LAURELS: Dean Atekwana Honored as Pioneer in Geophysics

Estella Atekwana portrait, on deck of Social Sciences and Humanities Building
Estella Atekwana, dean, College of Letters and Science, and professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)


  • Estella Atekwana, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Susan Kauzlarich, Department of Chemistry
  • Carlito Lebrilla, Department of Chemistry
  • Philip Power, Department of Chemistry
  • Donna Shestowsky, School of Law
  • Richard E. Breedon, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • University of California, honored for efforts in diversity and green power

The Society of Exploration Geologists recently presented its Reginald Fessenden Award to one of UC Davis’ newest faculty members, Dean Estella Atekwana of the College of Letters and Science, for her pioneering work in biogeophysics and advancing the understanding of microbial processes beneath the Earth’s surface.

She became the third woman and first African American woman to receive the award in its 60-year history. Originally known as the SEG Medal Award, it was renamed in 1977 after Fessenden for his role in originating the concept of reflection and refraction surveying in 1917.

Atekwana joined UC Davis on Aug. 1, as L&S dean and professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, coming here from the University of Delaware where she was a faculty member in the Department of Earth Sciences and dean of the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment.

She is the key originator of biogeophysics, which uses geophysical tools to measure changes in earth materials caused by microorganisms. Her research focused on sites contaminated by hydrocarbons, where microbes in soils, rocks and water play an important role in breaking down pollutants. This work also has implications for the search for life in extreme environments.

Her contributions to exploration geophysics also include study of continental rift zones, where Earth’s tectonic plates split apart. She is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and recipient of outstanding educator awards from the Association of Women Geoscientists and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

— Becky Oskin, content strategist, College of Letters and Science

Susan Kauzlarich, Carlito Lebrilla and Philip Power headshots
From left: Susan Kauzlarich, Carlito Lebrilla and Philip Power.


The American Chemical Society recently presented awards to three distinguished professors of chemistry at UC Davis:

  • Susan Kauzlarich, recipient of the ACS Award for Inorganic Chemistry — Her research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of Zintl phases, intermetallic compounds with applications in the fields of thermoelectric materials, magnetic resonance imaging, energy storage, opto-electronics and drug delivery. 
  • Carlito Lebrilla, recipient of the Frank H. Field and Joe L. Franklin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mass Spectrometry — Recognizing his work on how complex sugars (glycoconjugates) affect health and nutrition, which includes discovering how milk sugars nourish beneficial microbes in infant digestive systems and developing new methods for detecting glycoconjugates.
  • Philip Power, recipient of the M. Frederick Hawthorne Award in Main Group Inorganic Chemistry — Recognizing his contributions to the synthesis, structure and physical and chemical characterization of inorganic and organometallic compounds.

— Becky Oskin, content strategist, College of Letters and Science

Donna Shestowsky headshot
Donna Shestowsky

Donna Shestowsky, a professor of law, Martin Luther King Jr. Research Scholar and director of the Lawyering Skills Education Program at the School of Law, has been named a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, an independent research institute for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law.

As a member of the honorary society officially known as the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, she joins other attorneys, judges, law faculty and legal scholars who, in their public or private careers, have demonstrated outstanding dedication to the highest principles of the legal profession and to the welfare of their communities. Members are nominated by their peers and selected by the foundation board.

Shestowsky, who has both a law degree and a Ph.D. in psychology, teaches courses in criminal law, negotiation strategy and alternative dispute resolution as well as a seminar in legal psychology.

Richard E. Breedon headshot
Richard E. Breedon

Richard E. Breedon, a researcher emeritus of physics, recently received the Kent State University Alumni Association’s Professional Achievement Award.

He received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Kent State in 1977. He earned a master’s degree in physics at the University of Rochester and Ph.D. in experimental physics at Rockefeller University.

In his professional career, he conducted research and experiments at Fermilab in Illinois, KEK in Tsukuba, Japan, and CERN in Geneva. He was a founding member of the CMS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider; CMS and its sister experiment, ATLAS, discovered the Higgs Boson particle in 2012.

The University of California recently received national honors for efforts in diversity and green power:

  • Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award, given by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine — The award recognizes the university’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, particularly its focus on recruiting and retaining diverse students and staff, Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity, said in a press release. The other factor was the high level of support by UC leaders for UC’s diversity and inclusion efforts. “We strive to reflect California’s full diversity across our campuses every day,” said Yvette Gullatt, UC vice president for Graduate and Undergraduate Affairs, vice provost for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and chief diversity officer. “Respecting and celebrating diverse views, life experiences and backgrounds is essential to UC’s standing as a world-class institution.” Read more in this UC article.
  • Green Power Leadership Award, given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — Recognizing organizations that follow best practices and inspire others to support green power. This year’s recipients: UC, Boston University, Microsoft, Starbucks and Dane County, Wisconsin, as announced at the Renewable Energy Markets Conference. “With so much at stake for our planet, the future of energy is indeed green and the university is committed to continuing to help lead the way there,” said David Phillips, UC’s associate vice president for Capital Programs, Energy and Sustainability. Read more in this UC news release.

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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