Berube, Gopalan, McCarthy, Post, Schaak receive Faculty Scholar Medals

UNIVERSITY PARK9, Pa. – Five University faculty members have received the 2012 Faculty Scholar Medals for Outstanding Achievement.

They are Michael Bérubé, Paterno Family Professor of American Literature in the College of the Liberal Arts, the arts and humanities medal; Venkatraman Gopalan, professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the engineering medal; John McCarthy, professor of sociology in the College of the Liberal Arts, the social and behavioral sciences medal; Eric Post, professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science, the life and health sciences medal; and Raymond Schaak, professor of chemistry in the Eberly College of Science, the physical sciences medal.

Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of peers reviews nominations and selects candidates.

For the arts and humanities, Bérubé, who is considered “one of our generation’s leading public intellectuals,” is renowned for his political commentary, literary and cultural criticism and scholarship in disability studies. “He is a powerful intellectual who writes incisively from a humanistic perspective about literature, about the humanities and about our society,” one nominator said.

He launched his career as a scholar of American literature with the 1992 book “Marginal Forces/Cultural Centers: Tolson, Pynchon and the Politics of the Canon.” His most recent book (and his third in the last five years), “The Left at War,” is a humanities-based critique of the dogmatic left and its spokespeople.

His recent scholarship has focused on disability studies, examining the distortions brought about by the use of the disabled in literature as a metaphor for limits. The foundation for this area of work goes back to “Life As We Know It,” his 1996 book about the first years in the life of his son Jamie, who has Down syndrome.

A member of the Penn State Faculty since 2001, Bérubé earned a bachelor of arts degree from Columbia University and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. He is director of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

Gopalan, the engineering recipient, is recognized for his contributions in the area of electro-optic materials and devices, focusing on three main aspects. He has discovered a new rotational-reversal symmetry that is present in all materials that are handed or have static rotations; including this symmetry significantly expands the classification of crystal structures within the traditional group theory. He has built a unique experimental nonlinear optical microscopy technique that has helped discover new local polar phases in well-known crystals. He has participated in an international collaboration with John Badding in the chemistry department at Penn State and Pier Sazio of the University of Southampton in inventing fiber-based metamaterials that incorporate crystalline semiconductors within an optic fiber and in demonstrating all-fiber devices that create, modulate and detect light within the fiber.

“Professor Gopalan has made a series of creative scholarly contributions to the fields of complex oxides and metamaterials during the last five years that will have longstanding impact in the field of materials,” a nominator wrote. During that period alone, he has authored or co-authored close to 100 publications, including about 10 in such high-impact journals as Science, Nature and Nature Materials.

Associate director of Penn State’s Center for Optical Technologies, Gopalan earned a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology and master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University.

Former head of the Department of Sociology, McCarthy was honored with the social and behavioral sciences medal both for his lifetime work and his achievements of the last five years in particular. With more than 40 years of work in his field, he is a preeminent scholar on social movements and collective action. His research involves the empirical study of groups that are not formal political parties but rather grassroots movements such as the Tea Party and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

During the past five years, McCarthy has published 12 peer-reviewed journal articles, including six in American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review and Social Forces, the discipline’s top three journals. His work was funded during that period by 10 grants, including six from the National Science Foundation and one from the National Institutes of Health.

“Professor McCarthy’s research continues to be published in the top general journals in sociology because his ideas are original, he collects high-quality data and his methods are appropriate and sound,” one nominator said.

McCarthy earned a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University and a doctorate from the University of Oregon.

In the life and health sciences, Post is one of the world’s leading authorities on the large-scale ecological effects of climate change. His work focuses on understanding and predicting the response of Arctic ecosystems to climate change; his models were the first to couple large-scale climate variation with population dynamics in herbivores.

“Because Arctic ecosystems are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ of global climate change,” one nominator said, “Eric’s long-term experimental field studies, which occur in extreme and logistically challenging locations, are on the forefront of our understanding of the impacts of climate change on the web of interactions that determine population, community and ecosystem dynamics.”

Post’s research currently is supported by four federal grants totaling more than $2.8 million. A Penn State faculty member since 2000, he is serving a three-year appointment to the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs Advisory Committee.

Post earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and doctoral degree from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

For the physical sciences, Schaak is recognized for his contributions to the field of inorganic materials chemistry. Over the past five years, he has made several major discoveries and advances, including a new approach to synthesizing inorganic nanostructures and colloidal hybrid nanoparticles.

“Professor Schaak is investigating a truly unique area of science, one he has developed completely independently,” one nominator said. “This is remarkable work, and it allows for study of solid state mechanisms in ways that could never before be considered.”

Although Schaak earned his doctorate in 2001, already he has received awards including a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship, the Research Corporation Scialog Award for Solar Energy Conversion and the National Fresenius Award.

A Penn State faculty member since 2007, Schaak earned a bachelor’s degree from Lebanon Valley College and a doctorate from Penn State.

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Last Updated April 12, 2012