Distinguished Research Professors
The title of Distinguished Research Professor recognizes senior faculty members who are internationally recognized for their innovative body of work and its transformational impact on the field. The Professorship is awarded to individuals working at the very top of their discipline, who are recognized as preeminent leaders in their fields of study.
•Research by Amy Rosemond, professor in the Odum School of Ecology, has improved ecological understanding of how freshwater ecosystems function while identifying specific ways for policymakers to improve stream health. She studies aquatic food webs and their biogeochemical dynamics, particularly in response to stressors, and has expanded the understanding of excess nutrient enrichment in real-world streams with experiments in the field.
•The research of Lance Wells, professor in the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, provides a foundation for understanding the biological roles that O-glycan modifications of proteins play to increase functional diversity. Defects in the synthesis of O-glycans are responsible for a host of human diseases, including muscular dystrophies and intellectual disabilities. Wells seeks to gain an understanding of the role of O-glycans in these conditions.
•Esther van der Knaap, professor in the Department of Horticulture and Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, has made advances in deciphering the molecular mechanisms affecting the shape and size of agricultural produce. Her studies have helped reveal the genetic changes that drive agricultural advances. Her research findings provide information to breeders, contributing to the industry’s $2 billion impact on the U.S. economy.
•Victor Thompson, professor in the Department of Anthropology, explores how Native American communities managed coastal resources over thousands of years. Thompson and his colleagues analyze and interpret coastal settlements while building relations with descendant communities. He has been investigating how Native Americans harvested oysters sustainably for 5,000 years, which could help inform resource management in today’s coastal areas.
•Lillian Eby, professor in the Department of Psychology, studies employee health and well-being, addressing workers’ relationships inside and outside the workplace. She is known for studies of workplace and other types of mentoring relationships. She contributed research on the dynamics of mentoring relationships and published three large-scale meta-analyses of the literature, integrating hundreds of primary studies.
Creative Research Awards
These awards recognize established investigators whose overall scholarly body of work has had a major impact on the field of study and has established the investigator’s international reputation as a leader in the field.
• James E. (Jeb) Byers, professor in the Odum School of Ecology, is a leader in the disciplines of population, community and marine ecology. He is best known for quantifying and predicting the success of biological invasions. He has performed some of the world’s leading ecological studies on interactions among native organisms and nonnative species, focusing primarily on Georgia’s coast. Byers has built mechanistic mathematical models to analyze impacts of climate change, including expansions of invasive parasites and subtropical species into the state’s marine and freshwater resources. His approach combines experimental work and fieldwork at local, regional and continent-wide scales with computational models, providing critical theoretical insights. His work has contributed to the understanding of host-parasite ecology, ecosystem engineering and impacts of climate change and other environmental influences on species and their habitat expansions.
• Shane Singh, professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, is a leading scholar on the theory and substance of political behavior. He applies innovative methodologies to understand decision-making trends and attitudes among voters in democratic countries. His 2021 book “Beyond Turnout: How Compulsory Voting Shapes Citizens and Political Parties” explores how individuals and political elites change their behaviors in response to the incentives of compulsory voting. The downstream effects of compulsory voting, his research shows, are not unambiguously beneficial to democracy. He continues to branch out to other important research areas, including the causes of voter satisfaction with democracy. Singh is co-founder of the Election Research Group, which designs and employs proprietary web-based experiments to understand electoral behavior, focusing on the consequences of preelection opinion polls for voter decision-making.
• David Starkweather, professor of cello in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music since 1983, has profoundly affected the cello world. He is known as a consummate interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Six Suites for Violoncello Solo.” Most likely written in 1720, the original manuscript in Bach’s hand is lost. The lack of a clear primary source is an interpretive challenge for cellists. Over three decades, Starkweather has researched, edited and published innovative editions of the Bach suites, culminating in a comprehensive
614-page edition that vertically aligns the various sources line by line. The PDF (optimized for iPad) is navigated with a system of hyperlinks. He marks all differences in pitch, rhythm, slurs and articulations, allowing performers to make informed choices when grappling with interpretive decisions. This work combines the best of two worlds: meticulous research and practical performance.
