NatSci faculty members honored at 2018 MSU Awards Convocation

  • Feb 9, 2018
  • Outreach, teaching, research, Faculty, Award
  • Homepage News, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, Chemistry, College of Natural Science, Physics & Astronomy

Nine faculty members from the Michigan State University College of Natural Science (NatSci) were honored at the 2018 MSU Awards Convocation on Feb. 6. The awards recognize outstanding contributions to education and research.

Image of Gary J. Blanchard

Gary J. Blanchard

Gary J. Blanchard, professor of chemistry; Alexandra Gade, professor of physics and astronomy and chief scientist at MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory; and James K. McCusker, professor of chemistry, received William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Awards (formerly Distinguished Faculty Awards). They were among 10 MSU faculty members honored with Beal Awards. The new honorees bring the number of faculty honored since the award was established in 1952 to 551.

Blanchard’s research addresses state-of-the-art materials systems using the cutting-edge tools of ultrafast optical spectroscopy to study how molecular diffusion is affected by the organization of functionalized surfaces, biological interfaces and lipid bilayers—work that has important implications for the understanding of cellular membrane organization, novel drug delivery methods and the design of optical devices. Additionally, Blanchard has recently developed a technology for monitoring force magnitude and location in head trauma, which can help in detecting sports-related body impacts that can cause brain injury. He and a colleague recently launched two companies marketing this sensor technology as part of head caps and headbands for athletes.

Blanchard has successfully maintained a well-funded research program over the entire course of his career. He has been honored with a rare National Science Foundation Creativity Award – Special Creativity Extension and the New York Section of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy’s Gold Medal Award.

Blanchard goes the extra mile to make sure his students fully understand course material and can put into practice what they have learned about measurement science and analytical chemistry. Known as both demanding and fair, his students respect him highly and consider him a strong role model.

Image of Alexandra Gade

Alexandra Gade

Gade has distinguished herself as one of the leading experimental scientists in nuclear physics. Her research interests are in the study of the structure of the atomic nucleus at the extremes of neutron-proton asymmetry. Her research group performs scattering experiments to characterize the bulk effects of these changes by assessing the deformation of a nucleus and its excitation pattern. The researchers uses beams of rare isotopes to induce particular nuclear reactions in which parts of the nucleus are knocked out or added to a rare isotope, which then allows her to track the exciting modifications of nuclear structure on the level of the neutron and proton quantum mechanical orbits that make up the nucleus on a microscopic level.

Gade’s work includes significant service to the nuclear science community. She has been a member of the top advisory committee to the U.S. government on nuclear science research, and has served on the program advisory committees of ATLAS at Argonne National Laboratory, GANIL (France) and GSI/FAIR (Germany).

Gade’s leadership has been recognized with several prestigious national and international awards, including the Zdzisław Szymański Prize, a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship and an American Physical Society Fellowship.

Image of James K. McCusker

James K. McCusker

McCusker’s research has focused in two major areas of physical-inorganic chemistry, but most widely known is the application of the ultrafast spectroscopic techniques for the study of the excited-state properties of transition-metal-containing molecules. This work seeks to understand what happens to the energy that a molecule absorbs as light—from the moment light first interacts with the molecule to when the molecule can begin performing chemistry. The significance of this work ranges from fundamental questions concerning light-matter interactions to the development of strategies for solar energy conversion utilizing earth-abundant materials that can facilitate the global scalability of new discoveries. Real-world applications of McCusker’s research include harvesting solar energy cheaply and efficiently, designing new ways to store and transfer solar energy and using light to discover and manufacture drugs.

McCusker has been a relentless promoter of the inorganic chemistry field—to both local and international audiences. He organized two major international conferences: the 2012 Gordon Research Conference on Electron Donor-Acceptor Interactions and the 20th International Symposium on the Photophysics and Photochemistry of Coordination Compounds in 2013. His designation of fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, along with his appointment to the editorial board of their journal Chemical Science, further reflects his international influence. Locally, McCusker organized a public symposium celebrating the United Nations International Year of Light in 2015.

In addition to the Beal awards, three NatSci assistant professors received Teacher-Scholar Awards. They are: Kristin N. Parent, biochemistry and molecular biology; M. Danny Caballero, physics and astronomy; and Vashti Sawtelle, physics and astronomy.

Three Ph.D. students received Excellence-in-Teaching Citations. They are: Teresa J. Clark, plant biology and quantitative biology; Sarah Klanderman, mathematics; and Matthew Kolp, plant biology and biological sciences.

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