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Four faculty members earn ‘highest university honor’

By Bryan Richardson

Kansas State University has chosen four faculty members as the newest university distinguished professors, a lifetime title that is the highest honor the university bestows on its faculty.

The faculty members include Christer Aakeroy, professor of chemistry; Itzik Ben-Itzhak, professor of physics; Susan Brown, professor of biology; and Ruth Welti, professor of biology.

University distinguished professors are appointed following a universitywide competition conducted by the provost.

Each of this year’s recipients has received national and international recognition for his or her work.

* Aakeroy works in the field of supramolecular chemistry. His research focuses on establishing how molecules communicate, recognize and bind to each other, and how physical properties of solid-state architectures can be modulated by controlling the way in which molecules are assembled. The results from his research currently are being applied to pharmaceutical chemistry and the formulation of agrochemicals.

Aakeroy has received more than $2 million in research funding from organizations like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense and industrial collaborators. His research has appeared in more than 120 publications in peer-reviewed journals and his work has been cited more than 4,500 times in scientific literature. He has given more than 60 invited presentations at academic institutions, industry and national laboratories, and he has been the keynote speaker at conferences across the world.

* Ben-Itzhak’s research focuses on the interaction of intense ultrashort laser pulses with molecular ions, with the long-term goal of gaining sufficient understanding of these processes so that they may be controlled at the quantum mechanical level. He also studies the physics of atomic and molecular collisions.

The work is carried out in the James R. Macdonald Laboratory, of which Ben-Itzhak is also the director. The laboratory is in the department of physics and includes 15 graduate faculty in atomic, molecular and optical physics. The laboratory is supported, in part, by $2.5 million each year from the U.S. Department of Energy.  Ben-Itzhak is currently overseeing the installation of a major new laser system funded by a separate $1.3 million Department of Energy grant.

Ben-Itzhak has received collaborative funding from the National Science Foundation and the Binational Science Foundation. He has given nearly 50 invited talks at conferences and departments across the globe, and he has written more than 130 articles in journals, conference proceedings and books. He currently advises six graduate students and has mentored five graduate students and five postdoctoral fellows in the past. Undergraduate students working with him have been particularly prolific and have co-authored more than 63 articles.

*Brown studies genomics, bioinformatics and the evolution of gene regulatory networks. She is the director of the Arthropod Genomic Center and the Bioinformatics Center. She is currently working on Agripestbase, a community database that contains genome data for pest insects.

She is currently studying early embryonic patterning and segmentation mechanisms in Tribolium.

She has received funding from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. She has published more than 95 articles, which have appeared in journals such as Developmental Biology, Genetics, Journal of Theoretical Biology and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She is currently advising three graduate students and five undergraduate students, and has advised 38 graduate students and 36 undergraduate students in the past. Brown received the 2010 Commerce Bank Distinguished Graduate Faculty award and was named a fellow of the Entomology Society of America in 2011. She is a member of the Society for Developmental Biology and the Genetics Society of America.

Brown joined Kansas State University in 1983 as a research associate in the department of biochemistry.

* Welti studies the chemistry and biochemistry of lipids. She is director and co-founder of the Kansas Lipidomics Research Center, which is used by scientists around the world as a resource for lipid analysis by mass spectrometry. She has been influential in introducing mass spectrometry as a tool for analysis of lipids, particularly to plant biologists.

Welti’s research has appeared in more than 100 publications. Her work has been funded by agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Her current work is aimed at determining the role of lipid oxidation in the response of plants to environmental stresses such as temperature changes and exposure to pathogens. Welti received the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation Scholar award in 2006 and the Outstanding Senior Scientist Award from the Kansas State University chapter of Sigma Xi in 2008.

Welti serves on five journal editorial boards, including the board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She has mentored five graduate students, 66 undergraduate students and eight postdoctoral researchers in her research group.

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