• Y. George Zheng, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences, is an international expert in epigenetics and chemical biology. Epigenetic processes are inheritable changes in gene expression that are not involved in a DNA sequence. These processes play important roles in transforming normal cells into malignant tumor cells. Zheng’s laboratory seeks to understand how abnormalities in chromatin modifications can profoundly affect gene expression in diseases, particularly cancers. His research program has uncovered several epigenetic biomarkers and mechanisms. His group has also developed a number of potent, small molecule compounds with novel chemotype pharmacophores that interact or interfere with oncology-crucial epigenetic enzyme targets. The drug agents that his team has discovered or designed are undergoing a series of biochemical and preclinical tests and could eventually generate a new avenue for controlling cancer
development, progression or metastasis.
Creative Research Medals
The university established the Creative Research Medals in 1980 to recognize a distinct and exceptional research or creative project, performed by a mid-career faculty member, with extraordinary impact and significance to the field of study.
• Douda Bensasson, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology, has pioneered a new understanding that wild plant environments serve as reservoirs for a common fungal pathogen of humans. Her laboratory discovered that old oak trees harbor Candida albicans, which is responsible for potentially lethal yeast bloodstream infections in humans. Scientists thought that this species could only thrive in warm-blooded animals, but she showed that three genetic strains in oaks were more closely related to strains isolated from warm-blooded animals like humans than to other oak strains. The high genetic diversity found in oak strains implies that C. albicans has moved between humans and oaks multiple times and that plants could be the pathogen’s ancestral source. Her work in isolating, characterizing, genome sequencing and analyzing C. albicans has reshaped her field.
• In “Legions of Pigs in the Early Medieval West,” Jamie Kreiner, professor in the Department of History and associate dean for the humanities in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, offers an investigation of the pig’s role in the histories of North Africa and Europe between 500 and 1000 CE. She tracks the relationships between pigs and humans by drawing on textual and visual evidence, bioarchaeology and settlement archaeology and mammal biology. In the process, she highlights how early medieval communities transformed themselves in order to accommodate these tricky animals. Under the influence and inspiration of their pigs, they reconfigured their agricultural regimes, laws, economic policies, social relations and even their cosmologies. In the end, even the pig’s own identity was transformed: At the close of the early Middle Ages, it had become a powerful symbol for Christianity itself.
• Douglas Menke, professor in the Department of Genetics and director of the Developmental Biology Alliance, and his group have produced the first gene-edited reptile, an albino Anolis lizard. With more than 10,000 species of reptiles, scientists have been searching for techniques to explore the biology of reptilian gene function. CRISPR gene-editing technology has been successfully used in non-reptilian vertebrates, and now Menke’s team has developed an effective method to deliver CRISPR gene-editing components into unfertilized lizard eggs while they are still maturing inside the mother. The technology could be customized for use in many reptile species or other egg-laying vertebrates such as poultry. The world’s first gene-edited reptile is a milestone in reptilian genetics, opening the door to discovering uncharted areas of animal biology.
• Gregory Strauss, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, utilized a new assessment technique called “digital phenotyping” to characterize and improve treatment of anhedonia, a symptom of schizophrenia. Scientists believe that anhedonia is an incapacity to experience pleasure. Strauss and his team tested that by having study participants carry smartphones and other devices fitted with sensors that record physiological and other responses to events. They pioneered complex algorithms for analyzing this data to understand how participants reacted when exposed to potentially enjoyable activities and how their pleasure persisted over time. Results show that participants do experience pleasure but have difficulty anticipating pleasure, and their pleasurable experiences degrade rapidly. Pharmaceutical companies are adopting these technologies in psychiatric trials.
• Susanne Ullrich, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is advancing applications of time-resolved ultrafast laser spectroscopy to molecular photochemistry. Ullrich and her team study how light, made of particles called photons, interacts with molecules and how these interactions play critical roles. To explore what happens after a molecule absorbs a photon requires observing molecular processes that occur on time scales of a few quadrillionths of a second in real time. She uses ultrashort bursts of laser light to take a series of “snapshots” of photoinduced molecular behavior. Linking them into “movies,” she can elucidate the underlying mechanisms. She has conducted experiments on the ability of the building blocks of life to retain their integrity under exposure from the sun’s UV light and how the light-absorbing parts of the skin pigment eumelanin protect DNA.
