Chancellor Announces 2011 Distinguished Research Awards

Issue Date: 
February 21, 2011

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has announced the winners of the 2011 Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award, which will be given to the following five faculty members:

Jeremy Levy, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy;

Edouard Machery, a professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science;

Mary L. Marazita, a professor in and vice chair of the Department of Oral Biology in the School of Dental Medicine, director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics, a professor of human genetics in the Graduate School of Public Health, and a professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine;

John D. Norton, director of the Center for Philosophy of Science, and a professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science; and

Alexander Star, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.

Levy, Marazita, and Norton are being honored in the senior scholar category, which recognizes “an outstanding and continuing record of research and scholarly activity,” while Machery and Star are being honored in the junior scholar category. Each awardee will receive a $2,000 cash prize and a $3,000 grant for research support and will be recognized at the University of Pittsburgh’s 35th annual Honors Convocation, to be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 25 in Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

Levy is a widely respected leader in the field of oxide electronics and quantum computation. The Chancellor’s Award selection committee said it was particularly impressed by the information provided in support of his nomination, including the letters of recommendation from well-known authorities in the fields of physics and astronomy. The chancellor, in his Feb. 9 letter informing Levy of the award, said Levy’s research has been described “as an unusual combination of depth, breadth, interdisciplinary focus, leadership, achievement, and high impact.” Levy received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award in the junior category in 2004. He received in 2008 the coveted Nano 50 Award for his invention of an oxide-based nanotransistor. In 2009, he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for inventing new approaches to creating electronic circuitry at scales that seem unimaginably small, such as a working transistor with wires that were only two nanometers wide.

Machery’s remarkable productivity in the six years since he received his PhD greatly impressed the award selection committee. Nordenberg, in his congratulatory letter to Machery, noted that Machery has published more than 60 articles and book chapters in the most prestigious journals in both philosophy and psychology. “This is an exceptional record of accomplishment, particularly for someone in the early stages of his career. You are considered one of the best philosophers of cognitive science in the world, regardless of career stage,” the chancellor wrote. Machery is also recognized as one of the leading contributors to the development of experimental philosophy, a new area within the discipline. One nomination letter described Machery as “a force of nature … a strikingly original thinker … ferociously smart, and … astonishingly productive.”  It is clear, Nordenberg wrote, “that you have achieved national and international eminence as an outstanding scholar in your field.”

Marazita is a leader in the field of cleft lip and palate genetics who has made enormous contributions to the understanding of this complex genetic birth defect. “Described as a talented scientist whose work has spanned a variety of disciplines, including statistics, human genetics, psychiatry, and oral biology, you have remained on the forefront of gene identification efforts for over twenty years,” the chancellor wrote in his letter notifying Marazita of her award. Marazita helped to establish the School of Dental Medicine nationally as a center for research in oral/dental disease, with particular strengths in genetics and tissue regeneration. “Your contributions to the School of Dental Medicine, as well as the other schools of health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, cannot be overstated,” the chancellor wrote. “You have been awarded 53 grants from federal and state agencies and private foundations, totaling almost $48.5 million and have published more than 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts.”

Nordenberg praised Norton for his accomplishments in the field of the history and philosophy of science that have earned him national and international esteem as a scholar in the discipline.  Norton has a particular interest in the research of physicist Albert Einstein; Norton’s work in this area has earned him the distinction of being “the world’s preeminent scholar on the genesis of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” Nordenberg said in his Feb. 9 letter informing Norton of the award. “The selection committee was particularly impressed with your detailed analysis of Einstein’s Zurich notebook and the many papers you have authored on Einstein’s thinking on a variety of fundamental questions. … Your contributions to the philosophy of space and time, inductive logic, the role of thought experiments, and the ways scientific theories should be evaluated all are highly regarded. As one fellow scholar stated, ‘no one so brilliantly combines these disciplines as does John Norton,’” Nordenberg wrote. Norton also has served as chair of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and as director of the Center for Philosophy of Science.

Star’s research has provided innovative contributions to carbon nanotube materials. “[Y]ou were among the first researchers to chemically modify carbon nanotubes in an effort to affect their biological properties, paving the way for their use in medical applications, as well as their safe and effective removal from the environment,” the chancellor wrote in Star’s award letter. “You also were one of the first researchers to recognize that single wall carbon nanotubes are an ideal platform on which to construct chemical sensing devices.” The award selection committee noted that Star’s research has been instrumental in fabricating new materials consisting of carbon nanocapsules for use as nanocontainers, which have many potential applications, among them material storage, nanoreactors, drug-delivery vehicles, and chemical sensing. In addition, the chancellor wrote, “Your colleagues have described your investigations as a unique blend of fundamental and applied research that have combined to propel you to the forefront of carbon nanotube research.”