Six University faculty members have received the 2017 Faculty Scholar Medals for Outstanding Achievement.
They are James Adair, professor of materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering and pharmacology; Adri van Duin, professor of mechanical engineering and professor of chemical engineering; Frederico Rodriguez Hertz, professor of mathematics; Christine Keating, professor of chemistry; Sophie De Schaepdrijver, professor of history; and Joshua Smyth, distinguished professor of biobehavioral health and medicine.
Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of peers reviews nominations and selects candidates.
Adair, who co-founded the biomedical company Keystone Nano as a Penn State spinoff in 2005 to bring cancer treatment to clinical trials, has begun seeing decades of work brought to fruition. Keystone Nano’s most advanced product, ceramide nanoliposome, is entering clinical trials at three cancer centers. Through dozens of in vitro and in vivo tests, the nanodrug has been extremely effective at treating several cancers, including liver cancer, which it will be used to treat in phase two of the clinical trials. Several other products developed by Adair are in the preclinical trial stage and could be elevated to clinical trials within the next several years.
Adri van Duin
Van Duin is nominated for his “pioneering contributions to atomistic-scale simulations of chemical reactions using reactive force fields,” said a nominator.
Van Duin has worked in simulations of reactive force fields, embodied in a code known as ReaxFF, which Duin developed. The tool used to model the dynamic process of materials while undergoing a reaction has been applied many areas worldwide including improving energy storage, aircraft materials and compression flows related to combustion.
“ReaxFF is a multidisciplinary tool that will continue to make important contributions in science and technology for decades to come,” said a nominator, adding that the adoption of van Duin’s model has expanded significantly within the past five years.
Through her research, Keating has shown how the fundamental molecules of life (proteins, nucleic acids, membranes, etc.) can spontaneously organize into enclosures with many of the properties of living cells. To build on this discovery, Keating shows how these cell mimics can undergo the equivalent of cell division. Keatings cell mimic work was also used to show that subcellular compartmentalization increases catalysis by an RNA enzyme and that phosphorylation of peptides bound to RNA can regulate the formation of non-membrane bound compartments within cells.
These discoveries increase our understanding of how a cell is organized and how processes critical for life depend on subcellular compartmentalization.