Two faculty in the College of Science are among 11 Texas A&M University faculty named to the 2020 class of Presidential Impact Fellows, announced this week by the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculties.
Chemist Lei Fang and biologist Christine Merlin both received the coveted honor, created by Texas A&M President Michael K. Young in 2017 to recognize the continued development of and excellence in one of the university’s greatest strengths — its faculty.
The fourth official class of Presidential Impact Fellows joins more than 65 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.
Each member of the 2020 class — selected from among faculty within 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.
Fang and Merlin join chemists Wenshe Ray Liu (2018) and Karen L. Wooley (2017), mathematicians Simon Foucart (2019) and Eric C. Rowell (2018) and physicists Rupak Mahapatra (2019), Saskia Mioduszewski (2018) and Alexei V. Sokolov (2017) as current Presidential Impact Fellows within the College of Science.
Fang joined the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry in 2013 and also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He received his doctorate in chemistry from Northwestern University in 2010, studying under 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry co-recipient Sir James Fraser Stoddart. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in chemistry from Wuhan University in China in 2003 and 2006, respectively. Prior to coming to Texas A&M in 2013, Fang spent three years as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University. At Texas A&M, he leads a multidisciplinary research group studying functional organic materials with electronic, thermal or photo-activity in search of applications associated with electronics and energy conversion/storage. His research seeks to gain insights into design principles and structure-property relationships of these materials at both the molecular and the macroscopic scale by employing the toolboxes of synthetic chemistry and process engineering. In particular, the Fang research group focuses on the bottom-up synthesis and processing of ladder polymers and microporous polymer networks for applications associated with electronics and energy conversion/storage. Widely viewed as a rising star in polymer and materials science, Fang has been recognized with a 2017 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award in support of his research on polymer properties and dynamic bond-promoted coplanarity as well as a 2018 Polymers Young Investigator Award recognizing outstanding polymer chemists under the age of 35 across the world. In addition to being named a 2018 Polymer Chemistry Emerging Investigator and a 2017 American Chemical Society Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Young Investigator, Fang was honored by the chemistry industry as the recipient of the KANEKA Junior Faculty Award in 2015. He plans to use the majority of his Presidential Impact Fellow award funds to organize local symposia on functional organic materials, attracting highly renowned international speakers to Texas A&M to discuss relevant topics and leverage the local strength in Texas on organic materials research.
“Dr. Fang already has demonstrated substantial and far-reaching outcomes from his independent career, a testament to his incredible drive and creativity,” said Dr. Simon W. North, professor and head of Texas A&M Chemistry. “I anticipate that his research will lead to novel organic materials possessing unprecedented electronic or optical properties. His creative synthetic methods and important structure-property correlations will permit controlled tenability and unprecedented novel properties of these molecular-macromolecular architectures. The integration of Dr. Fang’s chemistry and engineering innovations will likely have transformational impact and influence in disciplines beyond chemistry. He is world-class, and this program will continue his meteoric rise.”
Merlin joined the Texas A&M Department of Biology in 2013, where her laboratory within the Texas A&M Center for Biological Clocks Research (CBCR) uses the Monarch butterfly as a model to study animal migration, the role of circadian clocks in regulating daily and seasonal animal physiology and behavior, and the evolution of the animal clockwork. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees studying animal biology, invertebrate physiology and insect physiology, respectively, at the University Paris 6 Pierre and Marie Curie in France. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School within the laboratory of Prof. Steven Reppert, Merlin and colleagues showed that the clocks necessary for flight orientation lie in the creatures’ antennae — a departure from the previous conventional wisdom that the brain controlled the mechanism, given that it controls behavioral rhythmicity in virtually every other animal, including humans. In 2017, she was recognized with the Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in Neuroscience, one of the nation’s oldest and most illustrious fellowships for young investigators engaged in groundbreaking neuroscience research, closely followed by the International Society for Research on Biological Rhythms’ 2018 Junior Faculty Research Award. Aided by CRISPR/Cas9 technology, Merlin’s research group already has succeeded in altering key biological clock-related genes in the Monarch in order to study their impact on daily circadian rhythms and seasonal migratory responses — work that has potential implications for better understanding seasonal changes in the human brain that could lead to breakthroughs regarding related ailments, such as seasonal depression. Specifically, Merlin plans to use her Presidential Impact Fellowship to fund her relatively new foray into magnetoreception, the only sense in biology for which the underlying mechanisms remain an enigma. She also hopes to generate additional preliminary data to support major grant proposals designed to further her efforts toward fully developing the Monarch system.
“Dr. Merlin is using Monarchs to investigate molecular aspects of clock function at a deeper level than would be possible in humans with our more complicated genomes,” said Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, professor and head of Texas A&M Biology. “She has been quick to apply and, in several cases, pioneer cutting-edge approaches. Her passion to rapidly adopt powerful technologies, no matter how complicated or challenging, ensures that she will remain at the forefront of research on biological rhythms.”
To learn more about faculty in the College of Science, visit https://science.tamu.edu/faculty/.
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