Three University of Arizona faculty members, each of them pioneers in their respective fields who have been recognized nationally or internationally for their work, on Thursday were formally inducted as Regents' Professors. Two others were inducted as University Distinguished Professors in recognition of their long-term commitment to undergraduate education.
The new UA Regents' Professors are Neal R. Armstrong from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Xiaohui Fan from the Department of Astronomy and Hsinchun Chen from the UA Eller College of Management. Only 3 percent of an Arizona university's tenured or tenure-track faculty can carry the title at any given time.
The two faculty members inducted as Distinguished Professors are Eric A. Betterton
, professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, and Charles W. Scruggs
, professor of English.
Neal R. Armstrong
Developing advanced solar cell technologies thatXi would make energy generation easier, more accessible and less expensive to produce is one of the most important scientific feats of our time.
Armstrong, a chemistry and optical sciences professor, is developing such technologies and is considered one of the leading global scientists and scholars in his field.
Armstrong’s research has greatly informed the development and technological improvement of new types of solar cells and devices needed to convert electricity into light – like that found in found in smartphone displays.
He has been a leading scientist in the development and characterization of thin films of organic semiconducting materials. Also, he has greatly advanced what is understood about the chemistry of interfaces between such materials and compounds and other organic semiconductors.
"Given his internationally recognized research contributions, passion for teaching, and quality of service, I give my strongest possible support to the nomination," Jean-Luc Brédas, Regents’ Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech, noted in his nomination letter. "In fact, I believe this recognition is long overdue."
Armstrong directs the Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials, an Energy Frontier Research Center, which received $15 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The multidisciplinary center, based at the UA, was established in 2009 after U.S. President Barack Obama announced that fewer than 50 of its kind would be funded. Investigators at other universities and laboratories are involved with the center.
Armstrong and his co-investigators are leading researchers at the fore of developing "Generation III" photovoltaic technologies. The aim is to develop new, advanced photovoltaic materials that would be thin, flexible and inexpensive enough to be placed not merely on rooftops, but also in windows and clothing.
UA astronomy professor Fan’s career spans an important paradigm shift in astronomy: the move from studying objects dating back billions of years to investigating younger objects and what actions occurred to shape the universe.
It was about 12 years ago that Fan took the route toward understanding the origins of a pivotal epoch in the universe's history – the cosmic re-ionization period. That time, which ended about 1 billion years after the Big Bang, saw the birth of the first stars in the young universe. Fan also wanted to find answers to the question of how much matter exists in the cosmos.
Fan’s research into the most distant quasars known to humans resulted in an important breakthrough in his field, greatly enhancing what was understood about the re-ionization history of the universe and the formation of early galaxies and supermassive black holes.
“When astronomers think about this 'Epoch of Re-ionization,' Xiaohui's name is always one of the first to be mentioned," UA Regents' Professor of Astronomy Marcia J. Rieke noted in a nominating letter for Fan. "Xiaohui Fan represents the best in astronomy worldwide."
The ability to best utilize "big data" for societal benefits – such as building massive, easily accessible digital libraries and being able to identify and curtail cyber attacks – is at the core of Chen’s research.
The Thomas R. Brown Chair in Management and Technology in the UA Eller College of Management, Chen is a highly cited scholar in data mining and informatics.
Known as one of the first researchers to shift from merely searching for numbers to analyzing text, videos and Web pages, Chen has conducted research that has directly impacted the expansion of scholarship in information systems, data mining, biomedical informatics, intelligence and security informatics.
"Unlike many of his research peers, Professor Chen's work is unique in its strong emphasis in creating practical and working intelligent systems on real datasets," Ee-Peng Lim, a Singapore Management University professor of information systems, noted in a nominating letter. "It is clearly impossible to enumerate all the achievements Professor Chen has made in his distinguished career."
Chen, also founding director of the UA Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, significantly improved law enforcement data mining through leading the development of the COPLINK software, a system that thousands of law enforcement and intelligence agencies have adopted. Among numerous other uses, the system aided investigations into the Beltway sniper attacks in Washington, D.C.
Today, Chen is principal investigator of Cybersecurity Scholarship-for-Service at the UA, or AZSecure, one of the largest Scholarship-for-Service grants the National Science Foundation has awarded in the nation. He is also principal investigator on a second NSF grant-funded project designed to investigate cyber attackers and attacks through the use of social media analytics. Both projects total $5.4 million in funding from the NSF and have important implications for researchers, policymakers and industries.
Eric A. Betteron
Betterton, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, is an environmental scientist who is a highly regarded expert in pollutants. Betterton has been at the fore of significant investigations that have led to changes in practice and legislation for the benefit of public health.
More recently, Betterton has led investigations of aerosols with relation to mining activities; advanced pollution prevention in smaller communities; and had studied air quality issues in the Great Lakes region. Of note, his research on water and air pollutants has earned continuous National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences funding – nearly $4 million over a 16-year period.
Charles W. Scruggs
Scruggs joined the UA faculty in 1967 and has since been intensely focused on improving undergraduate education, encouraging critical thinking and humanitarianism.
An English professor and expert in 18th-century British and American literature, Scruggs has established important foundational classes, including the "Survey of British Literature" and "Survey of American Literature" courses. Also, he was at the forefront of developing analytical teaching of film decades ago at the University.
Scruggs also has advanced important work in the field of African-American literature and modernism, having authored texts such as "The Sage in Harlem: H.L. Mencken and the Black Writers of the 1920s" and "Sweet Home: Invisible Cities in the Afro-American Novel."