Distinguished Faculty and Staff Awards

Physics professor Ken Nagamine was named Distinguished Researcher of the Year.
Chemistry professor Bryan Spangelo was honored with the Distinguished Service Award.
Jun. 25, 2012

The College of Sciences annually recognizes outstanding teachers and researchers. Learn a little more about each of this year's recipients:

Distinguished Researcher Award
Ken Nagamine, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Ph.D., Physics, Princeton University

Growing up: I was born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, but have lived in the United States for 15 years.

Rebel since: 2006

What drew you to your profession? Einstein’s work on relativity, the Universe, and cosmology. That is why I went to Princeton.

Research interests: I try to understand the structure formation in this Universe, including intergalactic medium, galaxies, stars, and supermassive black holes. We use supercomputers to perform large-scale cosmological hydrodynamics simulations from the early Universe to the present time. We then compare the results to the real astronomical observations to check the theory and make predictions.

People would be surprised to know: I hold a rank of 4th Dan black belt in Kendo, which is one of the traditional Japanese martial arts. I have practiced Kendo for more than 20 years. 

Biggest misconception about your field: Some people mix up astronomy with astrology.

What has surprised you about your field? The progress in cosmology over the past decade is just amazing. We now know the energy budget of the Universe with high accuracy. Who could imagine that dark matter and dark energy dominate our Universe? Nature is very peculiar. Quantum mechanics is another good example of such peculiarity.

What do you enjoy most about your work? Sometimes you are the only one of a few people in the entire world to know a certain scientific fact. I also enjoy working with students and postdocs, since I can have a positive impact on their lives through science.

Can’t work without: A computer and more importantly, my “brain.”

Outside work: Kendo and Iaido (another Japanese sword art, a companion to Kendo). Both of them are life-long pursuits, just like science.

Distinguished Researcher Award
Jichun Li, Department of Mathematical Sciences
Ph.D., Mathematics, Florida State University

Growing up: I grew up in China.

Rebel since: 2000

What drew you to your profession? I love mathematics, since it promotes you to think. And it is easy to learn mathematics, since I don’t have to memorize many things.

Research interests: Developing numerical algorithms and using computers to solve many interesting problems from various sciences and engineering areas.

Biggest misconception about your field: Most people think mathematicians only work on problems that are of no use or are uninteresting. To the contrary, these days, many computational mathematicians really work on the most interesting science and engineering problems.

Biggest challenge: Securing grants to continue our research and to make our research useful.

People would be surprised to know: I know a lot about subjects in science and engineering. This is because computational mathematicians solve various problems from different subjects.

When did you know you wanted to be a mathematician? In high school. I really enjoy and am good at solving challenging problems.

What has surprised you about your field? Sometimes I feel more mathematicians should get out of their old fields to solve more interesting practical problems.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy seeing that other researchers cite my published papers. Recently, I found one paper cited my eight papers and another paper cited my four papers.

Can’t work without: A computer and access to a good collection of books and papers.

Outside work: I love traveling. So far I have visited more than 10 countries.

Distinguished Service Award
Bryan Spangelo, Department of Chemistry
Ph.D., Biochemistry, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Growing up: I was born and raised in Great Falls, Montana.

Rebel since: 1994

What drew you to your profession? I thought the name “biochemistry” sounded cool (seriously!). Plus the idea of studying the chemistry of living cells was exciting.

Research interests: I am interested in helping to solve two fundamental problems within the area of cancer chemotherapeutics. We know that cancer drugs can be toxic resulting in side effects. We also know that once a cancer returns from a previous remission that a cancer drug that was effective before will no longer prevent the cancer from spreading (i.e., the tumor is resistant). My lab, in collaboration with Dr. Pradip Bhowmik’s lab in the Department of Chemistry, is attempting to isolate novel chemotherapeutics with enhanced potencies and efficacies. Specifically we have synthesized novel analogues of the platinum-containing drug cisplatin. This drug is effective for many solid tumors (colon, lung) but has severe side effects for the patient. As for all chemotherapeutic drugs, cisplatin is less effective in treating a cancer that has returned from remission. Our new drugs, which also contain platinum are much more effective in killing cancer cells in the test tube compared to cisplatin, opening the possibility that these new drugs might be more effective than cisplatin in lower doses. Hopefully our new cancer drugs may someday be useful in clinical settings for providing a less toxic alternative to cisplatin and to replace cisplatin for tumors that come out of remission and are resistant to cisplatin.

