Research Excellence Award: Allison Bigelow, College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Bigelow is helping to create an even playing field for students and emerging scholars from historically underserved communities, and diversifying the research methods in her fields, Latin American studies and Indigenous studies.
Her book, “Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World,” received the Modern Language Association Prize for a first book, the James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History from the American Historical Association, and the Philip J. Pauly Prize in the History of Science of the Americas from History of Science Society.
Bigelow also received the Spanish department’s first ever National Science Foundation grant and has held fellowships in the humanities from American Council of Learned Societies, Huntington Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Rarely have I seen a young scholar who is as self-driven, passionate, creative and original,” Ralph Bauer, associate dean for academic affairs in the University of Maryland’s College of Arts and Humanities, said. “She has become, in my opinion, the most distinguished and promising young scholar of colonial Latin American and hemispheric American studies currently in the profession.”
Research Excellence Award: Steven R. Caliari, School of Engineering and Applied Science
Caliari’s research focuses on designing biomaterials to understand the interplay between cells and their miniscule environments. The research could improve applications for his therapies for musculoskeletal damage and fibrotic diseases. He received two significant early investigator awards: a National Institutes of Health Maximizing Investigators Research Award and an National Science Foundation CAREER award. Since his start at UVA, he and his laboratory members have published 12 peer-reviewed publications and filed four provisional patents.
Caliari has been recognized as a leader in the field, serving as the biomaterials chair at last year’s American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting, and was named a 2021 Young Innovator in Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering.
“The elegance of Steven’s approach to biomaterials has allowed him to both address significant clinical challenges with medical devices, such as orthopedic insertion repair, but also to use biomaterials systems as a platform to enhance understanding of disease, such as scaffolds to study fibrosis in vitro in 3D,” Engineering School Dean Jennifer L. West said.
Research Excellence Award: Katrina J. Debnam, School of Education and Human Development and School of Nursing
Debnam’s work focuses on adolescent health, with an emphasis on reducing and preventing violence and improving educational and health outcomes for Black youth. With training in public health and psychology, her research bridges the fields of human development, education, public health, prevention science and nursing. She leverages community partnerships to address health disparities in youth. She has received grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education, and several foundations.
“Dr. Debnam’s scholarship, leadership, and service demonstrate a high level of productivity and impact on research, practice, and the professional organizations with which she engages,” said Elise Pas, associate scientist in the Department of Mental Health in Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Distinguished Researcher Award: Madhav V. Marathe, School of Engineering and Applied Science
Marathe has made fundamental contributions to understanding how human behaviors work with engineered systems. He has led projects to help plan responses to nuclear threats, and used artificial intelligence tools for improving food security. Marathe led a team to provide forecasting during the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting decision-makers for Virginia and the federal government, and he leads a nationwide project to improve our ability to predict and respond to pandemics.
“I have been deeply impressed with his intellectual leadership, his modesty and humility while still leading with exceptional skill, his dedication and management skills, and most importantly his commitment to society and ability to inspire others to work with him,” said Simon A. Levin, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.
Distinguished Researcher Award: Steven R. Majewski, College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
An expert on the Milky Way galaxy’s structure and evolution, Majewski was the principal investigator of the ground-breaking Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment, or APOGEE, over the project’s 15 years. He led all aspects of this innovative astronomy experiment that measured chemical abundances and Doppler motions using the near-infrared light of close to 700,000 stars in all parts of the galaxy. The data, publicly released, has spawned hundreds of papers on studies of galaxy evolution.
“With his vision and leadership of the APOGEE program, Steve was the critical person in enabling a transformation in our understanding of the Milky Way galaxy that has also strongly impacted exoplanet and stellar astrophysics,” said Michael R. Blanton, director of the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics in New York University’s Department of Physics.
Distinguished Researcher Award: Stephen S. Rich, School of Medicine
Rich, Harrison Professor of Public Health Science and director emeritus of the Center for Public Health Genomics, is a leader in the field of human genetics and has made groundbreaking and impactful contributions to the understanding of the genetics of Type I diabetes and many other complex diseases. He has published more than 700 manuscripts, including many in the journals Nature, Science and Cell.
He and his team are responsible for uncovering sources that explain nearly all the genetic risk for Type 1 diabetes, and these discoveries are transforming its prevention and treatment. Rich has led numerous national and international genetics consortia, served on the advisory board of the National Human Genome Research Institute and founded the Center for Public Health Genomics at UVA.