Inventor of the Year Award
Naola Ferguson-Noel studies ways to manage avian mycoplasmosis. Employing surveillance techniques, diagnostics and new vaccines, her work has led to new approaches to combating mycoplasma strains including Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) and Mycoplasma synoviae (MS) in chickens and turkeys. Five invention disclosures from her research have resulted in two issued U.S. patents and an array of foreign patents for protecting poultry domestically and abroad. An MG Live vaccine developed with retired UGA professor Stanley Kleven is licensed worldwide and has earned more than $1.2 million in royalties for UGA since 2009. Ferguson-Noel was the investigator for UGA’s first Industry Express-sponsored research partnership with ECO Animal Health, with the goal of producing an MG vaccine. She also developed an MS vaccine that is undergoing clinical testing. Ferguson-Noel received her D.V.M. from the University of the West Indies and her master’s in avian medicine and Ph.D. in medical microbiology from UGA.
Entrepreneur of the Year Award
Kevin McCully’s research has helped further the understanding of peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, through the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to measure blood flow and mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle. His work has led to one issued patent and multiple pending applications. Along with collaborators Jonathan Murrow and Kent Nilsson—both faculty members in the Augusta University/UGA Medical Partnership—McCully co-founded the biotechnology company InfraredRX in 2014 to help move these technologies to the clinical space. InfraredRX produces an all-in-one, noninvasive device to help measure and guide treatment for PAD—an “early version of the ‘Star Trek’ tricorder,” as McCully has described it. The company has been awarded grants from the Georgia Research Alliance, as well as more than $1.5 million in STTR grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, to develop its product. InfraredRX recently became one of the first tenants of UGA’s Delta Innovation Hub. McCully is a professor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education kinesiology department and director of the Non-Invasive Exercise Muscle Physiology Laboratory.
Early Career Scholar Awards
Established by the UGA Research Foundation, these awards recognize junior faculty whose research, creative and scholarly achievements indicate a trajectory toward an exceptional, sustained research career and an imminent rise to international stature in their field of study.
• Sheng Li, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, has demonstrated achievements in his career in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science. He focuses on designing machine-learning models to provide representations from large-scale data. His algorithms to extract knowledge from raw data have been used in many real-world applications. In 2020, he received the Aharon Katzir Young Investigator Award from the International Neural Networks Society, which recognizes “exceptionally promising young investigators in the field of neural networks.” In the past three years, he has received multiple grants as principal investigator for more than $1.5 million to support his research.
• Man Kit “Karlo” Lei, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, combines interdisciplinary theories and methods to examine the social determinants of health and aging across the life span, with a particular focus on minority populations and disadvantaged communities. His research focuses on two research questions: How do social stressors “get under the skin” and affect well-being? Why do some people, but not others, thrive despite facing adversity? He is skilled in sociological theories, genetic and biological data and has advanced statistical models. A co-investigator on three NIH grants totaling more than $7 million, his research blends rigor in basic science and novel approaches to treat and prevent chronic illness.
• Caterina Villari, an assistant professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, has built a research program bridging basic and applied forest pathology and spanning disciplines from molecular disease diagnostics to tree defense mechanisms. Her lab examines tree pathology, particularly interactions among trees, fungal pathogens and insect herbivores. She applies molecular techniques to diagnose forest pathogens in the field. Her group is exploring a new way to identify traits within seedlings that could help them ward off disease. She co-founded and co-directs the Southern Pine Health Research Cooperative, launched in fall 2018 and the first of its kind at the Warnell School.
• Emily Koh, assistant professor of composition in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, has created more than 50 new musical works receiving more than 125 public performances since she arrived at UGA in 2017. She recently received a commission from Guerilla Opera, supported by the Opera America Toulmin Commissioning Grant, which will result in a concert-length opera to be premiered in New York and Boston in 2023-2024. Her compositions have appeared on six commercial recordings. While her primary focus is composition, her music benefits from her abilities as a professional contrabass player, and she continues to perform throughout the U.S.
