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New chancellor's fellows 'already contributing so much'

12.7.2012

The UC Davis faculty includes many fellows, so honored by many different academic societies, national and international. And we have fellows of our own in the Chancellor’s Fellowship program, which recently added its newest class.

The honorees for 2012 are Toby Allen, chemistry; Mary Cadenasso, plant sciences; Catherine Chin, religious studies; Christina Cogdell, design; Nicholas Curro, physics; Nael El-Farra, chemical engineering and materials science; and Peter Lee, law. Each receives a $25,000 prize and retains the chancellor’s fellow title for five years.

“We are extremely fortunate at UC Davis to have a multitude of distinguished faculty members,” Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in announcing the newest class of fellows. “The Chancellor’s Fellowship program gives us a nice way to recognize some of the truly extraordinary accomplishments of our younger faculty who have done exceptional work early in their careers and are already contributing so much to our students and to our university.”

The Chancellor’s Club and the university’s annual fund support the Chancellor’s Fellowship program, which began in 2000. See a list of all chancellor’s fellows.

An invitation-only reception for the 2012 fellows will be held later in the academic year, with Katehi and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter as the hosts.

More about the new fellows:

Toby Allen, associate professor, chemistry — Using computer simulations, he studies biological cell membranes that are the gateways into cells and contain proteins that make up nearly a third of the human genome and two-thirds of all drug targets. Allen’s research group is providing new insight into how cell membranes interact with proteins, and the functions of ion channels that control our nervous system. His work provides the basic understanding needed for developing new therapeutic drugs. Born in Australia, Allen earned his doctorate from Australian National University and did his postdoctoral research there and at Cornell University before joining UC Davis in 2004.

Mary Cadenasso, associate professor, plant sciences — She leads one of the nation’s top urban ecology research groups and has developed a novel urban landscape classification known as HERCULES. The system, which relies on land cover rather than land use, has established a new scientific framework for ecological analysis and policy formation for urban ecosystems. One of her research projects has examined the relationship between impervious surface cover, building density and nitrate concentrations in streams. Another project has focused on heat dissipation and land surface temperature, proving that increasing woody vegetation will alleviate urban heat. In 2009, she received a prestigious Early Career Development Program Award from the National Science Foundation. Cadenasso earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Santa Clara University, and a doctorate in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University, then served for two years as a visiting scholar at Yale University before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2006. 

Catherine Chin, associate professor, religious studies — According to Dean Jessie Ann Owens of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, Chin is “a person of extraordinary accomplishments and immense promise” in the social and cultural study of religion — in which she focuses on the interconnections between the early Christian movement and its Greco-Roman setting. Owens said she considers Chin, who serves as the chair of the Department of Religious Studies, to be the “guiding force” behind the creation of the new Graduate Group in the Study of Religion at UC Davis. Chin received master’s and doctoral degrees in religion as well as a graduate certificate in women’s studies from Duke University. She earned a Master of Studies from the University of Oxford after earning a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, classics and history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She came to UC Davis in 2007.

Christina Cogdell, associate professor, design — Compared with other HArCS departments, Dean Owens said, design is unusual in the extent to which its scholarship crosses the boundaries between the humanities, the arts, and the social, physical and biological sciences. Cogdell connects the history of popular science — evolutionary theory, eugenics and complex dynamic systems — with its influence on the history of architecture and design. In a new project, she is exploring how the theories of self-organization and complex adaptive systems in nature are influencing contemporary architecture, especially using newer computer-based technologies. Cogdell received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, both in American studies. She earned a doctorate in art history, also from Texas. She joined UC Davis in 2009.

Nicholas Curro, professor, physics — He is an experimentalist who uses nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to study the properties of materials such as superconductors — or materials that conduct electricity without resistance. Affordable superconducting materials that work at room temperatures would revolutionize electrical transmission systems and play an important role in energy conservation. Curro received a doctorate in physics from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was a research scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory before joining the faculty at UC Davis in 2007. He recently advanced to the rank of professor.

Nael El-Farra, associate professor, chemical engineering and materials science — He researches the design of networked process control and monitoring systems for large-scale chemical plants, manufacturing processes and distributed energy systems. He is especially interested in developing rigorous methods for control and monitoring based on a new generation of wireless sensor and actuator networks. His work bridges chemical engineering, control systems, communications and applied mathematics, and could have broad applications, for example in the management of a “smart energy grid” that distributes power from renewable but fluctuating sources such as wind or solar. El-Farra earned his doctorate at UCLA in 2004 and joined the faculty at UC Davis the same year.

Peter Lee, professor, law — An expert in patent law, Lee focuses on the relationship between intellectual property doctrine and the social and institutional context of technological innovation. He has built a particular reputation as an expert on academic patenting and technology transfer, including the unique role of public entities in ensuring wide access to patented technologies to promote academic and humanitarian objectives. “Professor Lee’s work is not only theoretically compelling,” wrote Vikram Amar, associate dean for academic affairs at the law school, “it also holds immense practical significance for universities, government agencies and firms seeking to promote the commercialization of academic inventions.” Lee, who joined the law school in 2006, received a bachelor’s degree in history and science from Harvard University and a law degree from Yale Law School.

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