Research and Creative Achievement honors are bestowed to senior faculty in recognition of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.
Yuri Efremenko, professor of physics, is making unprecedented discoveries that may make the world a safer place. Efremenko’s research into neutrinos—extremely elusive particles that up to now could be detected only by enormous underground detectors—opens up the possibility for small portable detectors that can identify the production of nuclear materials. Efremenko has been a leading member of several important international collaborations on neutrino research and led the charge to construct the world’s smallest working neutrino detector, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source. This project was selected by the readers of the prestigious journal Science as the third most important scientific breakthrough of 2017. Efremenko’s accomplishments have placed him as one of the world’s leading researchers in an important field and the most cited faculty member in his department’s history.
Melinda Gibbons is dedicated to serving the needs of vulnerable populations in East Tennessee. A professor of educational psychology and counseling and coordinator of counselor education, Gibbons oversees the FUTURE program, a transition program for highly motivated young adults with significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Her impact is clear in the numbers: of the program’s 32 students, 85 percent have jobs, compared to 17 percent of Tennesseans with similar disabilities. Gibbons has used the program to create service-learning opportunities for undergraduates and hands-on experience for a dozen counselor education doctoral students. Gibbons also built from the ground up the PiPES program (Possibilities in Postsecondary Education and Science), which promotes college awareness and provides opportunities for 10th- and 11th-grade students in Campbell and Union Counties, Tennessee, to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, math, and medical science fields.
Kevin Tomsovic, CTI Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is working on developing a reliable power grid for the nation. His PhD work was among the pioneering efforts that eventually led to what is now called the Smart Grid. Since coming to UT in 2008, Tomsovic has helped revive the university’s power program, resulting in several new hires, a significant expansion of research activities, and UT’s recognition as one of the top power system and power electronics programs in the country. Most notably, he led the effort to bring the National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy’s first Engineering Research Center to address electric power transmission systems to UT. Tomsovic serves as director of the center, called CURENT (Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks), which has attracted close to $40 million in research funding and is working to develop transformational technologies to allow reliable operation of the power grid.
Signs near some bodies of water warn of danger on contact because of a toxin produced by blue-green algae. Steve Wilhelm, the Kenneth and Blaire Mossman Professor in the Department of Microbiology, has been a pioneer in the development of biomolecular tools that are helping scientists understand the environmental factors regulating those toxins. He’s also on a team researching giant viruses in seawater using a new technique, single virus genomics. Wilhelm’s methods are widely used, and his lab’s work has led to more than 150 peer-reviewed publications. Wilhelm—who has spent his entire academic career at UT—has received more than $17 million in grants. He is prolific in fostering the next generation of scientific change makers: he has trained close to 30 graduate students who have gone on to academia, industry, or government services, and about 80 percent of his undergraduate students have gone on to graduate school or professional programs.