Team Impact Award
Established by the UGA Research Foundation, these awards recognize junior faculty whose research, creative and scholarly achievements indicate a trajectory toward an exceptional, sustained research career and an imminent rise to international stature in their field of study.
• Mark Risse is director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and is the Georgia Power Professor of Water Policy at UGA. With a Ph.D. in biological and agricultural engineering, his expertise is in non-point source pollution management, water resources, stormwater management, coastal erosion processes and sustainable/resilient development. He has been central to the NSF proposal to establish an NSF Engineering Research Center for Sustainably Engineered Riverine-Coastal Systems at UGA. He also has been critical to developing the team’s relationship with a regional land conservation initiative led by the U.S. Department of Defense and state natural resources management agencies, setting the stage for eventual funding of a DoD-Sea Grant Liaison at UGA. Risse’s relationship-building efforts have also informed the team’s development of the NSF’s coastlines and people proposal to develop a resilience hub using the military-community interface as study areas. He was a key partner on the AT&T resilience grant.
• Shana Jones, public service faculty at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, is an attorney experienced in developing legal and policy guidance involving environmental and coastal issues. She partners with the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on coastal flooding issues, adaptation planning and hazard mitigation, managing the Georgia Sea Grant Law Program. She has been key to developing the team’s relationship with a regional land conservation initiative led by the U.S. Department of Defense, setting the stage for eventual funding of a DoD-Sea Grant Liaison at UGA. Her relationship-building efforts have also informed the team’s development of an NSF coastlines and people proposal to develop a resilience hub using the military-community interface as study areas. She is a faculty member for a recently funded Research and Development Cooperative Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers and she served as the community connection with Athens for an AT&T Resilience grant.
• Jon Calabria is an associate professor in the College of Environment and Design. His experience includes directing projects and plans that integrate conservation, restoration and mitigation within the human context. For more than three decades, he has completed award-winning projects across the various ecoregions (mountains to the sea) in the southeastern U.S. to improve environmental quality. As a practitioner and academic, his interdisciplinary approach has informed several of the team’s projects, including the Peacock Creek project implementation with Pippin. Calabria has contributed to the team’s development of the NSF’s coastlines and people proposal to develop a resilience hub using the military-community interface as study areas. He also is a key faculty member for a recently funded Research and Development Cooperative Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers.
• Don Nelson, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, has over 20 years of national and international experience in drought risk management, social vulnerability and participatory approaches to natural resource management. His work focuses on the human dimensions of climate variability, the role of scientific information in resource management, and how social and political relations shape decision-making and policy outcomes. A member of IRIS’s leadership team, Nelson co-leads project development and directs and conducts team research. He leads the team’s development of the NSF’s coastlines and people proposal to develop a resilience hub using the military-community interface as study areas. He is a key faculty member for the recently funded Research and Development Cooperative Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers. Nelson also is central to the NSF proposal to establish an Engineering Research Center for Sustainably Engineered Riverine-Coastal Systems at UGA.
• Brian Bledsoe provides significant professional and research expertise as well as leadership to the team’s activities. He directs the Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems at UGA, bringing university researchers together to collaborate and develop infrastructure projects that deliver a broad array of social, economic and environmental benefits. He is also a founding member of the Network for Engineering With Nature, a nationwide community of researchers and practitioners using nature-based solutions to build community resilience. On this team, Bledsoe instigates grant and project proposals, organizes and directs research teams, co-authors publications, intersects with national partners such as the Army Corps of Engineers, and sets the overall agenda for the partnership. With more than 30 years of experience as a civil and environmental engineer in the private and public sectors, Bledsoe brings technical expertise to team projects.
• Scott Pippin, public service faculty at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, is an attorney experienced in working with local governments, focusing on environmental matters and compliance with federal and state environmental policies. He earned an M.S. degree at the College of Environment and Design, where he studied green infrastructure and sustainable design. A member of IRIS’s leadership team, Pippin co-leads team project development, directs and conducts team research, and interfaces on projects between academic faculty and federal and state agencies, local governments and communities. His practical knowledge and experience integrates with the research capacity of team members, improving the research questions generated and better communicating ideas to practitioners. Pippin has been integral to developing the Research and Development Cooperative Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers for outreach and engagement with military installations and communities to enhance resilience.
