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Awards, appointments, and other news

Compiled by Adam Overland

Connie Lu 165
Connie Lu

January 30

To submit U of M staff or faculty for consideration in People, contact the Brief editor. For more information, see award & appointment submission guidelines.

Professor Lu receives CAREER award

Professor Connie Lu has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her research project, Configuring New Bonds Between First-Row Transition Metals.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is one of the NSF's most prestigious awards. It supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

Lu's research interests are to develop inexpensive bimetallic catalysts for small-molecule activation, specifically the reduction of carbon dioxide.

The five-year CAREER award support will allow Lu to better integrate research with her teaching and outreach in new ways. For example, a student-created and community-edited online resource will provide public access to the results and relevant literature of this research field. Lu and members of the Women in Science and Engineering group will adapt the popular Solar Hydrogen Activity Research Kit (SHArK), an outreach program in several high schools and universities, to a solar energy workshop for middle school girls. For more information, see Connie Lu.

2013–15 McKnight Land-Grant Professorships

The Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research have announced the recipients of the 2013¬–15 McKnight Land-Grant Professorships. Congratulations to Jake Bailey (Earth Sciences), Jasmine Foo (Mathematics), Anika Hartz (Pharmacy, UMD), Mo Li (Electrical & Computer Engineering), Alice Lovejoy (Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature), and Rusen Yang (Mechanical Engineering).

IAS 2013–14 faculty fellows

The Institute for Advanced Study is pleased to announce its faculty fellows for 2013–14. Every year the IAS selects up to 12 University of Minnesota faculty as residential fellows. Fellows spend a semester in residence at the IAS where they form a supportive interdisciplinary intellectual community in which they work intensively on their own research and creative projects and meet regularly to discuss their work and exchange ideas. In 2013–14, IAS faculty fellows are drawn from 11 departments in 5 colleges from the Twin Cities, Duluth, and Morris campuses.

2013–14 faculty fellows

Clint Carroll, Department of American Indian Studies, CLA-TC

Bianet Castellanos, Department of American Studies, CLA-TC

Carl Elliott, Jr., Center for Bioethics, Academic Health Center TC

Qiang Fang, Department of History, CLA-Duluth

Jill Hasday, Law School-TC

Karen Ho, Department of Anthropology, CLA-TC

Patricia Lorcin, Department of History, CLA-TC

Lorena Munoz, Department of Geography, CLA-TC

Jimmy Patino, Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, CLA-TC

Matthew Rahaim, School of Music, CLA-TC

Tisha Turk, English, Humanities-Morris

For more information, see 2013–14 Faculty Fellows.

Schwartz awarded MN Artist Initiative Grant

Associate Professor Dona Schwartz has received a $10,000 2013 Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. With the award, Schwartz will produce framed exhibition prints from her award-winning project On the Nest. The prints will be exhibited in association with the launch of a published monograph of the series.

The series has been featured in numerous publications, including Marie Claire (China) and The New York Times.

Artist Initiative Grants are for artists at all stages of their careers, to support artistic development, nurture artistic creativity, and recognize the contributions individual artists make to the creative environment of the state of Minnesota.

For more information, see Schwartz.

Brain tumor pioneer John Ohlfest has died after battle with cancer

University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center researcher and first recipient of the Hedberg Family/Children's Cancer Research Fund Endowed Chair in Brain Tumor Research, John Ohlfest passed away January 21, after a battle with malignant melanoma. He was 35 years old. He is survived by his wife, Karen, and their two children.

Ohlfest, the director of the Neurosurgery Gene Therapy Program, and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, was a recognized pioneer in the treatment of brain tumors using both gene therapy and novel immunotherapies in an attempt to boost a patient's own immune system to attack the cancer.

In recent years, his work on brain tumors in dogs also gained national prominence. Ohlfest relied on dogs as a model to test the safety and effectiveness of new treatments prior to their implementation in humans. This model not only served to be more relevant than testing in mice but also gave many family pets a chance for cure. Most importantly, this work gave real hope to patients with brain tumors refractory to conventional therapies.

Ohlfest explored multiple strategies to tackle brain tumors. While his work focused on the development of customized vaccines that would stimulate a patient's own immune cells to destroy the tumor stem cells (the 'parent' cells responsible for tumor growth), he also looked at ways to alter the environment of the brain tumor cells, making it less resistant to therapy. He also was instrumental in the development of new devices to better deliver chemotherapy to the tumor itself.

Since his original research, Ohlfest had also started working toward a "vaccine" for three other types of recurrent brain tumors: glioblastoma, medulloblastoma and ependymoma.

