Research Achievement Awards honor early-career and accomplished Brown scholars

In recognition of high-impact research and fundamental discoveries, the University will celebrate the work of six researchers with achievement awards presented at this spring’s 2021 Celebration of Research.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University will award Research Achievement Awards to six faculty members as part of its annual program honoring extraordinary scholars for their research across a wide range of academic disciplines.

“Brown researchers are accomplishing remarkable work in many fields, and with these awards we recognize the exceptional achievements and discoveries of six of them,” said Vice President for Research Jill Pipher, a professor of mathematics. “During this year of global pandemic, the creativity and resilience of Brown faculty members has been extraordinary. We greatly value their determination to advance important fundamental and translational research.”

The consequential research that Brown faculty members conduct ensures the University’s ability to fulfill its academic mission and be an agent of meaningful change, Provost Richard M. Locke said.

“This year’s award winners are emblematic of faculty who are making a difference in the world, which has been especially vital this year when we have faced substantial challenges on many dimensions,” Locke said. “Brown’s faculty have sustained and expanded their research, collaborating successfully on campus and around the world to advance knowledge through their critical contributions.”

Nominations for the awards were sought in multiple categories and reviewed by panels of Brown faculty. In addition to the awards, the winners will each receive a $5,000 research stipend. They will be honored at a virtual Celebration of Research program on Tuesday, May 18.

The winners of the 2021 Research Achievement Awards include:

Robert Blair (political science and international and public affairs) will receive an Early Career Research Achievement Award. Blair studies how political legitimacy and trust in government can be restored after periods of civil disorder and governance failure. He has conducted numerous evaluations of security sector reform initiatives in Liberia, Uganda and Colombia and has written widely in political science journals. His first book is titled “Peacekeeping, Policing and the Rule of Law after Civil War.” He also led development of a cross-institutional consortium on “Democratic Erosion” that now spans more than 50 universities around the world, combining research, teaching and policy engagement to address threats to democracy.

Ou Chen (chemistry) will receive an Early Career Research Achievement Award. His research has gained wide attention for developing novel materials, including nanocrystals. His research team is finding new uses for quantum dots and discovered a new quasicrystalline lattice, a form of nanomaterial. In 2020, Chen earned a Sloan Research Fellowship award, a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, a 3M faculty award, and was named a Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. Since joining the Brown faculty in 2015, he has published more than 50 peer-reviewed papers. He has initiated an annual STEM Day for local high school students and is active as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students.

Susan Gerbi (molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry) will receive a Distinguished Research Achievement Award. Gerbi has been influential in advancing knowledge about the structure, evolution and biogenesis of ribosomes, the cellular factories that make proteins. She has been instrumental in developing methodology to map DNA replication origins on chromosomes. Gerbi has received many appointments and honors during her career, including from the American Society for Cell Biology (president, fellow; senior leadership award), the Genetics Society of America (George Beadle award) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow). She was founding chair of her department and has been a participant and advocate for multidisciplinary research of biology with computer science, and translation of biology into medical applications for cancer and antibiotics. Many of her undergraduate and graduate students have won awards for their research, and she has been a national leader in graduate and postdoctoral scholar training.

Jennifer Merrill (behavioral and social sciences) will receive an Early Career Research Achievement Award. Merrill’s research focuses on causes and consequences of alcohol misuse among young adults. She is part of the Center for Alcohol and Addictions Studies at Brown’s School of Public Health and has authored more than 80 peer-reviewed publications, working with other Brown faculty and collaborators elsewhere. Merrill has received multiple federal grants for her research about young adult drinking, designed to inform interventions for health and safety issues associated with alcohol. She also holds early career awards from the Research Society on Alcoholism and the American Psychological Association (Society of Addiction Psychology).

Kavita Ramanan (applied mathematics) will receive a Distinguished Research Achievement Award. Ramanan’s  research focuses on probability theory and stochastic processes, which involve creating new mathematical frameworks for the study of random phenomena. Ramanan, who earned her Ph.D. from Brown, joined Brown’s faculty more than a decade later, in 2010. She has won many awards, including the Erlang Prize for "outstanding contributions to applied probability," a Simons Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2020 Newton Award from the U.S. Department of Defense for “transformative ideas” during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has authored over 70 publications and is the holder of four U.S. patents. She is also associate director of the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) at Brown.

Dr. Frank Sellke (cardiothoracic surgery) will receive a Distinguished Research Achievement Award. Sellke specializes in the study of microvascular cardiac injury, as well as restoring blood flow to the heart. His translational research focuses on optimizing outcomes after cardiac surgery and the microcirculation of the heart, lung, brain and other organs. Sellke’s research has been funded continuously by the National Institutes of Health for more than 28 years, and he has mentored and trained more than 80 pre- and postdoctoral students. He has won many awards, served on the editorial boards of nine journals, edited three textbooks, and has more than 540 peer-reviewed publications. He is professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Rhode Island Hospital and the Miriam Hospital.

The Research Achievement Awards are one of a number of Brown programs that recognize the importance of research by Brown faculty. Also to be honored at the May 18 Celebration of Research event are 18 teams of Brown faculty who received 2021 Research Seed Awards, given for early-stage support of new research, as well as 16 winners of 2021 Salomon Awards, which recognize excellence in scholarship with preference given to junior faculty.

Given the cancellation of last year’s Celebration of Research event after the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival, award winners from 2020 — including recipients of COVID-19 Research Seed awards — will also be recognized at the May 18 event.