Brown honors accomplished and early-career scholars

Each year, the Research Achievement Awards recognize the research and scholarship of both longtime and early-career faculty members from a wide array of academic disciplines.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University has awarded Research Achievement Awards to seven faculty members in its annual program to honor exceptional scholars across a wide variety of disciplines.

“It is a great pleasure to recognize the singular accomplishments of these seven researchers,” said Vice President for Research Jill Pipher. “Beyond their exceptional achievements, these awards are also about something larger — Brown is truly making a difference in the world, through both fundamental and translational research.”

Brown Provost Richard M. Locke said the scholars — whose fields of study range from pediatrics to engineering to computer science to the visual arts — illustrate the kind of high-impact research that takes place in the field and in laboratories across the Brown campus. 

“With its culture of collaboration and excellence, Brown is uniquely positioned to address critical societal issues through rigorous research, teaching and service,” Locke said. “Our faculty are central to these efforts. Research helps us understand and mitigate great challenges, and this year’s award winners are outstanding examples of this.”

Nominations for the awards were sought in several categories and reviewed by panels of distinguished Brown faculty. In addition to the awards, each winner received a $5,000 research stipend. Brown’s annual Celebration of Research event was postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis, and a program paying tribute to winners will be held at a later date. The seven winners of the 2020 Research Achievements Awards are:

Silvia Chiang (pediatrics) received an Early Career Research Achievement Award. Chiang conducts clinical and epidemiological research on pediatric and adolescent tuberculosis. Current research funding includes an International Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institutes of Health to study adolescent adherence to tuberculosis treatment, and a Charles Hood Foundation Child Health Award. She received a Young Physician-Scientist Award from the American Society for Clinical Investigation and is a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Most of Chiang’s extensive field research takes place in Lima, Peru. She authored the tuberculosis chapter in the most recent edition of Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

Nicolas Fawzi (molecular pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology) received an Early Career Research Achievement Award. Fawzi’s research centers on increasing understanding of the structure, interactions, regulation and function of a class of RNA processing assemblies whose dysfunction has implications for several neurodegenerative diseases. He has achieved success in visualizing the structural detail of disordered protein phrase separation — previously, understanding the physiology of membrane-less organelles and their pathological dysfunction associated with cancer, ALS and frontotemporal dementia was hampered by the inability to see these poorly understood proteins with atomic resolution. Fawzi received a National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2019.  

Michael Littman (computer science) received a Distinguished Research Achievement Award. Littman’s research focuses on artificial intelligence, machine learning and human-computer interaction. He is co-director of Brown’s Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, leading work to make computers, robots and other devices more easily usable. Littman is a leader in reinforcement learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence and has received best-paper awards on complexity analysis of planning under uncertainty, algorithms for efficient reinforcement learning and meta-learning for computer crossword solving. He was made an Association for Computing Machinery fellow for contributions to design and analysis of sequential decision-making algorithms in artificial intelligence.

Peter Monti (alcohol and addiction studies) received a Distinguished Research Achievement Award. Monti directs the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown, long a leader in understanding the bio-behavioral mechanisms that underlie addictive behavior, as well as its prevention and treatment. He has published approximately 400 papers, monographs and chapters, and several books, primarily focused on assessment, mechanisms, early intervention and treatment. Monti has trained hundreds of students and has won many awards, most recently, National Institutes of Health’s Mendelson Award for his long-standing contributions to the understanding and treatment of substance use disorders. He is a past president of the Research Society on Alcoholism.

RaMell Ross (visual arts) received an Early Career Research Achievement Award. Ross is a writer, photographer and filmmaker, and was director, cinematographer, film editor and co-writer for “Hale County This Morning, This Evening," an impressionistic film on the black experience in rural Alabama. It won many awards, including a special jury prize from the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for a 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. His most recent film, “Easter Snap,” about hog processing in the South, has won several awards. His photography has been exhibited internationally and published in major newspapers, magazines and journals. He is currently a 2020 USA Artists Fellow.

John Sedivy (molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry) received a Distinguished Research Achievement Award. Sedivy is the director of Brown’s Center on the Biology of Aging and has been recognized internationally for making advances in basic research on a form of cellular aging and death known as cell senescence. His recent research has focused on primitive viral-like entities in human genomes known as retrotransposable elements and their role in promoting age-related inflammation of tissues, including in the nervous system. Sedivy is currently engaged in the translation of these discoveries for the treatment of age-associated disorders including Alzheimer’s. His group has published over 140 original articles.  

Anita Shukla (engineering) received an Early Career Research Achievement Award. Shukla’s research focuses on designing responsive and targeted biomaterials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine.  A member of the Center for Biomedical Engineering at Brown, she has done considerable work to treat infections, including development of bacteria- and fungi-degradable hydrogels to control resistance and toxicity. She is the recipient of a number of awards, including a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and an Office of Naval Research Director of Research Early Career Grant.

The Research Achievement Awards are one of a number of Brown programs that recognize the importance of research by Brown faculty. Sixteen teams of Brown faculty were awarded 2020 Research Seed Awards, given to support the generation of preliminary data and pursuit of new research directions or collaborations. Also, 17 winners were named for 2020 Salomon Awards, which recognize excellence in scholarship, with preference given to junior faculty.

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