College of Ag Sciences faculty members named distinguished professors

February 05, 2010

Four faculty members in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences -- Avery August, professor of immunology, Thomas Baker, professor of entomology, Douglas Beegle, professor of agronomy, and Jeffrey Peters, professor of environmental toxicology -- have been named distinguished professors by the University.

The title of distinguished professor was established by the Office of the President to recognize a select group of professors with exceptional accomplishments in teaching, research and service.

"We take great pride in our faculty expertise in the college," said Dean Bruce McPheron. "Recognition of these four individuals is not only an appropriate acknowledgment of their scholarly and educational accomplishments, but is also an indication of the extraordinary level of creativity that our college is bringing to food, fiber and fuel for the next generation."

Avery August

August studies the molecular signals that regulate the development of an immune response and how those signals can be manipulated to enhance vaccines or to alter the course of diseases of the immune system. He has shown that specific signals that regulate antibody-producing cells can differ, resulting in either death or survival. He was the first to show that the absence of specific signals leads to the development of a unique population of immune cells that can exacerbate the development of allergies. He also discovered that the two arms of the immune system, innate and adaptive, cooperate in the development of allergic asthma. His work has been used by pharmaceutical companies in the development of new drugs that target asthma and allergies. 

August has presented his work at several universities and institutes and is on the editorial board of three scientific journals. He is the chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute on Aging and is the director of a program funded by the National Institutes of Health to increase the enrollment of underrepresented minority students in graduate-school Ph.D. programs.

Thomas Baker

Over his career, Baker has made pioneering advances that have earned him an international reputation as a leader in the fields of entomology and chemical ecology. His research has focused on insect pheromones and odor-mediated behavior, neuroethological studies of olfaction, identification and development of insect attractants for integrated pest management and development of olfaction-based biosensors.

Baker's work on employing sex pheromones to attract and confuse male moths -- thus disrupting mating behavior and reducing moth and caterpillar populations -- has practical applications for environmentally friendly pest management in agriculture. Using insect antennae, Baker also has developed biosensors that could one day help to detect agents of harm, such as explosives, drugs or disease organisms.

Douglas Beegle

Beegle conducts extension educational programs in soil fertility, soil testing, manure management and whole-farm nutrient management. He also teaches two courses in soil fertility and nutrient management. His research focuses on fertility management, manure management, environmental management of agricultural nitrogen and phosphorus, and development of nutrient-management systems.

He has served as an advisor to state and federal government agencies and other organizations on nutrient management and agriculture-related water-quality issues. Beegle's work with producers in promoting and implementing sound management practices for agricultural nutrients is widely credited with helping to maintain and improve water quality in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and in other regions.

Jeffrey Peters

Peters' research focuses on the role of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, or PPARs, in cell metabolism and gene expression. He was the first to show that the absence of a particular receptor -- known as PPAR beta -- can exacerbate the development of skin and colon cancer. The results of Peters' studies could lead to the development of new drugs or dietary components that can be used in the prevention and treatment of cancer and other diseases.

He is the only Penn State researcher who ever has been invited to present a lecture at the National Institutes of Health Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lectures Series, which features the world's top researchers in the biomedical sciences. He has served on national committees appointed to evaluate the human health hazards associated with phthalate -- a class of common industrial compounds that are widely used in plastics and other products -- and to assess the potential toxicity of soy-based isoflavones, which is particularly important for infants being fed soy-based formulas. He is also an associate editor for Toxicological Sciences, a leading scientific journal in his field.

University distinguished professors must be acknowledged leaders in their fields of research or creative activity; must have demonstrated significant leadership in raising the standards of the university with respect to teaching, research or creative activity, and service; and must have demonstrated excellent teaching skills and contributed significantly to the education of students who subsequently have achieved recognition of excellence in their fields.

Last Updated January 09, 2015