People might be surprised to know: I am a dedicated practitioner of yoga and meditation. I also was in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany for more two years. I was a musician in the 33rd Army Band.

Biggest misconception about your field: One misconception that people have is that biochemists can clone large animals from small amounts of DNA as in Jurassic Park.

When did you know you wanted to be a chemist? My first undergraduate major was in music. I wondered how I would be successful after college with a music degree, so I switched to chemistry. My first interview with a real chemist was at Keene State College in Keene, N.H. His name was Dr. Tom Neil and he inspired me to switch my major from music to chemistry. I have never regretted that decision.

What has surprised you about your field? The complexity of biochemistry and the vastness of this discipline of science is surprising to me. As a corollary there is much that we do not understand about the field of biochemistry.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I am passionate about conveying complex scientific facts and concepts to a lay audience. Therefore I love to teach undergraduate and graduate students. I also enjoy speaking to community members and opening the door to the fields of biochemistry and cancer biology.

Service activities: I have served many years in the UNLV Faculty Senate and its various committees.

Outside work: I love to go fishing with my friends. I also bike, hike with my son’s, and travel to Europe as often as possible.

Distinguished Teacher Award
Andrew Hanson, Department of Geoscience
Ph.D., Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford

Growing up: Grew up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana.

Rebel since: 2000

Why geology? Similar to many in my field, I knew nothing about geology until I took an introductory class at San Diego State University in 1987. I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do.

Research interests: I study sedimentary rocks and petroleum geology.

People would be surprised to know: I was an operating room nurse for eight years before I went back to school and discovered geology. I also was a heeler in team roping.

Biggest misconception about your field: I don’t “go on digs”!

Biggest challenge: Balancing teaching, research, graduate student mentoring/advising, and a personal life.

What makes you successful? I’m passionate about what I do — I often marvel that I get paid to do the things I do.

What has surprised you about the field? My perceptions of the oil industry have significantly evolved over the years.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I love working with smart, motivated students. I also love conducting field research.

What do you want your students to take away from your teaching? That depends on the class: For 100 level classes I want them to gain insight into how the Earth that sustains us “works” and what constitutes science; for upper division undergrads I want them to take away content knowledge that will allow them to successfully pursue a career or to get into a graduate program; for graduate students, I want them to problem solve, to critically think, to learn to take initiative and become life-long learners, and I want them to successfully launch their careers.

Outside work: I have a huge garden and grow all year long.

Distinguished Teacher Award
Kathleen Robins, Department of Chemistry
Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of California, Santa Barbara

Rebel since: 1991

What drew you to your profession? There are many Ph.D. chemists in my family.

Research interests: Calculating physical properties of chemical systems.

People would be surprised to know: Both my mother’s parents had Ph.D.’s in chemistry from the University of Iowa.

Biggest misconception about your field: That it’s impossible.

Can’t work without: My computers and great departmental colleagues.

Why chemistry? My uncle, a physical chemistry faculty member at University of Illinois, was my undergraduate advisor. I started out as a psychology major, but he quickly convinced me that chemistry was a better option (more jobs/more opportunities).  I ended up with undergrad concentrations in both areas.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I love interacting with students — I am energized by their enthusiasm for science.

What you want your students to take away from your teaching? An enthusiasm for chemistry and a desire to learn more.

Outside of work: Travel — both going to foreign lands, but also planning the itinerary. Reading — I love books about history, mysteries, biographies and autobiographies.

Distinguished Classified Staff Award
Gail-Michel Parsons, Department of Physics and Astronomy