29 faculty members star at chancellor-provost reception
July 1, 2011
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter this week threw what the provost described as an "A-list Hollywood" celebration, with 29 faculty members as the stars.
The occasion was the Early Career Awards Reception held the evening of June 27 in the interior courtyard of the Chancellor’s Residence.
The chancellor and provost invited the recipients of National Science Foundation and presidential early career awards; Sloan, Mellon-American Council of Learned Societies, Marie Curie and Hellman fellowships; and Grant Foundation, Landgraf and Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards.
“In case you haven’t noticed, there is no shortage today of faculty work that is highly promising, innovative and exciting,” Katehi said in her prepared remarks. “In fact, the ability to produce such work is usually an explicit requirement of employment at a major research university such as ours. No one gets in the door without having shown strong evidence of this potential.”
Among the reception's honored guests, all but one holds the rank of assistant professor. This makes their achievements all the more impressive, Katehi said, given that they had come early in the faculty members’ careers.
“The awards we are celebrating are not just a sign of what these individuals have accomplished — with talent, determination, creativity and risk-taking — but also the strong promise of great accomplishments in years to come.”
She cited first-rate faculty research and its application around the globe as most responsible for UC Davis’ rapidly growing influence and prestige.
“Excellent faculty are the most basic and essential architectural elements of our university’s greatness,” she said. “They are the single most important determinant of our ability to fulfill our historic mission of excellence in teaching, research public service.
“These faculty deserve primary credit for the exceptional educational experience of our undergraduates and graduate students, and for the high academic standards and fertile intellectual climate of our university.”
Katehi acknowledged the individuality of the honors given to the faculty members, in their individual fields of study. But because no field exists as an end in and of itself, she said, the awards taken together comprise an important milestone “in a very great enterprise, in fact the one enterprise that matters most: improving lives and making our world a better place.”
All disciplines, the chancellor said, in their different ways, are equal partners in this enterprise.
Hexter, a professor in the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, said he could not agree more.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that, at this moment in history, our world is urgently in need of contributions not only from science, technology, mathematics and business, but also in the arts, humanities, social sciences, law and the other fields, as well,” the provost said.
Hexter echoed the chancellor in emphasizing the connection between “our faculty’s cutting-edge research and our ultimate institutional goal: improving lives and improving our world.”
“It’s because so much is at stake in what our faculty accomplish that, as provost, I see faculty issues as one of my top priorities.” He said. “These include, among other things, ensuring that we hire and retain the most-promising distinguished individuals; and ensuring that, while here, they have what they need to excel and thrive.”
The honorees and their awards:
NSF CAREER AWARDS
The National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards support junior faculty who exemplify teacher-scholars through their research, teaching and integration of the two.
Louise Berben, assistant professor of chemistry, is researching metal catalysts that can turn carbon dioxide into organic molecules — such as formate, formaldehyde and methanol — that can be used as fuels. The ultimate aim is to create a solar-powered catalytic cell that can convert carbon dioxide to liquid fuel.
Ricardo Hauch Ribeiro de Castro, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, studies nanoparticles, sintering (the formation of ceramics from powders) and, by using very sensitive measurements of heat, looks at the relationships between crystal surface area and structure. His work is relevant to understanding new kinds of materials with novel properties.
Todd Green, assistant professor of computer science, is developing computer software called “Scrapple” to help businesses make better use of their databases. Scrapple will recycle database search queries to generate answers to new queries, so businesses can get answers more quickly and efficiently.
Tina Jeoh, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering, is using atomic force microscopy to analyze enzymes that break down cellulose in the production of biofuels. Her work could be used to predict how these reactions will work in a commercial-scale production plant.
William Ristenpart, assistant professor of food science and technology and of chemical engineering and materials science, uses high-speed video and electrochemical measurements to answer fundamental questions about electrically charged droplets in liquids. His work could have applications in a number of fields including petroleum and food-oil processing, meteorology and the manufacture of microchips.
Dan Romik, assistant professor of mathematics, studies combinatorial probability, a field of pure mathematics with deep connections to fundamental physics. Combinatorics deals with ways of counting certain arrangements of numbers, and Romik is interested in systems that look random at a microscopic level but give rise to consistent patterns at a larger scale. For example, individual atoms in a gas behave randomly, but a bulk gas has consistent physical properties.
Klaus van Benthem, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, uses microscopy to study defects in nanoparticles at an atomic scale and compare these defects to the properties of the bulk material. Ultimately, he aims to study the atomic structure of materials in their working environment.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards 118 Sloan Research Fellowships yearly to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise.
Arne Ekstrom, assistant professor of psychology, Center for Neuroscience, is using live monitoring of the brainwaves to discover how the brain encodes information about locations, directions and navigation.
PRESIDENTIAL EARLY CAREER AWARDS IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING
The highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent careers, conferred annually at the White House. Recipients are nominated by federal agencies that fund their work.
Ilke Arslan, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, was nominated for the award by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories for her work studying nanomaterials for energy and hydrogen storage; for advancing the technologies necessary to characterize these materials; and for excellence in outreach to and mentoring the next generation of American scientists and engineers.
Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, assistant professor of plant sciences, was nominated for the award by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a research project that uses a novel approach, based on population genetics, to identify genes that would be useful in improving varieties of maize.