Dr. Ohlfest studied molecular biology at Iowa State University and received his B.S. in 2001. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota in 2004 and joined the faculty of the department of neurosurgery in 2005 and then pediatrics in 2007.

In 2009, Ohlfest and College of Veterinary Medicine surgeon Elizabeth Pluhar partnered to apply his combination of gene and immunotherapy to a dog named Batman. After removing much of the tumor then administering the vaccine, Batman lived tumor free until passing away from an unrelated condition.

In 2010, Ohlfest partnered with University of Minnesota pediatric neuro-oncologist Christopher Moertel on a first-in-human clinical trial testing his first vaccine in eight adults. Although short lived, decreases in tumor size and an absence of side effects gave way to second and third generation studies yet to be completed.

For Ohlfest, creating effective therapies for people with brain tumors was an ultimate priority. In graduate school he dedicated himself to fighting brain cancer, realizing that a lack of drugs—and research—was costing people's lives. One of those was his grandmother, who died from ovarian cancer that metastasized to her brain.

"Brain tumors come back with extreme fury," Ohlfest said in 2011. "Our work is never enough—not until this is cured."

In honor of John Ohlfest, an education fund—the Ohlfest Memorial Education Fund—has been established for his children. The fund is through Wells Fargo. To donate, visit any Wells Fargo branch and ask to make a contribution.

U in the News: A selection of U faculty and staff in the news as appearing daily in Today's News.

Facing cancer, a stark choice
Researchers estimate that as many as 15 percent of women with breast cancer—30,000 a year—opt to have both breasts removed, up from less than 3 percent in the late 1990s. Most of the data on prophylactic mastectomy come from the University of Minnesota, where researchers tracked contralateral mastectomy trends from 1998 to 2006. Dr. Todd Tuttle, chief of surgical oncology at the U of M, comments. New York Times.

U of M research could be key to walking again
At the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute, neuroscientist Ann Parr is in the early stages of taking emerging research to the next level. Parr and her team are working on creating unique stem cells that could be implanted in a patient with a spinal cord injury. The cells would regenerate the dead cells around the spinal cord ‚ essentially re-growing a broken spinal cord. City Pages.

Professor receives $3.7 million for HIV research
A University researcher is a few years away from potentially improving treatments and vaccines for HIV. The National Institutes of Health awarded associate professor Pam Skinner and her collaborator a five-year, $3.7 million grant for HIV research. Minnesota Daily.

Insurance exchanges are next big hurdle in health care
The long, heated debate over federal health care reform has landed squarely in Minnesota, as legislators work at break-neck speed to hammer out details of one of the law's central mechanisms. ...University of Minnesota health industry economist Roger Feldman comments. Star Tribune.

Faculty carry the administrative research burden
From a researcher's point of view, the University of Minnesota doesn't have enough administrators. The University has endured criticism over the last month after a Wall Street Journal article scrutinized its administrative spending, but many professors say they have taken on more administrative responsibilities throughout the years. MN Daily.

'Body Worlds' preservation method also used at University of Minnesota
"Beautiful" might not be the word most people would use to describe a slice of human brain, captured in cross section, looking slightly like a Dr. Seuss tree with pinkish lobes. But that is what anatomy professor Anthony Weinhaus said when he looked at a specimen preserved by a University of Minnesota colleague at a campus lab. Pioneer Press.

Victims of sexual trauma harness the calming power of horses
Chante Wolf, an Air Force veteran served in the Persian Gulf war in 1991, where, she says, she and other female recruits were systematically targeted for abuse. These days she finds solace in an unexpected place —a horse farm called Freedom Farm about an hour west of Minneapolis, where the sky opens up to lush rolling hills. Michael Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, likened the psychological effects of military sexual assault to incest. New York Times (blog).

January 23

To submit U of M staff or faculty for consideration in People, contact the Brief editor. For more information, see award & appointment submission guidelines.

U awarded $28 million to lead new national research center

The University of Minnesota announced today that it has been awarded a $28 million grant over five years to lead a new national research center focused on developing the next generation of microelectronics. About one-third of the grant will support research in Minnesota.

The grant was awarded by the Semiconductor Research Corporation, a global research collaboration of private companies, universities and government agencies, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Minnesota is one of only six lead universities to receive funding through the Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research network (STARnet) initiative aimed at supporting continued growth and leadership of the U.S. semiconductor industry.

The new Center for Spintronic Materials, Interfaces, and Novel Architectures (C-SPIN) at the University of Minnesota will bring together top researchers from across the nation to develop technologies for spin-based computing and memory systems. Unlike today's computers, which function on the basis of electrical charges moving across wires, the emerging spin-based computing systems will process and store information through spin, a fundamental property of electrons.

