UGA faculty and graduate students honored for outstanding research and creativity

UGA faculty and graduate students honored for outstanding research and creativity

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia faculty were recognized for outstanding research and creativity at the university’s 28th annual Research Awards Banquet yesterday. The program is sponsored by the non-profit University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc.

Creative Research Awards

The Creative Research Awards are presented annually to recognize innovative research that has received national and international acclaim. Virginia Nazarea received the Williams A. Owens Award for research in the social and behavioral sciences; Levon Ambartsumian received the Albert Christ-Janer Award for the humanities; and Larry Beuchat received the Lamar Dodd Award for research in the sciences.

Nazarea, professor of anthropology, has, through her highly original research and writing, articulated the novel perspective that local knowledge and cultural memory can counteract the loss of biodiversity. Her position-that biodiversity is nurtured in marginal spaces that provide a sense of place, belonging and resistance affording people a degree of sovereignty-is a radical departure from science’s earlier focus on macro trends and programmatic design. Her work has been influential in redirecting the focus of research and development in academic programs, international centers and interdisciplinary research projects to focus attention on the role of indigenous people, women, elders, subsistence farmers and small-scale gardeners in conserving biodiversity.

Ambartsumian, a professor of music, fills four distinct but complementary roles at UGA: violin performer, conductor of the ARCO Chamber Orchestra – an ensemble in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music – dedicated teacher and highly-prolific recording artist. Ambartsumian brings international distinction to the university in all four areas. His former students, many of whom now work as professors at major universities and play in symphony orchestras around the world, have won national and international competitions. Since 1995, Ambartsumian has released 14 compact discs featuring music recordings from the 18th century to the 21st century, all of which received excellent reviews. His performance skills, well-represented in his recordings of works by composers such as Vivaldi, Brahms and Wienawski, compare favorably with professional violinists worldwide, yet it is his enthusiastic support of contemporary music that sets him apart.

Beuchat, distinguished research professor of food microbiology, has advanced understanding of the environmental and ecological conditions that influence the survival and growth of food-borne bacteria, molds and yeasts through his research. He conducted pioneering work on the storage and processing of raw fruits and vegetables. His research in the early 1980s showed for the first time that while modified-atmosphere packaging of raw vegetables can indeed extend their shelf-life, bacteria capable of causing illness can still grow and develop inside – without any visual or sensory cues. He also demonstrated the ability of pathogens to infiltrate raw fruits and vegetables and survive, even when exposed to sanitizers. His expertise in this area led the World Health Organization to seek Beuchat’s recommendations on the best disinfection procedures for raw fruits and vegetables. He has also made significant contributions in the area of food mycology, where his research determined the effectiveness of preservatives in controlling the growth of molds and preventing the production of mycotoxins in fruit concentrates, juices and drinks. In 2005, Beuchat was the third most-cited agricultural scientist in the world.

Inventor’s Award

This award honors an inventor for a unique, creative and innovative discovery that has made an impact on the community. This year’s recipient is Robert Ivarie.

Ivarie, professor and head of the department of genetics, is being recognized for a number of inventions and novel methods to genetically engineer chickens as bioreactors for the low-cost production of proteins that have therapeutic potential for humans. Ivarie has five issued U.S. patents and 14 pending U.S. patent applications. His inventions led to the founding of AviGenics, Inc., a biotechnology company currently housed in UGA’s Georgia BioBusiness Center, in Athens. The company generates transgenic chickens by injecting engineered retroviral particles under the blastoderm, the layer of cell from which the chick will develop, of a freshly laid egg. After injection, the egg is sealed using a hot glue method, another of Ivarie’s inventions, which greatly increases the hatch rate. Chicks carrying specific DNA sequences inserted into their genome by the retrovirus (i.e., transgenic chicks) develop into mature chickens that will lay eggs having egg whites rich in the desired proteins. Other inventions are related to the design of DNA fragments that allow for proteins of human therapeutic value to be produced in high yields in the white of eggs laid by these transgenic chickens. His inventions related to transgenic chickens, chicken embryos and chicken cell-lines also led to the production of purifiable human interferon in high yields, a remarkable feat in biotechnology. Ivarie was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006.

Creative Research Medals

These medals recognize outstanding research or creative activity within the past five years that is focused on a single theme carried out at UGA. The 2007 recipients are: Jennifer Monahan, Daniel Nakano, Pamela Orpinas, Pejman Rohani and Boris Striepen.

