2009 Foundation Professors excel in teaching and research

5/12/2009 - By: Guia Del Prado

University of Nevada, Reno professors and researchers Ian Buckle, Mae Gustin and Kent Ervin will be honored as 2009 Foundation Professors for exceptional achievements in teaching and research.

In addition to being awarded with a $5,000 annual stipend for three years, being celebrated at the Honor the Best Ceremony on Wednesday, May 13, the three honorees’ names will be added to the roster at Honor Court.

Below are sketches of each professor.

Ian Buckle

Ian Buckle, civil engineering professor and director of the Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research, specializes in improving the performance of bridges and other structures during earthquakes. He works extensively with such organizations as the Federal Highway Administration, Transportation Research Board, California Department of Transportation on improving design codes for bridges. For example, Buckle is currently directing a large-scale experimental project in which the effect of curvatures on the behavior of a bridge in an earthquake is being studied, with and without vehicles being present on the bridge.

Buckle first came to the University in 1999 after working at the University of Auckland, New Zealand as the Vice President of Research and at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at the University at Buffalo as the Deputy Director. He returned to the lab and classroom for the love of the research and teaching.

“It’s very satisfying working with students,” Buckle said. “New challenges face the engineering profession every year and I enjoy addressing these demands and improving the safety of our structures, one student at a time.”

Kent Ervin

Kent Ervin is a chemistry professor with research interests in physical chemistry and chemical physics. He studies the interaction between gasses reacting with one another at the molecular level using tandem mass spectrometry techniques. Ervin is currently researching reactions in hydrocarbon systems during combustion of biofuels for the Department of Energy’s Combustion Research Program. He conducts his research using apparatuses he had been building since his first arrival to the University in 1999, with the help of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students.

“More and more we’re seeing biofuels and oxygenated fuels for pollution controls so some of our studies have to do with adding those to the combustion process,” he says.

Ervin has published about 80 journal articles in such notable publications as the Journal of American Chemical Society, the Journal of Chemical Physics and the Journal of Physical Chemistry. He was also offered the opportunity to be a visiting fellow at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado, Boulder during his sabbatical last year. But even through his stay at Boulder, he returned to Reno often to check in with the graduate students with whom he works.

“What undergraduates learn in the classroom from textbooks is only a part of what science is about,” Ervin said. “The science we do, it’s something you do in the laboratory. In our case, building the instruments and making the measurements we’re interested in.”

Mae Gustin

Mae Gustin, professor of natural resources and environmental science, runs the mercury research lab with her graduate and undergraduate students. The Gustin group is currently conducting six projects including the investigation of the causal factors for mercury in Nevada reservoirs, how mercury is distributed in water, sediment and the fishes of the Truckee River, the development of methods to measure dry deposition of mercury from air into ecosystems, the study of the potential for coal combustion by-products being used as agricultural amendments to release mercury to the air and water, and how plants absorb mercury from the air.

Gustin considers her students as an important component conducting these projects.

“They need to develop skills, be objective scientists and work with other people and all that comes out of working in the lab,” Gustin said. “So for them this is part of their education. And it’s my job to educate students.”

In addition to being chosen as a Foundation Professor, Gustin was selected to be a member of a National Academy of Science committee given the task of writing a report on long range transport of air pollutants. She has been entrusted with the chapter on mercury. The report was commissioned by federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The resulting report will be important for guiding policy and research agendas.

“To me this is a pretty big honor and it’s a huge responsibility to do it well,” she said.


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