The research will also have an impact beyond the world of computer science and engineering resulting in advances in nanotechnology, materials science, physics, chemistry, circuit design, and many other fields, Wang said.

C-SPIN is headquartered at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and will fund research for 31 leading experts from 14 universities working in six scientific disciplines. C-SPIN will also fund research from more than 60 doctoral and post-doctoral students and host industry researchers-in-residence.

In addition to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the 13 other universities involved are Carnegie Mellon University; Cornell University; Johns Hopkins University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Pennsylvania State University; Purdue University; University of Alabama; University of California, Riverside; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Iowa; University of Michigan; University of Nebraska; and University of Wisconsin-Madison. For more information, see the news release.

Gaither named senior associate dean for professional ed

Caroline Gaither has been named the senior associate dean for professional education

Gaither joined the College of Pharmacy in early 2012 as the assistant dean for professional education, and she has served as the interim senior associate dean since October 2012.

The senior associate dean's role in the college is to lead the Professional Education Division and facilitate design, implementation and delivery of the new curriculum.

U in the News: A selection of U faculty and staff in the news as appearing daily in Today's News.

Pres. Kaler responds to criticism of hiring at U of M
Recent criticism of administrative hiring at the University of Minnesota is not accurate, university President Eric Kaler told a state Senate higher-education committee Tuesday. MPR.

How far off is a better flu shot?
Someday you may only have to get a flu shot every five years. The vaccine has to be updated every year to account for the flu's changes. But forecasting what those changes will be is tough. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, comments. National Geographic.

When pills fail, this, er, option provides a cure
The treatment may sound appalling, but it works. Transplanting feces from a healthy person into the gut of one who is sick can quickly cure severe intestinal infections caused by a dangerous type of bacteria that antibiotics often cannot control. Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota who has performed the transplants in more than 100 patients, comments. New York Times.

Minnesota's pet ownership goes to the dogs
Minnesota is not feeling the puppy love. Rates of pet ownership here—especially dogs—is among the lowest in the nation, according to survey data recently released by the American Veterinary Medical Association. David Lee, a professor and the hospital director of the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center, said the lower pet ownership rates here may be more of a result of demographics than a reflection of Minnesotans' love of animals. Pioneer Press.

The real reason soda is bad: We drink too much of it
It's not exactly a secret that soda is bad for you, but apparently we're in denial or just don't realize how much we're drinking. Researchers now believe it's the latter: We're drinking too much because we just don't understand just how many sugary calories can be packed into a small, delicious drink. "Our bodies aren't really that sensitive of a detector of calories in liquid form," University of Minnesota obesity researcher Simone French said recently. Cosmopolitan.

Newtown native takes Twin Cities therapy dog to grieving hometown
Three weeks after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Holly Ryan sat with a teacher who'd been in the school that day and whose students were among the dead. As she spoke, Ranger, a well-mannered, doe-eyed Labrador retriever mix, laid his head on her lap. Jeff Bender, a professor of veterinary public health at the University of Minnesota, said dogs like Ranger act as "a social lubricant" for people working through trauma, helping lighten the mood and break down barriers. Pioneer Press.

January 16

To submit U of M staff or faculty for consideration in People, contact the Brief editor. For more information, see award & appointment submission guidelines.

Dayton appoints Kate Knuth to state environment board

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has appointed Kate Knuth to a two-year term as a citizen member of the state's Environmental Quality Board, effective Jan. 14.

Knuth, director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and a graduate student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, brings a wealth of experience in environmental protection, state government, and leadership to the position.

She recently completed three terms of service in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where she worked on numerous environment, energy, and commerce issues. In her work at the Institute on the Environment, she creates opportunities for University students to develop leadership skills to take on environmental challenges.

The Environmental Quality Board is composed of the governor's office, the heads of nine state agencies, and five citizen members. It develops plans and policies and reviews projects that have potential for impacting the quality of Minnesota's environment.

For more information, see the news release.

Savelsberg honored with Freda Adler Distinguished Scholar Award

Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology) was honored with the 2012 Freda Adler Distinguished Scholar Award by the American Society of Criminology's International Division. The award recognizes "an international scholar who has made a significant contribution to international criminology, including international criminal justice, comparative, and transnational crime and justice research."

U in the News: A selection of U faculty and staff in the news as appearing daily in Today's News.

