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Four Faculty Members Awarded Hettleman Prizes

Each year, four of Carolina’s top up-and-coming faculty are chosen as recipients of the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prizes for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty. This year’s professors, representing diverse fields, are:

  • James Bear, associate professor of cell and developmental biology in the School of Medicine;
  • Yufeng Liu, associate professor of statistics and operations research;
  • Garyk Papoian, associate professor of chemistry; and
  • Krista Perreira, associate professor of public policy.

The Hettleman Prize carries a $5,000 stipend, and the recipients are junior tenure-track faculty or recently tenured faculty. The award was established by Phillip Hettleman ’21, who grew up in Goldsboro in a family with little money. He earned a scholarship to UNC, went to New York and in 1938 founded Hettleman & Co., a Wall Street investment firm. He established the award in 1986 and died later that year.

When James Bear joined the faculty in 2003, he established a research program focused on the molecular basis of cell motility. His work, which department chair Vytas Bankaitis called “simply meteoric,” has been focused on a family of motility proteins, the coronins.

In 10 papers, including two in the prestigious journal Cell, Bear demonstrated that coronins are instrumental in a fundamental process of controlling the actin cytoskeleton, the cell’s internal framework. This groundbreaking research has changed the direction of the field, Bankaitis said.

Bear, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, recently received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist Award supporting his research into proteins associated with cell motility and melanoma.

The scientist’s work has contributed significantly to the translational research of the Lineberger Center’s melanoma and brain tumor teams, said Shelley Earp ’70 (MD), center director and Lineberger Professor of cancer research.

“He is an exemplar of a new breed of cell biologists who are devising new cellular and molecular biological methods to study fundamental processes,” Earp said. “In addition to providing stunning images, these novel techniques are often performed in live cells and allow dynamic measurements to be made.”

With research interests in high-dimensional data analysis, bioinformatics, cancer research and developing statistical methodologies for general machine learning problems, Yufeng Liu holds a joint appointment with the Center for Genome Sciences. He is also a member of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

His position was created to help foster interdisciplinary collaboration between the mathematical sciences and genome sciences, said faculty nominators J.S. Marron and Ed Carlstein. Carlstein is chair of statistics and operation research.

“His work is a sterling example of how serious biological challenges can motivate the development of novel statistical methodologies, which in turn lead to changes in how bioinformaticians understand complex data sets, while simultaneously generating advances in fundamental statistical theory,” the two said in a statement.

The nominators described Liu’s groundbreaking research as truly synergistic. He has developed and analyzed cutting-edge statistical and computational methods for prediction, classification and clustering, they said, and he has brought current, promising tools and concepts of statistics and computation into the “practical repertoire” of genome sciences.

Liu has been a faculty member since 2004 and received early tenure and promotion last year. He recently earned a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award and serves as associate editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association.

Since he came to Carolina in 2004, Garyk Papoian has been on what chemistry chair Matthew Redinbo described as “the fast and certain track to international recognition.”

With research interests in theoretical chemistry, biophysics and signal transduction, Papoian has developed a biochemical theory research program that uses advanced computational methods to study biological processes at multiple scales.

His work in developing detailed computational models of the way eukaryotic cells move around and sense their environment helps shed light on key processes in human biology and disease such as embryonic development, wound repair and cancer metastasis.

Papoian has already garnered some of the most prestigious awards in the country, including the Beckman Young Investigator Award, Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, NSF Career Award and the American Chemical Society’s Hewlett-Packard Outstanding Junior Faculty Award.

Recently he was asked to write an opinion paper for The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on a paper published by an established scientist. “To be asked at this early stage in his career is a clear indication of Garyk’s trajectory,” Redinbo said.

Effective this month, Papoian has accepted a position at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in chemistry and Institute for Physical Science and Technology.

Krista Perreira, a health economist who is considered a pioneering researcher on the demography of immigrant youth and families, has been a public policy faculty member and fellow of the Carolina Population Center since 2001.

Her research focuses on disparities in health, education and economic well-being and the interrelationships among family, health and social policy, specifically the health and educational consequences of migration.

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of her research and its emphasis on original data collection, Perreira’s contributions have extended beyond public policy to demography, education, psychology, public health and sociology as well, said Pete Andrews ’70 (MRP, ’72 PhD), professor and department chair.

“Dr. Perreira’s research record places her as a groundbreaking scholar on the Hispanic immigrant population as well as on cross-cultural research methods, as a rising star in her field and well beyond the normal research expectations for someone at this stage of her career,” he said.

Among her most recent national recognitions, Perreira received an award from the American Sociological Association for her research on mental health, and she was selected as a visiting fellow of the prestigious Russell Sage Foundation in New York.


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