LAURELS: 2 Win von Humboldt Awards

Curtis of Engineering and Nachtergaele of Mathematics

Wendy Kuhn Silk, smiling, leaning against tree
Honored for lifetime achievement in root research: Wendy Kuhn Silk, outside her Davis home. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)


  • Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Bruno Nachtergaele, Department of Mathematics
  • David Olson, Department of Chemistry
  • Wendy Kuhn Silk, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources
  • Robyn Rodriguez, Department of Asian American Studies.
  • John Lopez, Department of Art and Art History
  • Patsy Eubanks Owens, Landscape Architecture/Environmental Design, Department of Human Ecology
  • Raquel Aldana, School of Law
  • Kurt Rohde, Department of Music

Also: Fire Capt. Scott Hatcher Earns Meritorious Service Medal from the California Emergency Medical Services Authority. See separate story.

2 headshots
Jennifer Sinclair Curtis and Bruno Nachtergaele


Two faculty members in the College of Engineering and College of Letters and Science have won awards from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to collaborate with researchers in that country. The UC Davis award recipients:

  • Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, distinguished professor of chemical engineering and former engineering dean, foundation research award. She plans a six-month project in collaboration with particle technology expert Wolfgang Peukert at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. The project will focus on granular flow in additive manufacturing processes such as three-dimensional printing, and stressing or applying heat treatment to particles to design new materials with novel properties and extraordinary functionalities.
  • Bruno Nachtergaele, distinguished professor of mathematics, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Research Award in recognition of lifetime achievement in mathematics. Nachtergaele plans to work with researchers at the Technical University of Munich and the Munich Center for Quantum Science and Technology, or MCQST — including alumna Amanda Young ’08 and Ph.D. ’16. Their focus will be the fractional quantum Hall effect and quasiparticles called anyons, which arise in two-dimensional electron systems at low temperatures in strong magnetic fields. “These phenomena offer fascinating possibilities for new technologies,” Nachtergaele said.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, named after the German nature researcher and explorer, aims to strengthen Germany as a research location through international academic exchange and by supporting Humboldt fellows and award winners throughout their lives and careers.

Noah Pflueger-Peters, content strategist, College of Engineering; and Becky Oskin, content strategist and writer, College of Letters and Science

David Olson headshot
David Olson

David Olson, assistant professor of chemistry, is one of 16 early-career researchers nationwide selected for the 2021 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

The $100,000 unrestricted research grant is awarded to faculty who are deeply committed to both outstanding scholarship and education in the chemical sciences.

Olson’s research focuses on compounds called psychoplastogens, which can potentially treat neurological diseases including depression, anxiety disorders and addiction. Psychoplastogens promote neural plasticity — cellular changes in neurons in the brain, such as boosting connections between nerve cells.

Olson holds a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry, College of Letters and Science, and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, School of Medicine.

— Becky Oskin

Wendy Kuhn Silk, smiling, holds trophy, in outdoor setting.
Professor Emerita Silk displays her lifetime Achievement Award. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)


The International Society of Root Research recently presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Wendy Kuhn Silk, professor emerita, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources.

An active faculty member for 37 years, she researched and taught on plant-environment interactions. In retirement she is continuing some scientific collaborations and composing and producing music for a songbook for the environmental science curriculum.  

The society presented the award during its triennial meeting, held virtually. Silk gave the keynote: “Moving With the Flow: Root Growth and Our Changing Environment.”  

John Lopez headshot
John Lopez

With an award from the American Council of Learned Societies, John Lopez, assistant professor of art history, Department of Art and Art History, will take a yearlong sabbatical to work on his book project about Aztec and Spanish efforts to combat flooding in Mexico City, built in an area of lakes and wetlands.

A comparative study of the city’s development from 1519 to 1821, Lopez’s project, “The Aquatic Metropolis: Mapping Nature and Urban Aesthetics at Viceregal Mexico City,” will couple art history methodologies with cartography, technology and environment studies.

The Aztecs built canals and causeways, while the Spanish undertook drainage projects that transformed Mexico City from island to mainland settlement.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist and writer, College of Letters and Science

The Association of Asian American Studies recently presents is Excellence in Mentorship Award to Robyn Rodriguez, professor and chair, Department of Asian American Studies, and founding director of the Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies.

Patsy Eubanks Owens headshot
Patsy Eubanks Owens

Patsy Eubanks Owens, professor of landscape architecture, Department of Human Ecology, and associate dean for human and social sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has been named to the Academy of Fellows of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture.

The council bestows no higher honor on its members. Owens and one other member advanced this year to the academy, which recognizes members for teaching, scholarship and/or creative activity, and service.

Owens’ research focuses on the relationships between people and the outdoor environment. Specifically, her work examines the role of the physical environment in the development, health and well-being of youth and methods of community involvement in design decision-making. She frequently leads her students in community-based projects that apply current research thinking.

— John Stumbos, senior writer, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Professor Raquel Aldana of the School of Law has been reappointed as the chair of the American Bar Association’s Latin America and Caribbean Law Initiative Council. The one-year term also comes with an appointment to the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative Board. 

For the second consecutive summer, music professor Kurt Rohde is the composer-in-residence at the Weekend of Chamber Music in the Catskill Mountains. This year’s festival is titled “Into the Light,” and will feature music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Elliott Carter, Füsun Köksal, Huijuan Ling, Franz Schubert, Andrew Waggoner and Shelley Washington, as well as Rohde.

Dateline UC Davis welcomes news of faculty and staff awards, for publication in Laurels. Send information to

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Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,

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