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UK Board Approves Four University Research Professorships

By Jenny Wells

(May 8, 2015) — The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees today approved University Research Professorships for 2015-16 for four faculty members. The professorships carry a $40,000 award to support research. Funds for these annual awards are provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Now in its 39th year, the University Research Professors program's purpose is to enhance and encourage scholarly research productivity, to provide an opportunity for concentrated research effort for selected faculty members, and to recognize outstanding research achievement by members of the faculty.

The 2015-16 University Research Professors are:

Lance E. De Long, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the UK College of Arts and Sciences, has had a long and uninterrupted record of high quality research in the area of condensed matter physics. He was honored as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2006 for his contributions to the understanding of magnetic properties and interactions in superconducting and strongly correlated metallic crystals and films.

He has recently turned his attention to the physics of quasicrystals and thin-film metamaterials. Quasicrystals, which are nearly absent in nature and difficult to grow in a laboratory, exhibit unique physical properties that have multiple potential applications. De Long's pioneering work in this area has led to advances that allow the creation of "artificial quasicrystals" which have complex physical properties that can be systematically controlled. De Long's work was featured on the cover of the Aug. 2013 issue of Physical Review Letters, the most prestigious physics journal in the world.

De Long plans to continue his investigations in the physical properties of thin-film quasicrystals that hold the promise of answering fundamental questions in physics. The insights gained will find applications in a wide range of science and will pave the way to future technological applications.

De Long came to UK as an assistant professor in 1979 and was promoted to full professor of physics in 2001. 

Rebecca Dutch, a professor in the UK Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, has established an international reputation in her area for understanding fundamental molecular mechanisms of emerging RNA viruses. Her research focuses on viruses which represent a critical threat to world health, as seen by the recent epidemics caused by Ebola, SARS and MERS virus. 

Dutch has made fundamental discoveries on the mechanism of infection for the Hendra and Nipah viruses, which are biosafety level-4 zoonotic pathogens with high mortality rates in humans. Her lab identified a critical host protein in viral infection and discovered a previously unknown mechanism for viral entry. This work provides an important new target for antiviral therapeutics.

In addition to mentoring undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students, Dutch has led studies of a recently discovered human respiratory virus that significantly impacts the very young and the elderly worldwide. With this award, she will continue studies of this virus, the human metapneumovirus (HMPV), to address important questions about the nature of viral infections, which are likely to impact our understanding of numerous human respiratory pathogens.

Dutch joined the UK Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry in 2000.  She has been a full professor of biochemistry since 2001 and associate dean for biomedical education in the College of Medicine since 2013.

Suzanne Segerstrom, a professor in the UK Department of Psychology, has built an internationally recognized research program focusing on self-regulatory processes. Her work addresses many aspects of self-regulation, including the personality processes associated with self-regulation, the resources that contribute to and follow from self-regulation, and psychological and physiological consequences of self-regulation.

Her more recent work on how self-regulation affects psychological and physical health in older adults was recognized with an Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institute on Aging. In addition to this honor, she was made a fellow of three professional societies, has served as the associate editor of three major journals and as a consulting editor on seven additional journals, and was appointed senior editor for Oxford Research Reviews for 2012-2015.

The research that Segerstrom will conduct with this award follows from the finding that conscientiousness is a robust predictor of resistance to cognitive decline. She will use brain-imaging procedures to test three hypotheses that may explain this connection and influence both behavioral and neuroscience research on cognitive aging.

Segerstrom joined the UK psychology department in 1997 and was promoted to full professor in 2007.

Dong-Sheng Yang, a professor in the UK Department of Chemistry, is an international leader in the study of catalytic chemistry using a technique called zero electron kinetic energy (ZEKE) spectroscopy. This is a form of high-resolution photoelectron spectroscopy that is ideally suited to the study of fundamental metal-ligand interactions. He is one of a very few practitioners of this technically demanding science and the only one in the world applying it to organometallic complexes.

Before coming to UK, Yang constructed the finest instrument in the world for ZEKE spectroscopy that UK purchased from the Canadian government when Yang came to UK in 1998. He has continued to improve it to the point that it is orders of magnitude better than any other instrument available commercially.

With this award, Yang and the students he mentors will use laser techniques to study carbon-hydrogen and carbon-carbon bond activation by transition metals. This is a very important area of research because the insertion of metals into such bonds is the fundamental catalytic chemistry that drives most industrial processes for converting crude oil into useful organic chemicals. These chemicals are crucial building blocks for the plastics and manufacturing industries.  He and his group are establishing the primary data that will be used to understand metal-hydrocarbon interactions in real-world industrial processes.

Yang was a research associate for the National Research Council of Canada before coming to UK in 1998 as an assistant professor.  He was promoted to full professor in the Department of Chemistry in 2007.

About UK Research Professorships

The purpose of the University Research Professorships is to enhance and encourage scholarly research productivity, provide an opportunity for concentrated research effort for selected faculty members, recognize outstanding research achievement by members of its faculty, emphasize its research function, and to publicize its research accomplishments in order that the research function of the university be appropriately recognized and understood.