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Milestones

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Linda McGown
Linda McGown


After 17 years as a professor at Duke, Linda McGown joined the Rensselaer faculty in June as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

Two factors convinced her to make the move: the opportunity to make an imprint on the chemistry program during a period of growth and change, and a collaborative research environment that will help her maintain a dynamic research group.

“Rensselaer is an exciting place right now,” she says. “It’s an old institution, but in a lot of ways it is very new. Coming here is like getting in on the ground floor.”

At Duke, she says, the structure is set, allowing only incremental changes. Rensselaer, she finds “is still fluid, a work in progress. There are a lot of experiments going on because the Institute is trying to make significant strides quickly.”

McGown, known for her work in analytical and bioanalytical chemistry, was brought to Rensselaer to help strengthen the department and its new focus on biotechnology.

“The momentum is in biotechnology at present,” she says. “There is lots of room for growth in that area.”

The department is advertising for a new faculty member in bioanalytical chemistry, which will bring the total in that research area to three — McGown, Associate Professor Julie Stenken, and the new hire. There also are searches under way for chaired positions in biochemistry and in organic chemistry.

But McGown emphasizes that Rensselaer researchers are also doing exciting things in other areas of chemistry, including nanotechnology, fuel cells, and polymers. Times change, and in the future, opportunities could come in other unanticipated fields. McGown wants a department that can respond, and she believes the best way to achieve that goal is to maintain a fundamental core of chemistry expertise.

McGown also wants “a department where people can reinvent themselves” if they are doing good science that takes them in unexpected directions.

In her own research, she was feeling isolated at Duke, and she sees Rensselaer’s interdisciplinary environment as her opportunity to move in challenging new directions. She says that on her first visit to campus during the interview process, she talked to three or four faculty members who were interested in her work even though they are not members of the chemistry department.

“I want to collaborate. There are things I want to do that I don’t have the expertise to do by myself. Now I have access to all of these excellent researchers,” she says.

One major attraction was Rensselaer’s renowned faculty in bioseparations and microfluidics. Her group has been studying aptamers, DNA oligonucleotides that have been identified for their high affinity for binding to target molecules. The team has been using aptamers to capture, isolate, and purify proteins, a research direction that has clear implications for bioseparation technology.

In other work, her group is exploring a “directed proteomic strategy” — analysis based on affinity binding of certain cellular proteins to immobilized target DNA that corresponds to genomic sequences. The goal is to study proteins involved in basic processes that are important in diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

She also is exploring applications for reversible gels that are formed by guanosine nucleotides, which are found in DNA. People have studied these gels for nano-wires and for a few other very specialized uses, but McGown is considering their potential for more general biotechnology applications.

“Professor McGown brings an extraordinary depth of research and education experience to this position,” said Provost G.P. “Bud” Peterson. “Strengthening the chemistry department is critical to accomplishing the goals of The Rensselaer Plan, particularly as they pertain to biotechnology. Professor McGown’s dedication to fostering the research capabilities of the department within a collaborative environment are essential as we expand in these areas.”

