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6 faculty members honored as Chancellor's Fellows

By Dave Jones on March 11, 2011 in University News

Formal recognition is planned next week for the university’s newest Chancellor’s Fellows — faculty members who are being honored early in their careers, for having already compiled outstanding records of achievement. Each fellow receives a $25,000 prize and is entitled to use the title “Chancellor’s Fellow” for five years.

All of the new fellows are associate professors: Magali Billen of geology, Artyom Kopp of evolution and ecology, Colin Milburn of English, Johan Six of plant sciences, Zhendong Su of computer science, and Qing Zhao of electrical and computer engineering.

Then-Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef launched the fellows program in 2000, making this year's class the 11th. With this new class, the campus has recognized a total of 63 fellows. See a list of all Chancellor's Fellows since 2000.

The Chancellor’s Club and the university’s annual fund support the program.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter are the hosts for next week’s program and reception. The invitation-only event is scheduled for the evening of Monday, March 14.

Here are short profiles of each of the 2010-11 fellows:

Magali Billen, geology — She uses powerful computers to research what is happening deep within Earth, in the viscous mantle that lies under the thin crust of rocky plates that form the planet’s outer surface.

As the mantle moves, the plates move alongside or sink under one another, causing continental drift, and giving rise to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Recently, Billen and one of her graduate students showed that the mantle flow around a sinking plate is much more rapid than previously thought.

Among other honors, Billen has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award. She joined UC Davis in 2002 after postdoctoral work at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Leeds, England.

Artyom Kopp, evolution and ecology — Ken Burtis, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, describes Kopp as a “rising star” in “evo-devo” — the interface between evolutionary genetics and developmental biology.

Specifically, Kopp studies closely related species of the fly Drosophila. By looking at developmental differences — for example, one species may have males with bristles on a front leg, while another species does not — Kopp hopes to learn how changes in development, and their underlying genetics, can lead to the appearance of new species.

Kopp was a Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow in 2008-10 and received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2009. He came to UC Davis in 2002 after postdoctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Colin Milburn, English — He holds seven degrees (including doctorates from Stanford and Harvard) in the sciences and humanities, and, says Dean Jessie Ann Owens of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, his interdisciplinary work is “of great relevance to our campus.”

Indeed, department chair David Robertson describes Milburn as a “perfect fit” for UC Davis. “In his scholarly work, he engages the physical and biological sciences, as well as literature, cinema and new digital media,” Robertson said.

Milburn came to UC Davis in 2005 and published the influential Nanovision: Engineering the Future three years later.

He is an outstanding teacher, said Owens, noting that he has been remarkably popular with students since his first quarter here.

Johan Six, plant sciences — As an agroecologist, he works at the interface of farming and the environment within a global-change context, on issues such as soil functioning, water and air quality, and climate change.

Six, who came to UC Davis in 2002 with a doctorate from Colorado State University, is an expert on ways in which agriculture can remain competitive while promoting environmentally sustainable production.

“Professor Six … shows great promise for extraordinary achievements and contributions to science and humankind,” said Dean Neal Van Alfen of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Six’s students give him high marks as a teacher, thanks in part to the hands-on learning experiences that he provides for even very complex topics.

Zhendong Su, computer science — Department Chair Prasant Mohapatra says Su is a “superstar in his field” — focusing on reliable and secure software systems, critical for protecting information systems.

In 2006, he received a National Science Foundation CAREER award for his work on improving the security of Web database applications, widely used, for example, in online retail. He has received a number of best-paper awards from premier conferences.

Su joined the UC Davis faculty in 2002 after completing his doctorate at UC Berkeley. Mohapatra said Su is highly regarded for his undergraduate teaching and his mentorship of graduate students (three of whom have graduated in the past three years, all with good offers of faculty positions elsewhere).

Qing Zhao, electrical and computer engineering — In studying how the wireless spectrum can be used more efficiently, Zhao has come up with new ways to put unused frequency bands to work, without interference, even though the bands have been licensed to other users.

Zhao joined the faculty in 2004, and, according to department Chair Richard Kiehl, has developed a research program in wireless networking that complements the work of her colleagues in ECE and computer science and attracted grants totaling $3 million from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

After earning her doctorate from Cornell University in 2001, Zhao worked in the communications industry and did postdoctoral research at Cornell.


Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,