Thirteen recently tenured faculty honored with Romnes awards

March 29, 2011

by Jill Sakai

Awardees’ expertise includes psychology, art, physics, genetics

This year’s Romnes Faculty Fellowships recognize a baker’s dozen of talented, up-and-coming faculty from across campus.

The Romnes awards recognize exceptional faculty members who have earned tenure within the last four years. Selected by a Graduate School committee, winners receive an unrestricted $50,000 award for research, supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

The award is named for the late H. I. Romnes, former chair of the board of AT&T and former president of the WARF board of trustees.

This year’s awardees are:

Aseem Ansari, biochemistry, studies the regulation of gene expression at the interface of chemistry, biology, and genomics. He devises synthetic molecules that function as gene switches to control cell fate with a goal of directing stem cell differentiation. Ansari is also a founding director of the Khorana Program for Scholars,an exchange program promoting scientific cooperation between UW–Madison and India.

Anthony Auger, psychology, studies how genes control typical and atypical brain development and social behavior, including ways in which modifications to DNA can alter gene expression without changing the underlying DNA code. His research is unraveling how early-life experiences interact with steroid hormones to induce subtle effects in the brain that can have enduring consequences on behavior and health.

Jill H. Casid, art history, is a historian, theorist of visual culture, author and practicing artist in photo-based media. Her interests include productive tensions between theory, archives and writing of history; gender, race and sexuality; hybridity and chimerism; and performative and processual aspects of visual objects and imaging. Casid helped found the UW–Madison Center for Visual Cultures and served as its first director.

Cameron Currie, bacteriology, studies the ecology and evolution of symbiotic associations between insects and microbes. His research, including extensive work with the charismatic leaf-cutter ant, has potential applications in fields as diverse as bioenergy development and drug discovery. He has received several awards, including a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the nation’s highest honor for young independent researchers.

Scott Gehlbach, political science, specializes in the post-communist transition in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Combining formal modeling, statistical analysis and fieldwork, he has leveraged his deep regional understanding to make seminal contributions to the field of political economy. He is a research associate of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR) at New Economic School in Moscow.

Jonathan Gray, communication arts, teaches and writes extensively on the social, cultural and political uses of media entertainment, including satire and parody, textual theory and contemporary television. He is single author of three books and multiple articles and chapters, co-editor of three collections and a journal, and has served on multiple departmental committees and in leadership positions in academic organizations.

Karsten Heeger, physics, studies neutrinos, highly abundant elementary particles that may hold clues about why we live in a matter-based universe. He works on several international collaborations and is a U.S. leader for the Daya Bay reactor experiment in China to measure neutrino oscillation. Heeger is the 2011 Chair of the Committee of International Scientific Affairs of the American Physical Society.

Hongrui Jiang, electrical and computer engineering, researches microscale devices and systems, with interests in biology-inspired approaches and the application of smart polymer materials for increased functionality, better performance, and simplification of devices and integrated microsystems. One of Jiang’s recent projects involved developing spherical adaptive liquid microlens arrays that combine advantages of the compound eyes of insects and the camera-type eyes of mammals.

Richard Keller, medical history/history of science, studies international health and social dimensions of vulnerability in natural disasters. He has authored two books, served on numerous UW–Madison committees, and was a member of the International Council for Science Planning Group on Natural and Human-induced Environmental Hazards and Disasters. Keller is a research fellow at the Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux in Paris.

Lingjun Li, pharmaceutical sciences, focuses on developing novel mass spectrometry-based tools in conjunction with micro-separation techniques to study challenging neuroscience problems, such as functional discovery of neuropeptides and biomarker discovery in neurodegenerative diseases. She has received numerous awards, including an NSF CAREER Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Vilas Associate Award and the American Society for Mass Spectrometry Research Award.

Katherine Magnuson, social work, researches the well-being and development of economically disadvantaged children and their families, examining disparities in socioeconomic status and the role of policies and programs such as early childhood education. She is associate director of research and training at the UW–Madison Institute for Research on Poverty and recently worked with the Wisconsin Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.

Francisco Pelegri, genetics/medical genetics, studies the early stages of vertebrate development, including fertilization, cell division and cell fate determination, with applications to reproductive, regenerative and cancer biology. He teaches several genetics courses and serves as a member of the CALS Curriculum Committee, chair of the Genetics Curriculum Committee, and on several scientific advisory panels for the National Institutes of Health.

Martin Zanni, chemistry, Meloche-Bascom Professor, specializes in two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy and its application to topics in biophysics and material science, such as insulin loss in type 2 diabetes and electron generation in solar cell materials. He has received extensive recognition for his research and teaching, including a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and numerous other awards.