Michael Axtell, professor of biology, and Marcos Rigol, professor of physics, have been selected as recipients of the 2019 Faculty Scholar Medals for Outstanding Achievement. Axtell was awarded the Faculty Scholar Medal in the Life Sciences. His research focuses on the identification and functional characterization of small regulatory RNAs in plants as well as how they evolve. Rigol was awarded the Faculty Scholar Medal in the Physical Sciences. He is a theoretical physicist whose research centers on the understanding of the dynamic behavior of quantum many-body systems, or properties of microscopic systems made of a large number of particles interacting with each other through the laws of quantum mechanics.
Andrew Baxter, associate teaching professor of mathematics, and Jacqueline Bortiatynski, associate teaching professor of chemistry, have been selected as recipients of the 2019 Penn State George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. Baxter aims to create a classroom environment where students play a key role in the learning process. He is director of the Pennsylvania Math Initiative, where he works with elementary school teachers; teaches courses for secondary education majors and undergraduate learning assistants; and hosts a teaching seminar in the math department. Bortiatynski said that coaching students to become self-directed learners is the central focus of her teaching. She is director of the Center for Excellence in Science Education, whose mission is to provide faculty and students with a collaborative educational network that promotes excellence in science teaching and learning. Bortiatynski co-developed the college’s Learning Assistant Program, which has trained more than 750 undergraduates as learning facilitators and trained more than two dozen of the college’s faculty members.
Squire Booker, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Holder of the Eberly Distinguished Chair in Science, and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Booker’s main research interests include deciphering the molecular details by which enzymes—a special class of proteins—catalyze reactions in the cell. He then uses the insight gained to manipulate these reactions for various objectives, ranging from the production of biofuels to the development of antibacterial agents.
Cui-Zu Chang, assistant professor of physics, has been honored with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The award is the most prestigious award given by the U.S. National Science Foundation in support of junior faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent teaching, and the integration of education and research. The award will support Chang’s research investigating the existence of the Majorana fermion, a theoretical elementary particle that could be utilized in the development of the fault-tolerant quantum computer.
John Lesieutre, assistant professor of mathematics, has been honored with an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, a prestigious and competitive award given to promising young researchers in the early stages of their careers in recognition of their research accomplishments. Lesieutre studies algebraic geometry and algebraic dynamics, focusing on improving mathematical understanding of systems of polynomial equations.
Ayusman Sen, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, has been awarded a Humboldt Research Award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Germany. The award recognizes a researcher whose achievements have had a significant impact on their field of study and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future. Sen’s research focuses on developing new ways to engineer dynamic materials at the molecular level that are capable of transforming themselves, as well as their equally dynamic environments.
Katriona Shea, professor of biology and Alumni Professor in the Biological Sciences, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science. She was selected for “distinguished work developing and applying ecological theory to improve management of real-world problems.”
Shea also received Penn State’s 2019 Howard B. Palmer Faculty Mentoring Award, which honors outstanding achievement by a faculty member who effectively guides junior faculty. She chairs the New Faculty Mentoring committee for the biology department and revitalized the college’s Female Faculty Mentoring and Networking group.
David Toews, assistant professor of biology, has been selected as the 2019 recipient of the Ned K. Johnson Early Investigator Award by the American Ornithological Society, an international society devoted to advancing the scientific understanding of birds. The award recognizes outstanding and promising work by an ornithologist early in his or her career who shows distinct promise for future leadership in the field. In his research, Toews uses techniques from evolutionary biology, genomics, molecular ecology, biogeography, and animal behavior to understand how new species of birds evolve.
Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics and member of the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, has been named the recipient of the 2019 Drake Award by the SETI Institute. Wright recently established a graduate-level SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) course—one of only two in the United States—and is working to establish the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence (PSETI) Center, a global hub for SETI research and education. In addition to his SETI work, Wright studies stars, their atmospheres, their magnetic activity, and their planets.
Lauren Zarzar, assistant professor of chemistry, has been awarded an Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by the U.S. Army, which provides a five-year, $1 million grant that will support her research related to reconfigurable fluids. Zazar is also the recipient of the 2019 Unilever Award from the Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry of the American Chemical Society, which recognizes and encourages fundamental work in colloid and surfactant science by researchers in the early stages of their careers. Zarzar’s research focuses on how complex fluids—such as droplets of two or more encapsulated oils—can be manipulated.