Monahan, associate professor of speech communication and Fellow of

the Institute for Behavioral Research, designed and implemented a unique research program examining how communication and social perceptions change when people are under the influence of alcohol. Her work culminated in a new model of alcohol and strategic communication behavior. The Alcohol and Communication Choices Model does away with the simple-minded view of alcohol as a social lubricant. Through her work, researchers now understand that, relative to being sober, inebriated people tend to focus more on themselves-and to overestimate their ability to achieve their goals while underestimating social cues relative to power and dominance. Monahan’s work has important implications for public health issues such as date rape, drunk driving, marital fidelity, shyness and social stress, aggression and spousal abuse, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Nakano, professor of mathematics, is a world-renowned authority and a leading force in the representation theory of algebraic groups. This important branch of mathematics benefits many fields, including chemistry and physics, especially as it developed from attempts to understand symmetry in nature. Nakano’s groundbreaking work on the computation of support varieties for Lie algebras led to three important papers that have brought distinction to UGA. In the first paper, the support varieties for Weyl modules were determined for good prime numbers, which proved a conjecture made by J. Jantzen in 1987. In the second paper, the validity of the Jantzen Conjecture was used to describe the restricted nullcone for good primes. This work culminated in the third paper in which these computations were extended to all prime numbers. Nakano’s research provided vital links between the cohomology theory, representation theory and the structure of nilpotent orbits, greatly advancing this field of inquiry.

Orpinas, professor of health promotion and behavior, is recognized internationally as an expert on bullying and violence among school-aged children and adolescents. Drawing upon health promotion and psychological theories, Orpinas examined the determinants of violent behavior and developed evaluation programs to prevent and reduce aggression in this age group. She also translated her basic research into specific strategies to help educators and school administrators prevent bullying. The American Psychological Association invited Orpinas and co-author and UGA colleague Arthur Horne to write a book on the subject. Bullying prevention: Creating a positive school climate and developing social competence is the only APA book on this topic. She also developed and published an “aggression scale,” which has been requested by scientists from around the world.

Rohani, associate professor of ecology, studies the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. His work has led to a greater understanding of how pathogens spread through their host population and has addressed questions of interest to the public health community. His studies of the past decade culminated in development of a novel mathematical framework to explore interactions between unrelated infectious diseases or strains of the same pathogen within a host population. Rohani applied this model to explain recent epidemics of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral disease, which has re-emerged in outbreaks of increasing size and severity. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offered an approach for elucidating the relative contributions of immunological and ecological mechanisms in determining how dengue fever spreads-and also the pattern of sequential serotype replacement over successive epidemics. Rohani’s innovative work paves the way for understanding how pathogen strains or unrelated infectious diseases may interact.

Striepen, associate professor of cellular biology, has established himself as a world leader in the field of molecular parasitology using a blend of genetic, cellular and computational tools. Building on his outstanding work as a post-doc at the University of Pennsylvania, Striepen made new discoveries at UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases about the cell biology and biochemistry of Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium, two human parasites that can cause disease and fatalities in immunocompromised patients and small children. Striepen demonstrated that if parasite chloroplast replication was disrupted, the parasite would die. Yet scientists still didn’t understand the role that the chloroplast played in keeping the organism alive. However, in 2006, Striepen published a landmark paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailing the apicoplast’s essential role of providing fatty acid synthesis for the parasite. His work offers the possibility of new therapeutic agents in the treatment of a host of infectious diseases in humans as well as livestock.

Distinguished Research Professors

Appointment as a distinguished research professor recognizes outstanding national and international research and creative achievements. This year, recipients are Steven Beach and Richard Meagher.

Beach, professor of psychology and director of the UGA Institute of Behavioral Research, is a leading world scholar in marital research and clinical psychology. He has provided groundbreaking research on the role of social relationships in improving the health and well-being of all Americans. Most recently, his research has focused on strengthening family relationships to help address health disparities. Under his direction, UGA’s Institute of Behavioral Research has reached out to foster new forms of interdisciplinary research, including collaborations between behavioral and biological researchers to better capture emerging opportunities in fast-growing areas essential to the national research agenda. He is also credited by his peers with changing the study of marital processes in clinical psychology in important ways, including the development of sub-disciplines and methods that would not exist except for his leadership. His contributions were recognized in 2004 when he received the William A. Owens Award for an outstanding body of work in the social and behavioral sciences.

Meagher, professor of genetics, is a plant molecular geneticist whose research has sparked worldwide interest and media attention. Widely noted for his creativity, innovation and perseverance, Meagher was the first scientist to engineer plants to take up toxins from the soil, a field now known as phytoremediation. He established himself as a leading authority on the plant cytoskeleton and, more recently, on monoclonal antibody production. UGA recognized Meagher’s research accomplishments in 2001, when he received the Lamar Dodd Award for an outstanding body of research in the sciences, and again in 2004, when he received the Inventor’s Award for his patents and other contributions to the biotech industry in Georgia. During his tenure at UGA, Meagher has founded several biotechnology companies based on research in his laboratory. In addition to his outstanding research, Meagher has been a devoted teacher and mentor as well as a leader in bringing new technologies to research and service facilities at UGA.