In honor of their early-career accomplishments and their potential for future advancement, two University of Nevada, Reno researchers were honored with the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents' Rising Researcher Award, presented at the annual Honor the Best ceremony on May 15.
The University's 2018 awardees are Wesley Chalifoux, assistant professor of chemistry, and Jacqueline Snow, assistant professor of psychology.
Mridul Gautam, vice president of research and innovation at the University, said the recognition of the two faculty members this year demonstrates the impact the University continues to have on the local community and beyond in terms of its research enterprise.
"Both of these researchers, through their pioneering work and creation of new knowledge, will further lead us down new paths to discovery, with the added possibility of collaboration with industry and other partners," he said.
Chalifoux's research seeks to apply the strengths of complex small molecule synthesis to the challenges of organic materials chemistry, with the goal of developing new organic and organometallic materials with a host of desirable properties and varying uses.
"We use chemical synthetic tools to engineer nanographene materials by tuning their properties through adjustments in structure in order to improve their efficiency," Chalifoux explained. "We are currently working on single molecule electronics to reduce cost and raise efficiency of devices such as solar cells and computers."
A second aspect to his research, supported by a National Science Foundation Faculty Early CAREER Development award, is to develop new chemical tools to more efficiently synthesize biologically active molecules for treatment of cancer, HIV and cardiovascular disease.
"Wes's research activities have led to an incredible number of scientific accomplishments in a very short time. He has quickly become an accomplished scientist and research mentor, and the quality of his group's work has been incredible," said Jeff Thompson, dean of the College of Science. "This is just the beginning for Wes; he has the potential to become an international recognized leader in chemistry."
Snow has a strong background in psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Her lab examines how and why real tangible objects are processed and represented differently in the human brain compared to representations of objects, such as two-dimensional (2-D) computerized images, three-dimensional (3-D) stereo images and immersive 'virtual' reality displays. Her work investigates real-world cognition using convergent experimental approaches that include behavioral psychophysics, neuropsychology, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), EEG, eye-tracking and augmented reality.
She looks at whether having the potential to act upon objects influences how humans allocate attention to different objects in a scene. Snow and her students examine whether real objects compete more strongly for attention and manual responses compared to matched computerized 2-D and 3-D images of the same objects.
"Much of what we know about the human brain and cognition is based on studies that have relied on relatively impoverished 2-D images presented on a computer screen," Snow explained. "In my lab, we are investigating how, and why, the brain processes real, tangible objects differently to images. Humans appear to be very sensitive to whether or not they are looking at an image, or a real object, and whether the object itself is within reach."
Snow's approach presents a fundamental departure from current methods in psychology and neuroscience, which rely almost exclusively on impoverished images. Her research provides fundamental new insights into the brain mechanisms that support naturalistic vision.
"Dr. Snow's approach has field-shifting implications for how we understand the cognitive mechanisms that support visual processing. Rarely can a young researcher claim such a substantial impact on her field, but this is one reason why she so clearly deserves the Regents' Rising Researcher Award," said Debra Moddelmog, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Chalifoux was educated at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) where he earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees and following postdoctoral work at Columbia University as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada fellow. He joined the Department of Chemistry at the University in 2012 as an assistant professor. His work at the University also was recently honored with the Mousel-Feltner Award for Excellence in Research.
Snow joined the Cognitive and Brain Sciences Program in the Department of Psychology in Fall 2013, after completing her doctorate at the University of Melbourne, Australia and seven years of postdoctoral research at the University of Birmingham and the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Snow is currently president of the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience and is part of the Integrated Program in Neuroscience at the University