Postdoctoral Research Award
Alexandre Marand, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics, has amassed impressive accomplishments while at UGA. He has published 14 peer-reviewed articles including a first-author paper in the prestigious journal Cell, won a National Science Foundation fellowship, and was recently awarded the Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health. His Cell article was a landmark contribution to plant genomics. A major question in biology is how cellular diversity arises from an invariant DNA sequence. Marand applied single-cell sequencing technology to identify variable regulatory DNA sequences across thousands of individual cells. His work will help scientists rapidly find the crucial parts of DNA that control when and where a gene is expressed, accelerating understanding of the molecular events that underlie the development of plant structures. By establishing the first regulatory DNA blueprints of a major crop, Marand’s research lays the foundation for fine-tuning crop traits.
Robert C. Anderson Memorial Award
Hoang Luong, who completed his Ph.D. in physics in 2021, is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He consistently shows creativity in solving problems, mastering multiple technical and analytical/computational skills and developing theoretical and simulation insights. At UGA, he made three outstanding contributions to the metallurgical coating and thin-film community. He explored fabricating nanostructures of composite noble metals and magnetic materials as magneto-plasmonic systems. He investigated the design and apprehension of active chiral metamaterials. And he made a breakthrough in hydrogen sensor applications using a similar approach. He contributed as the first/co-author for more than 20 published research papers over nearly five years at UGA, some with high-impact factor journals in cutting-edge research topics. In his postdoctoral position at UCSB, he has been working on an entirely new research direction, studying long-term stability of organic photodetectors and organic photovoltaics.
Grace Cushman, who completed her Ph.D. in 2021 in the Department of Psychology, is a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Child Mental Health T32 Program, a competitive research-focused, NIH-funded program. As a pediatric psychologist, she collaborates with medical providers in children’s hospitals. Cushman’s research focuses on understanding the interplay between psychology and medicine to find modifiable factors that could improve health outcomes and the lives of chronically ill children and their families. She investigates factors that facilitate or impede adherence to medical and treatment regimens in youth, including parent functioning and their perspectives on their children’s well-being. She has successfully transferred her skills from patients with solid organ transplants and inflammatory bowel disease during her Ph.D. research to those at Brown University with food allergy and asthma. Publishing 30 peer-reviewed articles in top journals, she is on a trajectory to be one of the leading researchers in her field.
James L. Carmon Scholarship
Jason Terry, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is developing technologies that could revolutionize interpretations of telescope data. Recent generations of powerful telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, offer fresh information about the regions where exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) form. Unfortunately, an exoplanet might be engulfed by dust or other obscuring phenomena, leaving traces in telescope images so subtle that the human eye might not notice or understand them. To address this gap, Terry will use existing astronomical images and high-performance computational resources to generate thousands of simulations of the regions where exoplanets form. He will use simulations to train machine-learning algorithms to help scientists detect exoplanets from real observations and answer new astronomical questions. This research will offer a novel method to estimate masses and locations of exoplanets and change how we search for and characterize them.
James L. Carmon Scholarship Honorable Mention
Benjamin Taylor, an M.S. candidate in the Odum School of Ecology, investigates how ants acquire, retain and retrieve information as a group. Because animal groups often face the same tasks repeatedly, their decisions in foraging and other behaviors could benefit collective learning based on experience. His research explores whether members of a colony of the ant Temnothorax rugatulus can pass information among individuals and progressively improve group performance in foraging over time. Taylor attaches miniature tags to multiple individuals and films them using high-resolution cameras, then deploys the high-resolution video data and advances in computer vision and other technologies to fine-scale track animal movements. He plans to use new analytical approaches to quantify and discriminate between various movement tracks of individual members and groups of ants under different experimental manipulations. The results of his research could advance understanding of collective problem-solving in animal and human societies, potentially with AI applications.