U of M responds to report criticizing its spending
The University of Minnesota is now defending itself against allegations of wasteful spending. Those claims stem from a Wall Street Journal investigation saying that the university failed to keep close tabs on its payroll as student tuition spiked. The report said hundreds of administrators are making six-figure salaries, allegations that the new university president Eric Kaler says are "incomplete" and "inaccurate." MinnPost.

Safety of induced stem cells gets a boost
A paper published in Nature today could dispel a cloud over the hopes of turning a patient's own cells into perfectly matched replacement tissues. Jakub Tolar, a clinician at the University of Minnesota, comments. Nature.

What doctors do to prevent suicides?
Dr. Katharine Nelson, Program Director for the University of Minnesota Psychiatry Residency Program, talked with Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer about what family members and medical professional can do to try and prevent a suicide. MPR.

Minnesota flu outbreak rivals deadly pandemic of 2009
Minnesota appears to be in the midst of the worst flu outbreak since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, health officials said Wednesday. Dave Golden, director of public health at the University of Minnesota's Boynton Health Service, Dr. Nicholas Kelly, a researcher at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and the center's director Dr. Micheal Osterholm discuss this year's battle against the flu. Star Tribune.

How to keep New Year's Resolutions
If you started the year by making some New Year's resolutions, you are in good company. A new survey has found 45 percent of us planned to make them, but here's the rub, when it comes to keeping them, only about 8 percent of us will succeed. Becky Gorman from the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing says that doesn't have to happen providing you are open to a new approach. KARE-TV.

How To Manage Your Time Better At Work
How often have you left work for the day and felt disappointed that you didn't get more accomplished? Dr. Sophie Leroy a professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, who has done research on the effect of interruptions, says when we try to do too many things at one time our brains simply can't keep up and the quality of our work suffers. WCCO-TV.

Mars Mission Could Turn Astronauts Into Couch Potatoes
Imagine life on a spaceship headed to Mars. According to an Earth-based experiment in which six volunteers stayed in a windowless "spaceship" for nearly a year and a half, the monotony, tight living space, and lack of natural light will probably make you sleep more and work less These findings are important because a crew in space needs to be at peak performance to work competently and act quickly should an emergency strike, says psychologist Gloria Leon of the University of Minnesota. Science Magazine.

January 9

To submit U of M staff or faculty for consideration in People, contact the Brief editor. For more information, see award & appointment submission guidelines.

Gene-modification technique called 2012 top scientific breakthrough

Voytas UEL - 300x225Daniel VoytasAn approach to modify genes developed by University of Minnesota researcher Daniel Voytas and colleagues was among the "breakthroughs of the year" detailed in a special issue of Science published December 21. The technique, based on enzymes called TALENs (transcription activator–like effector nucleases) that "read" DNA and makes pinpoint changes in a targeted gene, offers researchers an unprecedented level of control for gene modification.

Science underscores the significance of rapid developments relating to gene modification made possible by TALENs and related techniques, describing such advances as "unthinkable just a few years ago." The publication notes that the technique represents a clear turning point. Previous approaches to changing or deleting DNA were unpredictable and imprecise at best. With its novel accuracy and control, TALENs hold the promise of correcting genetic disease without the risks associated with past methods of gene modification.

The university has filed a request for a patent on the technique and has licensed the technology to the French biotechnology company Cellectis, which opened a research and development division in the Twin Cities in 2011. Voytas serves as chief science officer for Cellectis plant sciences.

Since the introduction of TALENs in 2010, demand has grown rapidly in research labs. The technique has been used successfully by researchers studying a range of topics as diverse as heart disease and plant productivity. Voytas' lab is interested in using the technique to improve disease resistance in plants and to make plants healthier by modifying plant oils and carbohydrates. For more information, see the news release.

White Shield named President-elect of Minnesota Evaluation Association

Rosemary White Shield, director of evaluation in the University of Minnesota's Office for Equity and Diversity, was recently selected as President-elect of the Minnesota Evaluation Association. As an affiliate of the American Evaluation Association (, the Minnesota chapter works to promote and improve the theory, practice, understanding and use of evaluation and its contribution to the community.

Dr. White Shield also holds a national appointment as an evaluation expert for the Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, a training and technical assistance center funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC. She delivered a keynote address entitled "Culturally Responsive Research and Evaluation" at the University of North Carolina in September 2012, and in November, she was selected as a lead evaluation consultant for the National Service to Science Regional Initiative, which serves 11 states in the central United States.

Sorensen named Peters Chair in Pharmacy

Todd Sorensen, professor in the College of Pharmacy, has been named the Peters Chair in Pharmacy Practice Innovation.

