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Four named University Distinguished Professors

Four faculty members have been named University Distinguished Professors.

A University Distinguished Professorship is awarded wholly on the basis of merit. Those chosen for the honor rank among the top scholars in their fields and possess an international reputation. They also have a proven record of interest in and concern for the growth and success of their students.

The new distinguished professors are: Kristin Bowman-James, chemistry; A. Townsend Peterson, ecology and evolutionary biology; Joseph Steinmetz, molecular biosciences; Judy Wu, physics and astronomy.

In 1963, the first University Distinguished Professors were announced. A list of all who have received the honor is on permanent display on the landing of the fifth floor of the Kansas Union. Before this year, the most recent openings for the professorships occurred in 1999.

"This title carries particular honor as the recipients were recommended by the University Committee on Distinguished Professorships from many very talented and accomplished colleagues from fields across the university," said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Lariviere. "The work of these individuals has had a great impact within their disciplines, and their appointment to this professorship is a reflection of that impact."

More information about KU's newest distinguished professors can be found at

Kristin Bowman-James

Bowman-James is a professor of chemistry and project director for the state of Kansas of the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Bowman-James was the first woman to chair KU's chemistry department, a post she held from 1995 to 2001. Bowman-James' research is in the field of supramolecular chemistry, particularly involving synthetic macrocycles as ligands for anions and transition metal ions. She is especially recognized for contributions to the field of anion coordination chemistry, which is involved with the design, synthesis and characterization of receptors for anionic species. In recognition of Bowman-James' contributions to chemistry, she received the Iota Sigma Pi Award for Professional Excellence, the Kansas Dolph Simons Sr. Award for Research Achievement and the Midwest Award for Research in Chemistry provided by the St. Louis section of the American Chemical Society. She was inducted into the Temple University Gallery of Success in 2004. In 2006, she received a National Science Foundation Creativity Award for her research in anion coordination chemistry.  

"Professor Bowman-James is an exemplary, internationally recognized scientist, whose creativity and extensive scholarly contributions to macrocyclic chemistry, molecular recognition and anion coordination chemistry have resulted in this noteworthy recognition by the university," said Joseph Heppert, chair of the Department of Chemistry. "Kristin is an outstanding scientist, mentor and friend, and our department is thrilled that her accomplishments have been acknowledged with a University Distinguished Professorship."

A. Townsend Peterson

Peterson received his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1990 and has been a professor at KU since 1993 in a shared position between the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. At the research center, Peterson is the curator in charge of the ornithology division, and he is well-known for his work on avian diseases. His research centers on the geography and ecology of species' distributions in space and in time — he has pioneered the use of a technique to predict the spread of organisms in areas of the globe in which they are not currently found, and he has applied this powerful tool to birds, plants, insects, mammals and even human pathogens, such as the deadly Ebola virus. Peterson's work is highly international, with current collaborations with researchers and students in 21 countries. His own student group is also highly international and interdisciplinary. The eight doctoral candidates he advises come from such disciplines as systematics, disease ecology and biodiversity conservation.

"Town Peterson is an astounding scientist in his creativity, depth and breadth of knowledge, and his enormous productivity," said Craig Martin, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "His contributions to science, especially in the realms of evolutionary biology and biogeography, and to education at the national and international level, are equally impressive. Town is a highly treasured colleague who is richly deserving of a University Distinguished Professorship, one of the highest honors in the academy."

Joseph Steinmetz

Steinmetz became dean of KU's largest school, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in July 2006 after 19 years at Indiana University-Bloomington. He began his career at Indiana as an assistant professor in the psychology department and quickly moved up the ranks to become the Eleanor Cox Riggs Professor of Psychology as well as a Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences. He was chair of the psychology department for 10 years and was the senior adviser to the dean of the College Arts and Sciences as well as executive associate dean of arts and sciences. Steinmetz has published more than 106 peer-reviewed articles and four books, as well as 60 book chapters, reviews and editorials. Steinmetz has received numerous honors in recognition of his scientific achievements, including the prestigious Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences. He was elected fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society and elected to the elite Society of Experimental Psychologists. Steinmetz continues to be an active behavioral neuroscientist despite a heavy administrative load at KU. His research is funded by two grants from the National Institutes of Health.

"Dean Steinmetz is reknowned for his scientific breadth, integrative work and influence in the worldwide research community," said Kathy Suprenant, chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences. "He's been recognized for groundbreaking contributions that range from cellular models of learning to human clinical applications. One distinguished scientist characterized Joe as a scientific ‘superstar,' and I'm thrilled to see his scholarly achievements honored with a University Distinguished Professorship."

Judy Wu

Wu came to KU in 1993, a time when there was relatively little experimental condensed matter physics being done at the university. Since then, she has built up her program of thin film and nanoscience research into one of the best funded of the department and the one with the largest number of graduate students. She is an expert on high temperature superconductivity and holds the world's record on the material that can carry the highest current density at liquid nitrogen temperatures and above. Most recently, she has begun to explore interdisciplinary applications using nanoscale devices that she is building in her laboratory.  Nanoscale devices may well drive the economy of the next decade, and Wu is at the forefront of this development. Wu also is the principle investigator of a National Science Foundation-funded effort to develop an interdisciplinary introductory course and research in nanotechnology at KU, which involves faculty from physics, chemistry, biology and chemical engineering. She was the recipient of a W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 2006.

"Judy Wu is a phenomenon," said Stephen Sanders, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "Joining the department directly out of graduate school, she quickly developed an internationally renowned research program in the area of experimental condensed matter physics. In addition to her world-class research program, Judy is one of our most accomplished teachers as evidenced by her Kemper award just this past fall. Judy sets a superb example for her colleagues and is a fantastic representative of the university."

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