Date June 7, 2017
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Brown faculty members earn awards, distinctions

From research on prosthetic limbs to devising new ways to experience opera, scholarship by Brown faculty members earned them recognition from prestigious national and international organizations this spring.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —This spring, Brown faculty members working in a range of academic disciplines, from biochemistry to musical composition, were recognized for distinguished research, teaching and service from national and international organizations. Among such distinctions from spring 2017 were the following honors:

In March, Erik Ehn, professor of theatre arts and performance studies, was named a 2017 Arts Entrepreneurship Award Honoree by arts service organization Fractured Atlas for his work on “Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser.” Ehn wrote the libretto for “Vireo,” which was composed by Lisa Bielawa, directed by Charles Otte and envisioned as a new way to see an opera. Rather than a filmed performance, the opera was conceived as a film and shot on various locations. Ehn and his collaborators were praised by Fractured Atlas for embracing new technologies and distribution platforms. The organization published a statement saying that “‘Vireo’ is a prime example of artistic innovation as a direct result of artists embracing new technological innovations.”

Huajian Gao, a professor of engineering, was elected to the German National Academy of Sciences in April. The German-speaking society of scholars, founded in 1652, is dedicated to the advancement of science and publishes science-driven statements meant to guide policy. Gao’s research group is generally interested in understanding the basic principles that control mechanical properties and behaviors of materials in both engineering and biology. His work, ranging from how metallic and semiconductor materials behave in thin film and nanocrystalline forms, to how biological materials such as bone and cells achieve their mechanical robustness, has many applications, including in drug delivery systems and nanotechnology.

Susan Gerbi, a professor of biochemistry and biology, won the 2017 George W. Beadle Award from the Genetics Society of America (GSA) for her outstanding contributions to the genetics research community, the GSA announced in February. Beyond exemplary research, the award recognizes service to other genetics researchers, such as developing research tools or methodologies. In her lab, Gerbi investigates DNA replication and has developed techniques for mapping replication origins, whole organism transformations and genome sequencing as well as genome editing for insertion of large pieces of DNA. Gerbi has also focused on ribosomes, demonstrating that there is an evolutionarily conserved core secondary structure of rRNA, and has helped establish the fly Sciara coprophila as an important model for studying chromosomes and DNA replication.

Jayanti Owens, an assistant professor of international and public affairs and sociology, was chosen as one of 30 2017 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows. Owens, whose research focuses on social stratification and inequality in education, families and labor markets, will receive $70,000 for a period of up to two years to complete research. Her project, “Exclusionary Discipline: Racial Disparities in How Educators Evaluate and Sanction Misbehavior,” will look at teachers’ implicit bias in sanctioning students, the social psychological mechanisms underlying disproportionate suspension or expulsion of students based on race and factors magnifying bias.

Nitin Padture, a professor of engineering and director of Brown’s Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, was awarded the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Indian Institute of Technology -  Bombay. The award recognizes Padture’s achievements in materials science research and education, and specifically cites his groundbreaking work in the areas of damage-tolerant ceramic composites for extreme applications; high-performance ceramic coatings for high-efficiency, low-emission jet engines; and low-cost, high-efficiency emerging solar cells.

Linda Resnik, a professor of health services, policy and practice, was awarded the Paul B. Magnuson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Rehabilitation Research and Development, the highest honor for Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) rehabilitation investigators. The award, announced in April, recognizes her outstanding work with advanced upper limb prostheses and on controls for the DEKA prosthetic arm, her work on veterans’ rehabilitation and community integration, and her leadership in the development of the V.A./Department of Defense Collaboration Guidebook for Healthcare Research. The honor consists of a one-time award of $5,000 with $50,000 for up to three years to supplement ongoing peer-reviewed research.

Parker VanValkenburgh, an assistant professor of anthropology, was named a 2017 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellow in March. ACLS fellowships, which go to individual scholars working in the humanities and related social sciences, provide financial support for six to 12 months of full-time research and writing. VanValkenburgh will receive a $40,000 stipend to study the effects of forced resettlement in 16th-century colonial Peru in “Building Subjects: The Archaeology of Reducción and Forced Urbanism.”Matthew Goldfeder, ACLS’s director of fellowship programs, said: “The awardees were selected for their potential to bring new understandings of the human experience and creativity, from antiquity to the present, in contexts across the globe.”

The American Academy in Berlin announced in May that Brown faculty members have been awarded three of the 22 2017-18 Berlin Prizes, semester-long fellowships that allow writers, composers and artists from the United States to pursue academic and artistic projects. Professor of Literary Arts Carole Maso, Professor of History and Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence Amy Remensnyder and Assistant Professor of Music Wang Lu will each spend a semester at the Academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center in Berlin-Wannsee, Germany. In the spring of 2018, Maso will work on her novel-in-progress “The Bay of Angels,” which incorporates a myriad of forms: fiction, essay, memoir, poetry, drawings, photographs and maps. During the same timeframe, Remensnyder will work on a microhistory of the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa to explain how, over the centuries, it became a space of Muslim-Christian cooperation and trust. Wang Lu will spend the spring 2019 semester at the Academy, where she will work on a composition project. Each award winner receives a monthly stipend, partial board and accommodations at the Arnhold Center.