Research and Creative Achievement — Professional Promise awards honor faculty members who are early in their careers for excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.
Margaret Lazarus Dean
Having published two books and numerous short stories and essays, Associate Professor of English Margaret Lazarus Dean is establishing an impressive career at rocket speed. Her first book, The Time It Takes to Fall, is a novel that follows a fictional NASA family after the Challenger disaster. Her second, Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight, is a work of creative nonfiction that documents the final year of the space shuttle program. Leaving Orbit was named one of the top books of 2015 by New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani and was chosen as one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2015. It was also selected as UT’s 2016–17 Life of the Mind book. Dean is now collaborating with UT alumnus and retired astronaut Scott Kelly on his upcoming book, Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars. Sony Pictures has already bought the movie rights. Dean teaches fiction and creative nonfiction writing.
Although he has been part of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science for only a little more than four years, Assistant Professor Wei Gao has already established himself in the area of mobile computing and wireless networking systems—in particular the Internet of Things, wearable computing, and virtual reality. Gao’s research has attracted more than $2.5 million in external research funding from multiple government agencies, including the National Science Foundation. His work goes beyond civilian applications, however. The US Army Research Office currently supports two of his projects to develop adaptive mobile communications systems for the military. His long-term collaborations with other Army research agencies may help to fundamentally transform the way US troops access information in the battlefield. Gao has published more than 60 articles, most of them in top-tier journals. He also finds time to chair and serve on various committees of international research organizations.
Associate Professor of Chemistry David Jenkins has been called one of the most promising synthetic inorganic chemists of his generation. Colleagues describe him as a dynamic teacher and a leader in undergraduate chemistry education who is, as one put it, “a shining example of the kind of teacher-scholar that is the foundation of excellence in top 25 academic institutions.” Jenkins’s work involves creating new synthetic “tools” that may help chemists more effectively produce pharmaceuticals such as chemotherapy medicines. Jenkins received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award for his research in 2013 and just completed a successful proposal for the National Institutes of Health. He has published more than 30 papers in some of the top journals in chemistry, 18 of them written in the past five years. In that same span of time, he also completed two books and filed for a patent. He received the Department of Chemistry’s 2014 Mamantov Professorship Award for an outstanding junior faculty member in chemistry and the Chemical Communications Young Investigator Award in 2014.
Assistant Professor Karen Lloyd of the Department of Microbiology investigates a critical yet poorly understood subject: microbial diversity. Microbes are some of the most abundant organisms on the planet, and Lloyd’s work is expanding our knowledge of them. She focuses on microbes that are adapted to the Arctic Ocean and other sub-seafloor environments. Lloyd’s research into microbial response to climate change and the role of microbes in global nutrient cycles may yield insights into biotechnology and our understanding of how life could exist on other planets. Lloyd has authored 20 journal articles, some in prestigious publications like Nature and ISME, and has established herself as an independent principal investigator and mentor. She has received $3.6 million in external funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Simons and Sloan Foundations. Her expertise is in such demand that she’s had to turn down invitations to participate in conferences and workshops so she can devote more time to research.