“Steve is a most generous scientist, a valued colleague, and ultimate team player. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone more deserving of the University of Virginia Distinguished Research Award than Steve Rich,” Dr. Francis Collins, emeritus director of the National Institutes of Health and current scientific adviser to President Biden, said.
Distinguished Researcher Award: Jie Sun, School of Medicine
Sun’s research is in cellular lung immunity and immunopathology, focusing on viral infections such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and SARS-CoV-2. His research has shown that targeting the immune system directly in the lung help prevent chronic illness and other complications following a viral infection.
Sun’s lab has also discovered important immune cells that can control the development of severe viral infections in the lungs and promote more rapid recovery after a lung injury. These results have provided new insights for treatment. Sun is also investigating the immune system during aging, aiming to develop effective vaccination and anti-tumor immunotherapy strategies for the elderly.
“Jie is one of those rare investigators who not only does exceptional work, but also raises the bar for others in the environment around him.” Mark H. Kaplan, Nicole Brown Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Indiana University School of Medicine, said.
Research Collaboration Award: SASCO Center
Matthew J. Lazzara, Kevin A. Janes and a team of 14 other UVA faculty and staff were awarded a $12.3 million, five-year research grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to establish the Systems Analysis of Stress-Adapted Cancer Organelles, or SASCO, Center at UVA. The team includes biomedical and chemical engineers, cell biologists and biochemists, and medical-surgical oncologists, and spans eight departments across the schools of Engineering and Medicine.
The SASCO Center is developing approaches that integrate cutting-edge experimental and computational methods to identify druggable vulnerabilities in breast, colon and brain cancers. The center investigators hypothesize that the genetics that allows cancer cells to so successfully proliferate might also create stresses in those cells, a flaw that could be exploited to create better therapies.
“The establishment of this new center cements UVA as a national leader in cancer systems biology and will have long-lasting impact on your institution, faculty and trainees,” Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Ford Professor of Bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.
Besides Lazzara and Janes, the team includes Kristen A. Atkins, Todd W. Bauer, Cheryl A. Borgman, Andrea H. Denton, Mohammad Fallahi-Sichani, David F. Kashatus, Kristen M. Naegle, Jason Papin, Benjamin W. Purow, Gustavo K. Rohde, Shayna L. Showalter, P. Todd Stukenberg, David Wotton and Hui Zong.
Research Mentor Award: Sana Syed, School of Medicine
Syed is a pediatric gastroenterologist and hepatologist who has shown an unparalleled dedication to teaching and mentoring students and early career faculty members.
She is passionate about improving equity and inclusion in health care. In her mentorship, she prioritizes the needs and desires of mentees to develop a plans to attain their goals and fosters conversations to build genuine health equity.
Syed directs the Inspiring Diverse Researchers in Virginia program. She has been appointed the director of early career research mentorship in the UVA Department of Pediatrics and leads Diversifying the Research Workforce programs within the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia.
“Dr. Syed has continually proven herself to be a champion for my success unlike any other mentor I have known, constantly making herself available for professional and personal support as I have navigated my early career,” Irène Mathieu, assistant professor of pediatrics, said. “She has been a bastion of support not only for my research interests, but also in my administrative leadership positions, my clinical work, my creative writing career as a nationally renowned poet, and as a new mother.”
Public Impact-Focused Research Award: Bryan W. Berger, School of Engineering and Applied Science
Berger’s work in developing and implementing low-cost biosensors to detect “forever chemicals,” otherwise known as PFAS, in water and soils shows how research can help improve lives, particularly in underserved communities. Berger partners with historically marginalized groups such as the Mi’kmaq Nation that are particularly affected by PFAS contamination, and he has visited contaminated sites in Aroostook County, Maine, to work with community activists and companies to help develop strategies for PFAS remediation.
This work has provided scientific, historical and cultural opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students at UVA, including the opportunity to present their work at the 2022 EPA Tribal Council Summit. Berger also is working with companies developing methods to improve isolation of PFAS for enhanced detection, as well as working with state agencies to determine how to translate the biosensor technology to communities at risk of PFAS contamination.
“The impact of Bryan’s research on PFAS soil remediation is garnering national attention and will undoubtedly impact new policies, recommendations and biotechnologies for addressing the global challenge of PFAS contamination,” Shayn Peirce-Cottler, professor and chair of Biomedical Engineering, said.