April 20, 2011 — Three of the University of Virginia's most accomplished faculty researchers – physicist Thomas F. Gallagher, pharmacologist Patrice G. Guyenet and microbiologist Kodi S. Ravichandran – have been selected to receive the University's 2011 Distinguished Scientist Awards.
The awards, created by the Office of the Vice President for Research, honor longtime faculty members who have made extensive and influential contributions in the sciences, medicine or engineering. This year's recipients will be honored May 9 at an awards reception and dinner in the Colonnade Club's Solarium Room in Pavilion VI.
Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research, said each recipient represents the highest standards for the University's scientific enterprise.
"They have produced truly new ideas with impact in their respective fields," he said. "They have also distinguished themselves, both at U.Va. and in their international research communities, through their personal mentoring of the next generation of scientists."
Nominations for the Distinguished Scientist Award are accepted annually from U.Va. faculty and department chairs. A panel of faculty peers judges the nominees based on publications, awards and comments from peers outside U.Va. addressing impact upon a field of study, both nationally and internationally. Awardees receive $10,000 grants to enhance their research activities.
Thomas F. Gallagher, Jesse W. Beams Professor of Physics
"Tom is known by scientists around the world for his expertise in atomic physics and his research on Rydberg atoms," Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said. "It is gratifying to see his work recognized in this way, and to know that the award will fund additional progress in his research."
Gallagher is trying to understand the connections between classical and quantum mechanics through the characteristics and collisional behaviors of Rydberg atoms, which are highly excited atoms with an electron that ventures far from the nucleus.
The understanding derived from this work finds application in diverse fields, including atomic frequency standards, high-intensity laser physics, plasma physics, molecular spectroscopy and quantum computing. Gallagher's book, "Rydberg Atoms," constitutes the reference in the field, and his research has continuing impact in Rydberg physics.
Gallagher became a U.Va. physics professor in 1984 after serving as senior physicist and program manager at the Stanford Research Institute. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a fellow of the Optical Society of America. He was named the Outstanding Scientist of Virginia in 1997.
Patrice G. Guyenet, Professor of Pharmacology
"Professor Guyenet has brought distinction to himself and the University since joining the faculty in 1978 through important contributions in the field of neuroscience," Dr. Steven T. DeKosky, dean of the School of Medicine, said. "His research has important implications for our understanding of diseases such as obstructive sleep apnea, hypertension and sudden infant death syndrome."
Guyenet's research focuses on how the nervous system regulates circulation and breathing, and how changes in blood gases influence the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. His work is considered pioneering and is now supported by a rapidly increasing body of genetic and other evidence from several laboratories in the U.S. and abroad.
Soon after coming to U.Va., Guyenet focused on the role of the mammalian brainstem in the control of blood circulation. This led to identification of several critical components of the neural circuit that stabilize blood pressure and to elucidation of the mechanisms of action of certain blood-pressure-lowering drugs.
Since 2004, his work has focused on understanding the process by which carbon dioxide regulates breathing. He identified a cluster of lower brainstem neurons that are responsive to increases in carbon dioxide levels; identification of one of these clusters is considered a notable breakthrough in the field.
Kodi S. Ravichandran, Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of Microbiology
Ravichandran, chair of the Department of Microbiology and director of the Center for Cell Clearance, has attained a position of prominence at the intersection of multiple competitive fields in medical science, especially in immunology and cellular turnover in the body.
"He is recognized particularly for his research on the signaling mechanisms that allow our immune systems to recognize and remove dying cells – processes that are important in human development, cancer and both infectious and autoimmune diseases," DeKosky said.
Ravichandran joined the University in 1996 as an assistant professor and rose to full professor in 2004. His research is focused on the mechanisms involved in the body's recognition of and removal of dying cells. Humans turn over approximately 1 million cells per second in the body. Disruption of cell "clearances" has been linked to developmental defects, autoimmune diseases such as lupus and arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
Ravichandran's lab has made key contributions to understanding the process of cell clearance, using tools at the molecular, cellular and whole organism levels, with significant implications for future therapies aimed at limiting inflammation.