Memorial gathering to remember Anne Thorsen Truax

A memorial gathering to remember Anne Thorsen Truax will take place Jan. 29, Maroon and Gold Room, McNamara Alumni Center. A reception will begin at 3:30 p.m., followed by a brief program and time for sharing memories. Anne Thorsen Truax (1925–2012), a feminist pioneer, was the director of the Minnesota Women's Center at the University of Minnesota from 1971–91. She was instrumental in founding the Center for Advanced Feminist Studies, and ended her years at the University of Minnesota as the sexual harassment officer for the Office of Equal Opportunity. Anne's work to change the campus climate for women at the University of Minnesota was recognized in 1997 by the establishment of the Mullen-Spector-Truax Endowment for Women's Leadership. RSVP online.

U in the News: A selection of U faculty and staff in the news as appearing daily in Today's News.

Eric Kaler: Criticism of U's fiscal care shortsighted
"Charles Lane's Jan. 1 op-ed column, "Big bloat on campus," about costs at public universities, summarized parts of a recent Wall Street Journal article about the University of Minnesota. However, the column and article did not report that, despite stunning state disinvestment, the university is more productive than at any time in recent history. It serves nearly 9,000 more students than it did in 2000, and it has reduced the per capita cost of educating students by 13 percent," states Eric Kaler, President of the University of Minnesota, in a Letter to the Editor. Washington Post.

SAD? Run it off
Shannon Hyland-Tassava tries to run up to 25 miles a week, year around. It's harder in winter—icy sidewalks, snowy trails—but she's determined. As a sufferer of seasonal mood problems, Hyland-Tassava runs for her emotional as well as physical health. Indeed, research suggests exercise can be as effective as medication in combating depression—and comes with positive side effects instead of negative ones, said Beth Lewis, a University of Minnesota psychologist who studies exercise psychology. Star Tribune.

President Kaler responds to press allegations of U of M 'bloat'
In a one-on-one interview, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler addresses a recent article in the Wall Street Journal and an op-ed in the Washington Post about "administrative bloat." MinnPost.

Can't ring the register on tax reform
The fiscal-cliff agreement reached this week covered only the easiest issues—although not easily. The difficult work of deficit reduction and tax reform will be dealt with later, and the outcome doesn't look promising. Congress loves to talk about tax reform, but every major piece of legislation only makes our tax system more complicated, including this one. Author Paul G. Gutterman is director of the Masters of Business Tax Program at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. Star Tribune.

The secrets of earth's history may be in its caves
In a honeycombed cave formed untold millennia ago beneath what is now southeastern Minnesota stands Larry Edwards a geochemist at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in the use of cave formations to document ancient climate. He is not planning to collect stalagmites today, but two specimens severed from their moorings when the owner of the cave complex, Spring Valley Caverns, opened a deeper passageway recently provided Edwards and his colleagues with a record of extreme rainfall events over the past 3,000 years. Smithsonian.

Wikipedia is driving away newcomers, report says
Old editors, impersonal rejection and restrictive rules are driving newcomers away from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, report behavioral scientists. However, new rules instituted in 2007 to increase the website's quality have driven vital new volunteers away from the effort, report computer scientists led by Aaron Halfaker of the University of Minnesota in a new study in the American Behavioral Scientist journal. Detroit Free Press.

Good Question: Where do apps come from?
Rick Huebsch, the associate director for technology and commercialization at the U of M, helps answer this question. WCCO-TV.

Study: Global crop production shows some signs of stagnating
After decades of rapidly growing global agricultural output, production of four of the world's most important crops could be stagnating or even slowing in some regions, according to a new study published in Nature, a top scientific journal. The study, by the University of Minnesota's Deepak Ray and four others, examined millions of census reports from the last half century to gather their data. Washington Post.

Yes, Virginia, Minnesota really is nice
Researchers not only have proven that Minnesota Nice exists, they've quantified it. ...In rankings of states and metropolitan areas, Minnesota and the Twin Cities fare extremely well in a survey of nearly 82,000 Americans about everything from their involvement in the PTA to how often they do favors for their neighbors. The results of the study, "Civic Life in America: Key Findings on the Civic Health of the Nation," didn't surprise Mark Snyder, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota and director of its Center for the Study of the Individual and Society. Star Tribune.

The N.R.A. Protection Racket
Richard W. Painter, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, writes that Republicans must free themeselves from the N.R.A. protection racket in order to be part of the solution on gun control. Painter was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. New York Times.

Do eagles really snatch babies, like in the YouTube video? Not really, but they might steal your poodle
A video of a golden eagle attempting to steal a small child captured the imagination of the Internet today. Julia Ponder of the U of M Raptor Center shared on eagles and the hoax video. Slate.