, various Courts of Appeal, federal and state courts and at proceedings before the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Food & Drug Administration and other federal agencies. No two cases were the same, and Marchant enjoyed the variety and intellectual challenge.
“My intent was to do a couple years in practice and then go to academia, but I was having so much fun,” he said.
To feed his appetite for teaching, Marchant taught at nearby universities and developed the first Law, Science and Technology course at George Mason University School of Law. In 1999, Marchant left his practice and brought his family to the desert, accepting a professorship at the ASU College of Law.
“ASU excited me right off the bat,” said Marchant, who had multiple teaching offers. “At every other place, I would have been the one law and science person, but ASU had several – David Kaye, Dan Strouse, Owen Jones, Dennis Karjala – and I liked them all.”
Two years after his arrival, Marchant became Executive Director of the Center for Law, Science and Technology, which was renamed in 2009. The Center had been well tended by Strouse, a close friend of Marchant who died of cancer in 2007. Kaye, the Center’s first director, from 1985-1988, joked that Marchant has accomplished so much that, “I don’t think he sleeps.
“He has a breadth of scientific and legal knowledge that is truly encyclopedic,” said Kaye, Distinguished Professor of Law and Weiss Family Faculty Scholar at the Penn State’s law school. “He has the uncanny ability to see immediately what is important and what is peripheral. And he is incredibly approachable and utterly unpretentious.”
Marchant is a popular professor at the College of Law (students voted him the Professor of the Year in 2007 and 2011), where he teaches Environmental Law, Law, Science and Technology, Nanotechnology Law & Policy, Biotechnology: Law, Science & Policy, Genetics and the Law, and Research Ethics and the Law. He leads four of the Center’s six research clusters, which helps students gain experience and build their resumés, including one on Alzheimer’s and the Law. His co-leader is the Center’s Research Director, Rachel Lindor, a student in the M.D./J.D. partnership between Mayo Medical School and the College of Law.
Lindor, who graduated from law school in May 2011, took Marchant’s courses in genetics and law, science and technology, did research for him, helped organize conferences and has written articles with him.
“Taking his courses was easily the highlight of my law school career,” she said. “And I think it had a lot more to do with him than the classes themselves. He has knowledge in a really wide number of subjects, but he’s incredibly deep in all of them, too, which is really rare.”
As a mentor, Marchant has helped Lindor hone her plans for the future, acting as a sounding board for her when trying to decide whether she should teach law, practice medicine or do policy work.
“He spent way more time than he has to help me as I changed my mind back and forth about what I wanted to do, being patient with me and helping me think about how I’m going to get there,” Lindor said. “I always know that he will put what’s best for me above what help I can be to him.”
As a result of his encouragement in her abilities and the opportunities he has helped provide to her, Lindor said she is confident and excited about the contributions she can make to health care policy reforms in the United States.
“As a law student and a medical student, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, and to have someone like him encouraging me was very meaningful,” she said.
Diana Bowman felt that same encouragement and support from Marchant when she first met him while working on her Ph.D. in nanotechnology regulation, a field in which Marchant is a rock star.
“I knew absolutely nothing, and yet he was completely approachable, accessible and willing to be collaborative, and there was no sense of ‘This is my turf and how dare you step onto it,’” said Bowman, now an Assistant Professor in the Risk Science Center and the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “He is such a legend, yet he always treated me as a peer.”
As Marchant tends to do, he went a step further and contributed, along with Sylvester and law professor Ken Abbott, a chapter to a book Bowman co-edited,
International Handbook on Regulating
. It is among the 16 book chapters he has authored or co-authored in the past five years alone, in addition to five books and nearly three dozen articles that he has had published in academic journals and other publications.
Since 2007, Marchant has organized 12 major conferences and workshops at the law school, and delivered more than 140 presentations around the world on topics ranging from the murder gene, adolescent brain scanning and robotic insects, to nanotechnology oversight, personalized medicine and human gene patents.
He is particularly keen on the Lincoln project on judicial education, because judges are mostly unfamiliar with the increasing amount of evidence gathered from emerging technologies which are coming through their courtrooms.
“The emerging technologies that I’m interested in are coming so quickly that legislators and regulators aren’t able to keep up, and the result is that the judges are being asked to make decisions about issues in which they haven’t received scientific training,” he said. “They are the decisionmakers of last resort, and therefore need to get up to speed on these technologies.”
When he’s not on the road or in the classroom, testifying before Congress or contributing as a member of a National Academy of Sciences’ National Research committee, Marchant can be found in his office at the law school. Books are wedged into every space on his bookshelves, newspapers are crammed into the cranny under his computer where his legs should go, and 4-foot-tall stacks of papers are, well, everywhere that photographs of and drawings by his two children aren’t.
The stacks are research and other material about which Marchant plans to someday write articles, chapters or books. He claims that, if one page was disturbed or went missing, he would immediately know. It seems dangerous to test that claim.
“I love my work,” he said. “The greatest thing about academia is the freedom, when a new technology raises a new policy issue, that 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.”
The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, renamed for the retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 2006, is pursuing a bold and transformative model for public legal education and is dedicated to making the law school a valuable resource for addressing major regional, national and international problems of law and public policy. The College is the leading law school in the Phoenix area, and it boasts an Indian Legal Program that is arguably the best in the nation. The College also houses three Centers, the Center for Law, Science & Innovation, the oldest, largest and by far the most comprehensive law and science center in the country; the Center for Law and Global Affairs, which supports and inspires research, education and practice in new forms of transnational public-private governance, and the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice, which promotes the well-being and protects the human rights of children and families through multidisciplinary initiatives in education, advocacy and scholarship. Beyond the traditional J.D., the College offers several concurrent degrees, including a J.D./M.D. program with the Mayo Medical School, a J.D./M.B.A. with the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, a J.D./Ph.D. in Law and Psychology with the ASU Department of Psychology, and a J.D./Ph.D. in Justice Studies with the ASU School of Social Transformation’s Justice and Social Inquiry Program. It also offers graduate degrees in Biotechnology and Genomics, in Tribal Policy, Law and Government and in Global Legal Studies, as well as a Customized LL.M. program. A Master of Legal Studies program gives non-lawyers an opportunity to develop needed legal skills to help students advance in their professional careers. For more information, visit law.asu.edu.