Photo by Mark McCarty

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Lester Gerhardt * Lester Gerhardt has been named acting dean of engineering. Gerhardt, associate dean of engineering and professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering (ECSE) and computer science, brings an extensive background in research, industry, and academia to the position. He served as chairman of ECSE 1975-1986. In 1986 he was appointed director of Computer Integrated Manufacturing; he also was the founding director of Rensselaer’s Center for Manufacturing Productivity. An active researcher and educator, his areas of interest include pattern recognition and adaptive systems, communications, digital signal processing, computer integrated manufacturing, and technology aids for the handicapped.
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Richard Smith, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, has been named associate dean for academic and student affairs for the School of Engineering. Smith has been a member of the faculty since 1977 and was a Fulbright-Hayes Senior Research Scholar visiting the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest, Romania. In 2004, he completed a three-year term as program director for thermal transport and thermal processing in the Chemical and Transport Systems Division of the U.S. National Science Foundation.
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Ravi Kane Ravi Kane, the Merck Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has been selected as one of the top 100 young innovators in technology from around the world by Technology Review, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s magazine of innovation. The so-called “TR100,” chosen by the editors of Technology Review and a panel of judges, consists of 100 individuals under age 35 whose innovative work in technology promises to have a profound impact on the world. Kane’s primary research focus is on investigating and solving problems in medicine and biology by the molecular engineering of materials and surfaces. He works in the areas of biotechnology, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and polymers.
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Kenneth Warriner Kenneth Warriner, associate professor of architecture, was recognized by Rensselaer’s Board of Trustees with the 2004 Trustees’ Outstanding Teacher Award during the board’s fall meeting. The annual award recognizes outstanding accomplishments in classroom instruction. Warriner was honored for “his quiet leadership, integrating social, environmental, and global concerns into the curriculum for more than 35 years.” Warriner’s interests include architectural and urban design and theory. He joined Rensselaer in 1968.
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Katrin Wesner ’89 Katrin Wesner ’89, administrative manager of the Student Health Center, has received the 2004 Pillars of Rensselaer Award, the highest honor Rensselaer bestows on a staff member. Wesner, who joined the staff in 1989 and completed a master’s degree at the Institute, was cited for her “maturity, strength, sensitivity, commitment to excellence, and caring attitude.” Wesner is actively involved in many aspects of the Rensselaer community, “communiversity” events, and in area organizations such as YWCA and Habitat for Humanity. The Pillars Award is presented annually to a staff member who understands the Institute’s mission and history, has been a role model for other employees, showed concern for students and their welfare, added to the human dimension of the school, and played an active role in her home community.
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Pulickel Ajayan Pulickel Ajayan, professor of materials science and engineering, has been named the Henry Burlage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer. He is the first person to hold this professorship, which was established as a bequest by the late Henry Burlage Jr. ’44 to honor the memory of his father. Ajayan’s research focuses on the controlled growth of carbon nanotubes. He studies their structure and properties in relation to size and confinement and their potential in a range of applications, including composite materials, sensors, biomaterials, and microelectronics. He is a recognized expert in electron microscopy.
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William “Al” Wallace, professor of decision sciences and engineering systems, has received the 2004 INFORMS President’s Award, given by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). The award recognizes, and encourages, important contributions to the welfare of society by members of the profession at the local, national, or global level.
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Thomas Triscari Jr. ’76 Thomas Triscari Jr. ’76, clinical associate professor in the Lally School of Management and Technology, has received a Homeland Security Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and will spend a year in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) working in the Directorate for Science and Technology. Triscari’s principal research efforts have focused on improving information and decision processes in complex organizations. According to AAAS, the fellowship provides the opportunity to learn through participation how scientific and technological information is used in federal policy-making, to demonstrate the value of science-government interaction, and to bring technical backgrounds and external perspectives to DHS.
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Toh-Ming Lu Toh-Ming Lu, the R.P. Baker Distinguished Professor of Physics and director of the Center for Advanced Interconnect Systems Technologies, has received the 2004 Materials Research Society (MRS) Medal. The MRS Medal recognizes a specific outstanding recent discovery or advancement that is expected to have a major impact on the progress of any materials-related field. Lu was honored for significant contributions to understanding mechanisms of thin-film surface and interface morphology evolution and establishing the foundations of diffraction and scattering methods for quantitative analysis.
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Edward “Ted” Shuster ’81 Edward “Ted” Shuster ’81, research associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, died Sept. 16, 2004. Shuster was an expert on Hudson Basin hydrology. He studied flow, suspended particle transport and deposition, and dissolved organic carbon dynamics in the main stem and major tributaries of the Hudson River. He played a vital role in the ongoing Riverscope project designed to enhance monitoring and observation of the Hudson River’s physical, chemical, and biological systems. Shuster taught graduate and undergraduate students; his teaching focused on groundwater hydrogeology, sedimentology, and environmental geology, and integrated his expertise on the Hudson River.
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

 
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