Four NatSci faculty members to be honored at MSU Awards Convocation

  • Jan 29, 2019
  • MSU Teacher-Scholar Award, MSU Beal Outstanding Faculty Award, Award, Faculty
  • Homepage News, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, College of Natural Science, Mathematics, Microbiology, Physics & Astronomy

Four College of Natural Science (NatSci) faculty members will be honored at the 2018–2019 MSU All-University Awards ceremony on Tuesday, February 5, held at the Heritage Room of the University Club from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The awards recognize outstanding contributions to education and research.

Headshot of Efstratia Kalfagianni

Efstratia Kalfagianni, professor of mathematics; and Filomena Nunes, associate professor of physics and astronomy and managing director of the FRIB Theory Alliance, will receive the William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Award for outstanding total service to the university in research, teaching, advising and outreach. They are among 10 MSU faculty members to be honored with Beal Awards for 2018.

Kalfagianni’s research probes the low dimensional topology and knot theory, including pioneering the use of invariants to enumerate the density of knots. Identifying the number of distinct knots of a given complexity is critical to important applications of partition functions in quantum field theory that estimate the amount of information a topological quantum computer can potentially store. Quantum computing and quantum information science seek to store information in the astronomically huge number of linkages or entanglements that can occur between quantum states. Entanglements are delicate but braiding or knotting them makes them more robust – and then able to store information in their knot types.

Kalfagianni’s publications includes more than 200 papers and presentations. She has been a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study and a visiting member of the Max Planck Institute (Bonn) and the Edward Schrodinger Institute (Vienna). She has had continuous NSF support as a sole-PI since her arrival at MSU, including an NSF Focused Research Group, the most prestigious NSF funding available to pure mathematicians. She is an editor of the New York Journal of Mathematics and the senior leader of the highly regarded topology group at MSU. The American Mathematical Society named Kalfagianni a fellow in 2019.

An outstanding mentor, Kalfagianni has supervised six Ph.D. students and five postdoctoral fellows who have gone on to research positions at major universities.

Headshot of Filomena Nunes

As one of the world’s leading nuclear reaction theorists, Nunes focuses her research on analyzing nuclear reactions with rare isotopes, using them to extract information to address such fundamental questions as the origin of visible matter in the universe. One area of this research involves describing nuclear reactions with rare isotope beams of weakly bound halo nuclei, for which her book, Nuclear Reactions for Astrophysics: Principles, Calculation and Applications of Low-Energy Reactions is the standard text. Another area of her work involves understanding the structure of exotic nuclei. One of her analyses in this topic was essential to demonstrating that the short-lived isotope, Sn-132, was indeed doubly magic.

Nunes has an impressive record of invited talks, publications and service on national committees as well as more than 2,400 citations on her 125 publications. In 2015, the American Physical Society named Nunes a fellow, a prestigious recognition.

Nunes played a particularly critical role in founding the FRIB Theory Alliance, a coalition of scientists from universities and national laboratories who seek to foster advances in theory related to diverse areas of rare isotope science, optimize the coupling between theory and experiment, and stimulate the field by creating permanent theory faculty positions across the country.

Nunes is a passionate advocate for increasing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the sciences and has highlighted the work of many young women scientists, empowering them on campus and in the nuclear community.

In addition to the Beal awards, two NatSci faculty members will receive Teacher-Scholar Awards: Laura Chomiuk, associate professor of physics and astronomy; and N. Cecilia Martinez-Gomez, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. This award recognizes early career devotion to and skill in teaching, and their commitment to scholarly research and achievements.

Headsot of Laura Chomiuk

Chomiuk is an astrophysicist whose work centers on cosmic explosions: novae and supernovae. Her scholarly approach exemplifies the nest multiwavelength astronomy, using data from large radio arrays, a gamma-ray satellite and MSU’s SOAR telescope in concert with forefront physical models to understand how energetic shocks power the complex emission from novae and supernovae. 

Chomiuk includes research training in her teaching and mentoring of astrophysics students. She founded the MSU Observatory Research Program, which engages a large, diverse group of undergraduates with research centered on MSU’s campus observatory; she has even guided some students in publishing articles on their research in top astrophysics journals as lead authors. 

In the classroom, Chomiuk has revitalized the teaching of astronomy to undergraduates, turning her central course, Planets and Telescopes, into the cornerstone of the astrophysics major. The class incorporates peer teaching and mentoring in a manner unusual in the physical sciences. 

Chomiuk also demonstrates leadership in educational initiatives outside the classroom. Her outreach programs at the observatory draw hundreds of people from a diverse community, and she leads efforts to collaborate with colleagues in different units to create new, innovative and engaging programs for the public.

Headshot of M. Cecilia Martinez-Gomez

Martinez-Gomez is a recognized world leader in the field of rare earth element metabolism in microbes. She conducts high-impact research on microbial biochemistry, emphasizing the understudied lanthanide elements, rare earth metals not previously understood as metabolically important in cells prior to her identifying their assimilation pathways. Her work aims to uncover new information about how microbes take up and use these elements to address the broader questions of how microbial lanthanide assimilation affects plant growth and whether microbes can be used to reclaim industrially important compounds. 

Martinez-Gomez’s scholarship has enabled the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics to resurrect the Microbial Biotechnology course, which focuses on metabolic engineering, synthetic biology and industrial applications of microbiology. 

Committed to active approaches to learning, Martinez-Gomez has taught her students to conduct metabolic flux analyses using real experimental data, which gives them hands-on experience with the scientific principles underlying course material. She has also mentored numerous undergraduates in her lab, enabling them to contribute to research and to be listed as authors on published papers. 

Martinez-Gomez’s educational efforts extend beyond campus in her outreach to elementary and high school students. Working with MSU’s Microbiology Club, Martinez-Gomez has developed a program with elementary schools across the greater Lansing area that shows children how to extract DNA from strawberries, enabling them to learn about the building blocks of life. 

For more information on the awards convocation and a complete list of award recipients, visit


Banner image: Four College of Natural Science faculty members will be honored at the 2018–2019 MSU All-University Awards ceremony on February 5 in recognition of their outstanding contributions to education and research.