A number of outstanding researchers with Utah Agricultural Experiment Station ties were honored during Utah State University Research Week. UAES researchers in several disciplines received awards for their work and for their exceptional skills in mentoring undergraduate and graduate student researchers.
Lance Seefeldt D. Wynn Thorne Research Award
The D. Wynn Thorne Research Award is the highest recognition granted by USU recognizing outstanding research. The award is named for agronomist and former Utah Agricultural Experiment Station director D. Wynn Thorne, who created USU’s Division of Research in 1965 and was the university’s first vice president for research. He as noted for his own productivity as a scientist and his ability to inspire excellence in others.
Throughout his career, chemistry and biochemistry professor Lance Seefeldt has studied unusually broad topics in the area of nitrogenase research and has made valuable contributions to the discipline, as well as to Utah State University. His work has made him the world’s expert on nitrogenase enzymology, the molecular phenomenon that accounts for crop production, on which the lives of two-thirds of Earth’s population depend. For a long time, the mechanism of nitrogenase remained elusive. Seefeldt developed a new understanding of how a nitrogen molecule is reduced to yield two ammonia molecules by nitrogenase. His research also contributed to the understanding of how nitrogen binds to the metal center of the enzyme. His research further provided significant insights into the step-by-step order of electron transfer events during the chemical process. These results have changed the thinking about how metalloenzymes activate inert, small molecule substrates, and this knowledge will further the search for artificial catalysts.
At USU, Seefeldt served as a professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department since 2002. He is also the Director of Science at the USU BioEnergy Center. Seefeldt has been a prolific scholar, with nearly 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, which have been cited in the scientific literature more than 3,000 times. He has been awarded more than $4 million in extramural funding for his laboratory. His funders include National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Throughout his research career, Seefeldt has mentored 25 undergraduate research students, six doctoral students, four master’s students and six postdoctoral fellows. As one of the founding members of the USTAR Biofuels team at USU, he has initiated a new research program in his laboratory on the feasibility of using algae as a source of biofuels such as biodiesel.
Timothy Gilbertson USU Graduate Mentor of the Year
Professor of biology, Timothy Gilbertson has mentored graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting professors, as well as more than 70 undergraduate students. His current and former students have praise his teaching and mentoring approach.
The main goal of research in Gilbertson’s lab is to understand how information is processed by the nervous system, focusing on taste. The work includes studying the way nutrients, including fats, carbohydrates and minerals are detected by cells in the mouth and several post-ingestive organs. The body’s detection system very flexible, constantly tuning itself to changing nutritional needs, cravings and aversions. It’s a complicated topic and research in his lab spans from genes and molecular biology through proteomics, imaging, biochemistry and behavior analysis.
Gilbertson’s innovative research has garnered attention from around the world. Throughout his career, he has appeared on CNN, Discovery Channel, and National Public Radio, as well as in print media, including USA Today and Business Week, to discuss the laboratory’s research on the chemo-sensory cues for dietary fat and its relation to obesity. Tim has received more than $5 million in research grants from sponsors, including the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. He had been a prolific scholar, with over 100 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.
Gilbertson’s research was the subject of a story in Utah Science
Jiming Jin College of Agriculture Researcher of the Year
Jiming Jin joined the faculty of Utah State University as an assistant professor in the Department of Plants, Soils and Climate in 2008. His research is focused on regional weather and climate modeling on the platforms of high performance computing. Jin combines statistical and dynamical downscaling approaches to produce high-resolution, decidedly more reliable simulations and forecasts of regional weather, climate, and water resources. With his research results, he seeks to improve the understanding of physical processes and mechanisms regulating weather, climate, and hydrological cycles. He is also heavily involved in numerical model development to produce better tools for weather and climate studies. Since 2009, he has secured approximately $1 million in competitive research funds from national funding agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, EPA, the National Science Foundation, and Department of the Interior. Under the support of these grants, he and his collaborators have published 17 peer-reviewed papers and two book chapters, and his publications have been cited more than 130 times over the last three years. In addition, Jin works closely with his graduate students, providing opportunities to present their research at local and national meetings.
He obtained a Ph.D. degree in atmospheric sciences from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1999 and a Ph.D. degree in hydrology from the University of Arizona in 2002. He worked at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher and research scientist for five years before joining the faculty at USU.
Maria Norton Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services Researcher of the Year
Maria Norton is associate professor in the Department of Family, Consumer and Human Development, with an adult development and aging emphasis. Her research focuses on dementia, bridging biological and psychosocial realms to investigate the role of risk factors such as lifestyle choices, stressful life events, depression, and the extent to which these factors might alter genetic influences of aging.
Norton has over 80 peer-reviewed articles in top-tier journals, derived from her work on the Cache County Study on Memory, Health and Aging, and along with fellow researchers of this study, is recipient of the 2012 award for “A Lifetime of Exceptional Achievement” from the Utah Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Norton is principal investigator of this study and the “Lifespan Stressors and Alzheimer’s Disease” study, and co-investigator on the Dementia Progression Study, totaling over $20 million from NIH. Dr. Norton’s work has greatly enhanced understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, and how the caregiving environment may affect rate of dementia progression.
Layne Coppock College of Natural Resources Researcher of the Year
Dr. Coppock received his Ph.D. from Colorado State University. He conducted his doctoral work among nomads in northwestern Kenya and was a scientist at the International Livestock Center for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Dr. Coppock joined USU in 1991 and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Environment and Society. He has served as a principal investigator for several large research projects, including the multi-million dollar Pastoral Risk Management (aka PARIMA) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1997-2009. Dr. Coppock and his team have received high profile recognition for their work, including a gold medal for meritorious service to Ethiopia. The team published a project capstone paper describing Ethiopian achievements in the prestigious journal Science in December 2011. Media coverage of this work has appeared in the USA, Europe, and Africa.
A story and photographs regarding Coppock’s research are available at https://uaes.usu.edu/htm/aes-news/transforming-lives-in-africa/