WILLIAM T. GRANT FOUNDATION SCHOLAR
The William T. Grant Foundation funds four to six promising, ambitious early-career researchers in the social and behavioral sciences a year.
Amanda Guyer, assistant professor, Department of Human and Community Development and Center for Mind and Brain, studies the psychology of adolescents. She is exploring the effects of parent and peer relationships and neurobiology on substance abuse among Mexican American youth.
MELLON/ACLS RECENT DOCTORAL RECIPIENT FELLOWSHIP
The Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellowship is the second stage of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/ACLS Early Career Fellowship Program, which provides support for young scholars. It provides support for a year following the completion of the doctorate for scholars to advance their research.
Moulie Vidas, assistant professor of religious studies, is working on authorship, patterns of literary production and religion in late antiquity. With support from the Mellon/ACLS Fellowship, he is currently based at Columbia University in New York.
MARIE CURIE FELLOWSHIP (EUROPEAN UNION)
Marie Curie Fellowships provide European placements for pre- and postdoctoral researchers, usually up to the age of 35, and for experienced researchers.
Amber Boydstun, assistant professor of political science, is using the Marie Curie Fellowship to work at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Her research centers on how attention gets allocated across policy issues to define an agenda, how attention to a given issue gets allocated across different “frames” to define a policy debate, and what influence media attention and especially media framing have on the rest of the political system.
CHRISTINE AND HELEN LANDGRAF AWARD
The Christine and Helen S. Landgraf Memorial Research Award was founded in 1973 in honor of Christine Landgraf, who died in 1971 of Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 27. The award is given annually to an outstanding young faculty member engaged in cancer research at UC Davis.
Elisa Tong, assistant professor of general medicine, was honored with the Landgraf award for her revolutionary work with tobacco control policy and cessation issues. She used tobacco industry documents to expose a program aimed at destabilizing the scientific findings linking smoking to cancer, research that was ultimately used by the World Health Organization. Her current research explores how to translate concern about secondhand smoke into viable options for cessation.
UC DAVIS HELLMAN SCHOLARS
The San Francisco-based Hellman Family Foundation has funded this fellowship program annually since 2008 to assist newer faculty members who have promising research plans but lack the stable funding of more established faculty. UC Davis administers the awards.
Heidi Ballard, assistant professor in the School of Education, is studying “Communities of Practice in Contested Fields: Examining Social Learning, Collaborative Research and Action Among Rice Growers and Migratory Bird Conservationists in California.”
Joy Geng, assistant professor, Department of Psychology and Center for Mind and Brain, focuses on how goal-directed information, sensory information and memory are integrated to determine what we perceive.
Aldrin Gomes, assistant professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, is studying whether the course of heart disease can be predicted based on a patient’s genes.
James Housefield, assistant professor in the Design Program, is a historian of design interested in the lessons of historic art and design for modern designers. He is working on a book about the French surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp.
Delmar Larsen, assistant professor of chemistry, is collaborating with colleagues in the departments of chemistry, physics, math and statistics on new types of high-efficiency solar cells.
Alison Ledgerwood, assistant professor of psychology, is interested in why, when, and how our attitudes shift in response to our social context. She also studies the psychological process behind conflicts between groups.
Lorena Navarro, assistant professor of microbiology in the College of Biological Sciences, has identified the target that allows the bacterium that causes bubonic plague to be so virulent. She is now using these bacterial virulence proteins to study signaling in human cells.
Adrienne Nishina, assistant professor of human and community development, studies adolescent mental, social and emotional health. In her Hellmann project, she is investigating the effects of ethnic diversity in high school on youth development.
Mika Pelo is an assistant professor of music, composer and co-director of the UC Davis Empyrean Ensemble, which is dedicated to contemporary music. Pelo is working on a CD: Music for Strings.
Daniel Stolzenberg, assistant professor of history, specializes in the history of science and intellectual and cultural history, especially in Europe in the 17th century. He is writing a book about a Jesuit priest’s quixotic attempts to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Youngsuk Suh, assistant professor of art, is a photographer whose current projects include The Pale Landscape: Wildfires of the Western United States.
Becca Thomases, assistant professor of mathematics, uses mathematical models to understand fluid flows.
Dong Yu, assistant professor of physics, is interested in the physics of materials made of very small crystals, such as nanowires and nanocrystal quantum dots, and their applications in optoelectronic devices including solar cells.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation are committing $75 million over five years to support 15 of the nation’s most innovative plant scientists. HHMI and GBMF formed the collaboration because of concern that basic plant science research has long been underfunded in the United States.
Simon Chan, assistant professor of plant biology, College of Biological Sciences, is researching new techniques in plant breeding. His laboratory has discovered ways to breed plants with genes from only one parent, and to clone plants as seeds. Chan now plans to expand this work from the laboratory plant Arabidopsis to crop plants such as tomatoes and Chinese cabbage.
Jorge Dubcovsky, professor of plant sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is developing new genetic resources to improve wheat, one of the most widely grown cereal crops on the planet. His laboratory has identified and cloned genes involved in disease resistance, protein content, and flowering and frost tolerance, helping breeders develop high-yield varieties that are more nutritious and resistant to disease.
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