Four mid-career researchers from the University of Central Florida received Rising Stars awards by the Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine of Florida (ASEMFL), a group that brings together the nation’s most distinguished and impactful scholars who live and work in Florida.
They are among 12 honorees competitively selected from nominated researchers at universities across the state in the categories of science, engineering, and medicine and public health.
From UCF’s College of Sciences, Kerri Donaldson Hanna in the Department of Physics, and Xiaohu Xia in the Department of Chemistry, were selected as two of the three Rising Stars in the science category. From the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Akihiro Kushima in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Thomas Wahl in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, are two of the six selected in the engineering category.
Donaldson Hanna, Xia, Kushima and Wahl — and the eight other Rising Stars honorees from institutions across Florida — received their awards Nov. 3 during ASEMFL’s two-day annual meeting in Orlando, hosted by the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
Honoring the states’ rising stars in science, engineering and medicine is a new feature of ASEMFL’s annual meeting program, now in its fifth year.
“The goal is to recognize researchers working in the state of Florida who are on the cusp of consideration for full ASEMFL membership. Rising Stars recognition showcases these individuals’ significantly growing contributions to their disciplines,” says Angela Laird, ASEMFL member and Rising Stars committee chair. The committee includes members of the national academies at multiple Florida institutions.
“Identifying Rising Stars allows the distinguished members of ASEMFL to more actively engage with, and mentor, mid-career investigators to ensure the growth and prominence of ASEMFL and call attention to the state of Florida’s pioneering contributions to science, engineering and medicine,” Laird says.
ASEMFL’s annual meeting, with 150 attendees, featured the Rising Stars awards as well as the induction of 15 new members announced earlier this year, including two from UCF: Pegasus Professor Talat Rahman and Luminar Technologies co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jason Eichenholz ’95 ’98PhD.
At the meeting, UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright, an ASEMFL member inducted in 2022, moderated two panel discussions. The panels involved university presidents and research leaders from across the state discussing universities’ challenges and opportunities in supporting Florida’s economic development, research and innovation.
The meeting also included a keynote speech by John Anderson, president of the National Academy of Engineering, and a research poster session showcasing the work of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from across Florida, including more than 40 posters from UCF.
Members of the National Academies who live or work in Florida have automatic ASEMFL membership. ASEMFL’s new members, who are inducted annually after a rigorous selection process, are regarded as having potential to become National Academy members. National Academy membership is considered the highest career distinction in the United States in the three disciplines.
Housed at the University of Central Florida and founded in 2018, ASEMFL is a not-for-profit organization of top scholars and researchers from universities, public agencies and industries statewide who study issues in science, engineering and medicine that impact the people of Florida and provide unbiased, expert advice related to these issues.
Learn More About UCF’s Rising Stars
Kerri Donaldson Hanna
Donaldson Hanna’s award is for being the first Florida scientist to lead a mission to the surface of the moon to study its volcanic history. Her research involves observations of Solar System planetary bodies using laboratory spectral studies and spacecraft observations. She studies how the moon, Mercury and asteroids formed and evolved into what we observe today. Donaldson Hanna is the principal investigator of NASA’s Lunar-VISE mission and co-investigator on several space missions. She is a recipient of UCF’s Luminary Award and NASA SSERVI’s Susan Mahan Niebur Early Career Award.
Xia’s award is for developing an artificial enzyme with a record-high catalytic efficiency that can be potentially used for various biomedical applications. Xia’s research focuses on developing advanced nanoscale materials (nanomaterials) and applying them to technologically important applications such as medical diagnostics, bio-sensing/imaging and food safety. In basic research, he designs and synthesizes nanomaterials with superior physicochemical properties. In applied research, he is committed to addressing challenging issues of current sensing and imaging technologies by taking advantage of the unique functionalities of nanomaterials.
Kushima’s award recognizes his contributions to understanding fundamental mechanisms of reaction/failure of energy-storage materials and the development of novel electrode materials. His research focuses on understanding the fundamental science of materials in atomic- and nano-scales using in-situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and atomistic modeling. His recent work involves using TEM to understand the electro-chemo mechanics in all-solid-state lithium batteries. He uses computer simulations to clarify the mechanisms of battery reactions for developing new electrode design with improved performance.
Wahl is being honored for his fundamental contributions to research of extreme sea level changes, compound events and assessment of coastal flood risk. His research focuses on the vulnerability of coastal societies, built infrastructure, and fragile ecosystems as he investigates changes in sea level, tides, storm surges, ocean waves, freshwater flows, and the interactions between them, as well as the associated impacts to explore possible adaptation strategies. He is a recipient of a NASA Early Career Investigator Award and CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.
ASEMFL’s 2023 Rising Stars, by Discipline
Science Rising Stars
- Kerri Donaldson Hanna, Ph.D., Department of Physics, University of Central Florida. Citation: For being the first Florida scientist to lead a mission to the surface of the moon to study its volcanic history.
- Mariana Fuentes, Ph.D., Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University. Citation: For novel approaches to inform the recovery and sustainable management of species of conservation concern.
- Xiaohu Xia, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, University of Central Florida. Citation: For developing an artificial enzyme with catalytic constant of 45 million per second, which is the current record.
Engineering Rising Stars
- Ashutosh Agarwal, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Miami. Citation: For engineering and translating novel organ-on-chip platforms and building a culture of inclusive excellence.
- Ruogo Fang, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Florida. Citation: For pioneering contributions in medical artificial intelligence for brain health and for tireless education of diverse transdisciplinary researchers.
- Akihiro Kushima, Ph.D., Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Central Florida. Citation: For contributions to understanding fundamental mechanisms of reaction/failure of energy storage materials and the development of novel electrode materials.
- Parisa Rashidi, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Florida. Citation: For visionary leadership in medical artificial intelligence.
- Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, Ph.D., Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, University of Miami. Citation: For work on understanding themechanisms of tensegrity structures that enable novel architectural design of structures that are much more resilient and sustainable.
- Thomas Wahl, Ph.D., Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, University of Central Florida. Citation: For fundamental contributions to research of extreme sea level changes, compound events, and assessment of coastal flood risk.
Medicine and Public Health Rising Stars
- Ashley Brown, Ph.D., Department of Medicine, University of Florida. Citation: For outstanding contributions in the field of antiviral pharmacodynamics.
- Mariana Sanchez, Ph.D., Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Florida International University. Citation: For excellence in examining pre- to post-immigration alcohol use trajectories among recent Latino immigrants during their first decade in the U.S.
- Gregg Stanwood, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Sciences, Florida State University. Citation: For work on the developmental origins of brain disorders through assessments of brain developmental trajectories following genetic and environmental perturbations.