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Research and Innovation Honors 2024 Awardees at Annual Research Ceremony

From nanoparticles and additive manufacturing to health sciences supporting historically underrepresented populations, UTEP researchers are making names for themselves in a wide range of fields. These individuals – all at different points in their careers – were honored at UTEP Research and Innovation’s Annual Research Awards Reception and Ceremony.

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., second from left, received the Outstanding Researcher – Distinguished Career Award. He is pictured with, from left, Ahmad Itani, Ph.D, vice president for research; John Wiebe, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs; and UTEP President Heather Wilson.
Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., second from left, received the Outstanding Researcher – Distinguished Career Award. He is pictured with, from left, Ahmad Itani, Ph.D, vice president for research; John Wiebe, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs; and UTEP President Heather Wilson.

Sixty-six researchers received awards in categories including first-time principal investigator honors, rising research awards for those early on in their careers, and established researcher awards, to honor those who have had a long research career at UTEP. Honorific awardees also received cash prizes. 

“Research & Innovation’s Annual Research Awards Reception and Ceremony honors UTEP’s biggest and brightest researchers, whether they’re just launching into their careers or have a storied history at the 山ּ,” said Ahmad M. Itani, Ph.D., vice president for research at UTEP. “We’re proud to honor their hard work, their dedication to UTEP and our students, and their efforts advancing research and discovery in the arts, social sciences and STEM fields.”

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Researcher – Distinguished Career Award. Since joining UTEP in January 1994, Gardea-Torresdey has had an indelible impact on the students, faculty and research success of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry within the College of Science. From serving as department chair for 17 years and helping to initiate Ph.D. programs in Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering to being one of the most citated researchers in the world (top 1%) from 2019-23, he has become a leading researcher in environmental chemistry. Most recently, he is serving as a co-principal investigator, in collaboration with the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) at Cornell 山ּ, on developing a precision X-ray beamline to support agricultural and environmental research.

“I am blessed to be here at UTEP and to have been present [at the ceremony],” Gardea-Torresdey said. “It’s unbelievable. I have other awards, but this was different.”

Gardea-Torresdey’s most recent research delves into nanotechnology, though his proudest career moments come from supporting students as a UTEP professor (he has advised 47 Ph.D. students), many of whom have gone on to work for institutions like Texas Tech 山ּ, the Environmental Protection Agency and more.

“Mentoring future scientists and engineers keeps me going,” Gardea-Torresdey said. “I love to teach and to be relied on as a leader.”

Laura V. Alvarez, Ph.D., an assistant professor in UTEP’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Resource Sciences was honored with the Innovation Award – Early Career Innovator and was recognized for having received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for her project entitled Understanding the Physics of Turbulent Flow, Erosion and Depositional Patterns in River Systems.

“I’m glad UTEP has these spaces for scientists and professors to be recognized for their achievements,” Alvarez said.

CAREER Awards from the NSF are given to researchers who are early on in their careers with the purpose of outlining the individual’s research and educational goals over the next five years. Typically, early career researchers have three tries to earn the award, but Alvarez earned hers on her first try. A scientist with a focus in fluvial geomorphology – or the study of hydrodynamics in rivers and river systems – her proposal outlined not only her research but the innovative educational goals she has, including workshops and possibly developing a graphic novel on the topic to share for educational purposes.

“What I proposed was very specific to the El Paso and Juarez communities,” Alvarez said. “Which is to increase the representation of Hispanic women in Earth science.”

Raymond C. Rumpf, Ph.D., a professor in UTEP’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, received the Innovation Award – Established Innovator, acknowledging his research impacting and benefitting the public’s well-being. Since founding the EMLab at UTEP in 2010, his team has worked hard to develop revolutionary technologies in additive manufacturing, electromagnetics, and photonics, as well as help UTEP deliver world-class education.

“I’m intensely curious about things, and so when I learn something new that challenges conventional thinking, I find that very exciting,” Rumpf said. “It’s always nice to be awarded. My lab kind of has a reputation for being ‘out there,’ so being recognized for innovation is nice. Up and coming goals are to commercialize a lot of what we’ve done because we’ve been at this 13 years now, and some of our crazy stuff is no longer crazy and in demand. So that’s probably the next big thing for me is trying to see that through to commercialization.” 

Anne-Marie Núñez, Ph.D., director of the Diana Natalicio Institute for Hispanic Student Success, Azuri Gonzalez, Ed.D., director of partnerships and outreach with the institute, and Amy Wagler, Ph.D., professor of public health at UTEP, received the Large Grant Award, given to researchers who have demonstrated outstanding efforts in securing extramural funding. In 2023, they received a $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build capacity in HSIs for conducting culturally responsive evaluation and research about the effectiveness of grants funded by the NSF HIS Program and about STEM student success programs more generally.

“The opportunity to lead this grant feels like an affirmation of the great work HSIs in the nation are doing,” Núñez said. “It’s a testament to UTEP’s leadership. I’m grateful for the commitment of UTEP to support the institute throughout the grant writing process and the 山ּ’s belief that the work we’re doing is important and needed.”

Named for President Natalicio, who served as UTEP’s president for over 30 years, the institute leads knowledge creation, education and partnerships to advance inclusive excellence in postsecondary systems and structures. The awarded NSF grant will allow for the development of the first-of-its-kind Hispanic-Serving Institute Center for Evaluation and Research Synthesis in the nation.

To learn more about how Research & Innovation – formerly called the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects – can support you throughout the grant proposal development process, visit www.utep.edu/orsp/.

Last Updated on May 10, 2024 at 12:00 AM | Originally published May 10, 2024

By Julia Hettiger UTEP Marketing and Communications