Two faculty in the College of Science are among 20 Texas A&M University faculty named to the third class of Presidential Impact Fellows, announced this week by President Michael K. Young and Provost and Executive Vice President Carol A. Fierke.
Mathematician Simon Foucart and physicist Rupak Mahapatra both received the coveted honor, created in 2017 to recognize the continued development of and excellence in one of the university’s greatest strengths — its faculty.
The third class of Presidential Impact Fellows joins more than 40 colleagues recognized in prior years with one of the most prestigious scholarly impact awards presented to Texas A&M faculty. The award was initiated by President Young as a significant investment in faculty excellence and a recognition of the scholarship, personal commitment and global impact awardees are making as they rise to meet the challenges of their field and demonstrate impact.
The Texas A&M Science duo and their fellow 2019 honorees were officially recognized at a November 5 ceremony on the Texas A&M campus attended by many of the Fellows’ senior mentors, the previous two classes of Presidential Impact Fellows and University Professors as well as the inaugural recipients of the Enhancing Development and Generating Excellence in Scholarship (EDGES) Fellowship.
Each member of the 2019 class — which collectively represents Texas A&M’s 16 colleges and schools, two branch campuses, and comprehensive University Libraries — will receive an annual stipend of $25,000 for the next three fiscal years to accelerate their teaching, research and service efforts. In addition to retaining the title of Presidential Impact Fellow for life, each will receive a glass art memento reflecting the synergy of transformational learning, discovery and impact achieved through Texas A&M’s commitment to creating a better world.
Recipients are identified by their deans and confirmed by academic leadership. They are considered candidates for continued or new national and international acclaim and will utilize this honor to participate in national dialogue, advance their scholarship and create new partnerships.
Foucart and Mahapatra join chemists Wenshe R. Liu (2018) and Karen L. Wooley (2017), mathematician Eric C. Rowell (2018) and physicists Saskia Mioduszewski (2018) and Alexei V. Sokolov (2017) as current Presidential Impact Fellows within the College of Science.
Foucart joined the Texas A&M Department of Mathematics in 2015, earning promotion to full professor in 2019. He obtained his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in 2006 and completed postdoctoral stints at Vanderbilt University and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France. His current research deals with the mathematical foundations of data science, including compressive sensing, approximation theory and computational mathematics, with in excess of 3,900 Google Scholar citations to date. Foucart’s work is theoretically sophisticated yet practically relevant and inherently multidisciplinary, involving colleagues from biology, statistics, engineering, computer science and atmospheric science. He publishes in top journals spanning a wide spectrum, from Bioinformatics and IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, to purely mathematical journals such as Constructive Approximation, IMA Journal of Numerical Analysis, Linear Algebra and Applications, Numerische Mathematik, SIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis, Journal of Complexity (from which he received the Best Paper Award in 2010) and Journal of Approximation Theory (for which he became an editor in 2017). Foucart’s research is well supported by the National Science Foundation, among other funding sources. For the past decade, he has devoted the majority of his efforts toward compressive sensing, an area in which he is regarded as one of the leading mathematical theoretical experts, with 25 published papers directly related to the subject. He also co-wrote the first mathematical book on the topic that is both highly cited and used for graduate classes in 20-plus universities, including MIT, Princeton and Stanford as well as institutions in Hong Kong, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Cambridge and Oxford. As a coveted lecturer on the topic, Foucart has delivered six compressive sensing short courses throughout the world. He’s also an in-demand instructor in Aggieland, where he currently is teaching an advanced graduate course, Topics in Mathematical Data Science. In addition, he is part of the university-wide effort to initiate a master’s program in data science, for which he is developing a course, Mathematical Foundations for Data Science, that tentatively is set to be offered in fall 2020. Foucart also runs a weekly seminar called Data Science and Compressive Sensing.
Mahapatra joined the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy in December 2008 after receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota (2000) and completing postdoctoral work at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is widely regarded as an expert in high-energy particle physics and dark matter, a mysterious substance thought to comprise about one-fifth of the energy and 85 percent of all matter in the universe. Mahapatra, who was recognized with a 2010 Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Research Award, has served since 2003 as a principal investigator with the international Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SuperCDMS) experiment and the affiliated SuperCDMS SNOLAB experiment, a world leader in the search for elusive weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). Under his leadership, Texas A&M’s SuperCDMS group has sustained an average of approximately $1 million per year in external funding from various funding agencies. To date, the Mahapatra group has demonstrated the world’s best results for large-mass, low-threshold detector technology, opening new frontiers beyond the specific goal of direct detection of dark matter. In recent years, Mahapatra has founded a new world-class experiment, the Mitchell Institute Neutrino Experiment at Reactor (MINER) housed at the Texas A&M Nuclear Science Center, that utilizes cutting-edge low threshold detectors developed at Texas A&M to precisely measure background signals while also searching for new interactions beyond what is known to exist in the Standard Model of particle physics. The MINER collaboration now has more than 60 scientists from 11 universities in four countries. More recently, Mahapatra’s diverse background in particle physics experimentation has led him into a new area of applied research: medical imaging. He has built early prototypes of new-generation positron emission tomography (PET) scan detectors and submitted proposals to fund such work that promises to provide more accurate imaging technology. His research has the potential to deliver earlier diagnostics of diseases such as Alzheimer’s by looking for tau-proteins (bio markers) that are smaller in size than current-generation PET scanners can detect but within the reach of more accurate, next-generation PET scanners that utilize more sophisticated particle physics experimental techniques — invaluable work that his Presidential Impact Fellow award will support.
Earlier this fall, Mahapatra was appointed as director of research engagement for The Texas A&M University System National Laboratories Office (NLO). A logical choice based on his existing relationships with four national laboratories — SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — Mahapatra works to increase engagement between researchers throughout the Texas A&M System and all DOE-affiliated laboratories.
To learn more about faculty in the College of Science, visit https://science.tamu.edu/faculty/.
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