UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences lauded outstanding accomplishments in research during the 2023 Research Awards Ceremony, held Nov. 1 at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on the University Park campus.
“Our college excels in the integration of all three functions of research, extension and education,” said László Kulcsár, interim dean. “Our stakeholders and the needs we serve are diverse, and this is reflected in the range of expertise represented in the college’s research portfolio. We celebrate our faculty’s work in crop breeding, human and community dynamics, environmental impacts from climate change, food safety and more.”
Blair Siegfried, associate dean for research and graduate education, noted that over the past three years, the college’s faculty have collaborated to publish more than 700 unique refereed journal articles annually.
“Furthermore, our faculty members are achieving growing success in securing funds, with a consistent upward trajectory in their attainment of extramural funding,” he said. “In the previous year, faculty within the college actively engaged in external awards totaling more than $133 million. Among this sum, our faculty has garnered $72 million directly dedicated to bolstering their own research initiatives.”
Alex and Jessie C. Black Excellence in Research Award
The Black Award honors tenure-track faculty in the college for exceptional and original agricultural research conducted at Penn State. The award is a tribute to the late Alex Black, a professor of animal nutrition and the associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Penn State, and his wife, the late Jessie Clements Black.
This year’s recipient is Andrew Patterson, John T. and Paige S. Smith Professor and professor of molecular toxicology in the college, who also has an appointment as professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in Eberly College of Science. In addition, he is affiliated with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Penn State Cancer Institute. He is recognized as a leader in the field of toxicology, physiology and metabolomics, operating at the confluence of metabolism, microbiome, and environmental and human health.
Patterson was named a Clarivate Web of Science highly cited researcher in 2021 and 2022. His program has received more than $15 million from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Early Achievement in Research Award
Francesco Di Gioia, assistant professor of vegetable crop science, received the Early Achievement in Research Award. His lab at Penn State focuses on addressing the needs of Pennsylvania’s vegetable industry by developing and facilitating the adoption of new technologies and efficient production systems.
Since joining Penn State, Di Gioia has secured more than $7 million through 29 contracts and grants from more than nine funding agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its Organic Research and Education Initiative and Specialty Crops Research Initiative, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Open Philanthropy, the Pennsylvania Vegetable Grower Association, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and industry partners.
Research Professional Staff Awards
Timothy Lulis, research technician and instructor in the Department of Plant Science, and Stephanie Bierly, research assistant in the Department of Animal Science, received Research Professional Staff Awards, recognizing the outstanding and meritorious contributions of research support personnel.
Lulis was recognized for his contributions to the turfgrass science team, including applying his technical expertise and methodological refinements to save weeks in field study durations, ensuring that the team could share the results with the academic community through the three peer-reviewed articles and multiple research reports completed by the team.
As a lab technician, Bierly manages multiple research projects directly impacting the farming community. Recently, she led a collaborative project with the School of International Affairs, administering surveys and collecting environmental samples from Pennsylvania dairy farms and presenting the results at the Rural Sociological Society conference.
Integrated Team Award
Accepting the Integrated Team Award were Jasna Kovac, Lester Earl and Veronica Casida Career Development Professor of Food Safety and associate professor of food science, and Luke LaBorde, professor of food science and extension specialist in produce food safety.
This integrated team tackled challenges posed by Listeria contamination in apples, which is a significant threat to the apple industry in Pennsylvania, the fourth-largest apple-producing state in the U.S. Collaborating with the state’s tree fruit industry, Kovac and LaBorde assessed the issue’s scope and devised effective cleaning and sanitation protocols and industry personnel training.
High-Impact Research Publication Awards
Five research groups received High-Impact Research Publication Awards, recognizing peer-reviewed research demonstrating significant impact. The award categories, papers and departments are as follows:
Climate-smart Agriculture and Forestry Impact: “Nocturnal transpiration in field crops: Implications for temporal aggregation and diurnal weighing of vapor pressure deficit,” published in Agricultural Water Management. This research was led by faculty in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
Nutritional and Food Security Impact: “The Role of Community Food Services in Reducing US Food Insufficiency in the COVID-19 Pandemic,” published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics. This study was led by researchers in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.
Biodiversity Impact: “The expansion of agriculture has shaped the recent evolutionary history of a specialized squash pollinator,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences and led by faculty in the Department of Entomology.
One Health: “Limited detection of shared zoonotic pathogens in deer keds and black-legged ticks co-parasitizing white-tailed deer in the eastern United States,” published in Medical and Veterinary Entomology and led by scientists in the Department of Entomology.
Integrated Ecosystems: “Masting is uncommon in trees that depend on mutualist dispersers in the context of global climate and fertility gradients,” published in Nature Plants and led by researchers in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.
Roy C. Buck Award
The Roy C. Buck Award is an endowed award to honor untenured, tenure-track faculty members in the college whose research involves social or human sciences. The award was established by Roy C. Buck, a professor of rural sociology, who retired from Penn State in 1981.
Kristina Brant, assistant professor of rural sociology, was honored for her publication, “When Mamaw Becomes Mom: Social Capital and Kinship Family Formation Amid the Rural Opioid Crisis,” published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.
Parisa Kalantari, assistant professor of immunology, was recognized for her publication, “The balance between gasdermin D and STING signaling shapes the severity of schistosome immunopathology,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Research Innovator of the Year
Also acknowledged was Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant nutrition, who received the 2023 Research Innovator of the Year Award given by the college’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation program.
Lynch was honored for participating in research commercialization — including multiple invention disclosures, patents and grant awards — to advance crop productivity and plant adaptation to stress and improve yield and food security.
Andrew Read, interim senior vice president for research and Evan Pugh University Professor of Biology and Entomology provided closing remarks, commending the awardees for their impact on the betterment of society and the college for recognizing their achievements.
For a complete list of recipients and information about their research, visit the Research Awards webpage.