MSU awards four elite professorships to NatSci faculty members

Published April 7, 2015

Michigan State University, with support from the MSU Foundation, will honor four College of Natural Science (NatSci) faculty members with the designation of MSU Foundation Professor in recognition of their exceptional contributions to research and instruction.

The professorships are part of an initiative to attract and retain highly successful faculty members. Each of the recipients typically receives five years of supplemental research support and holds the MSU Foundation Professor designation permanently.

The new MSU Foundation Professors are:

  • Christoph Benning, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, one of the world’s foremost experts in plant lipid metabolism; his work could ultimately lead to plant varieties tailored specifically for biofuel production.

  • Robin Buell, professor of plant biology, an expert in the genomic aspects of plant biology and plant pathogens; using genomic data, she is working to speed the development and breeding of more productive, healthy, drought-tolerant and disease-resistant food and bioenergy crops.

  • Andrew Christlieb, professor of mathematics, who uses advanced mathematical and computational methods to solve problems in physics and engineering; he and MSU collaborators are currently working to establish a nationally recognized Plasma Assisted Combustion program, in which plasma energy is used to enhance the burning of fuels.

  • Dean DellaPenna, University Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, a plant physiologist who studies medicinal plant genomics and plant metabolism and micronutrients; he is one of MSU’s most visible ambassadors to the international plant science community and to governmental and nongovernmental agencies on the importance of basic plant research for increasing the productivity and nutritional value of plants for human health.

According to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, “The MSU Foundation Professors program helps the university compete for the best talent with a designation that is comparable to an endowed chair. Our focus will continue to be on attracting donations from external sources to build a stronger base of endowed chairs to offer to our researchers, and this program provides a bridge to that self-sustaining future.”

MSU Foundation Executive Director Dave Washburn noted that titled professorships are highly regarded in the academic community.

“By offering these prestigious designations to our strongest researchers, we hope to demonstrate the power of investing in MSU people,” he said.

In addition to funding supplied by the MSU Foundation and administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, the MSU Office of the Provost and the faculty member’s academic unit contribute funds to support each MSU Foundation Professor.

“These outstanding faculty members uphold and advance the university’s reputation,” said Provost June Pierce Youatt. “Their research and grant success have earned them international distinction. This program helps us recognize their contributions in a meaningful way.”

Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Stephen Hsu said, “This initiative has an explicit focus on research quality. Clearly, the scientists in our first group of MSU Foundation Professors demonstrate MSU’s strengths in pursuing world-class solutions to human challenges.”

“These faculty members are globally recognized for their scientific accomplishments,” said NatSci Dean R. James Kirkpatrick. “Their research productivity, innovative thinking, quality teaching and leadership place them at the very top of their fields. Their distinction as MSU Foundation Professors is well deserved.”

All four professors will be honored during investiture ceremonies on April 15 and 16. Benning, Buell and DellaPenna also are MSU AgBioResearch scientists.