Biological Sciences and Chemistry Faculty Receive Trio of 2020-2021 Institute Research Awards

April 19, 2021

One of the criteria for choosing the recipient of Georgia Tech’s Outstanding Achievement in Research Program Development Award is the winning team’s ability to address major challenges. 

The latest team of annual recipients took on the challenge of 2020 at Georgia Tech: addressing the coronavirus pandemic across campus to help keep our community safe and healthy. Anton BryksinGregory GibsonPinar KeskinocakMichael ShannonJoshua WeitzLoren Williams and JulieAnne Williamson answered that call with a Georgia Tech Covid-19 testing program that now serves as a model for other institutions of higher learning across the country.

The winner of the Outstanding Achievement in Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research AwardStefan France, also responded to a formidable task, one that existed before Covid-19: the critical need to boost the number of underrepresented minority students at Georgia Tech — as did Pamela Pollet, this year's recipient of the 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award for "excellence and extraordinary efforts in teaching" throughout an unprecedented school year.

Those who nominated the College of Sciences recipients of this year's Institute Research Awards note the outstanding impact these individuals have realized by addressing these issues in positive, measurable, meaningful ways:

Georgia Tech answers coronavirus call to action 

The winners of the Outstanding Achievement in Research Program Development Award are the researchers and staff members who quickly came up with a successful in-house platform for conducting Covid-19 testing at Georgia Tech: 

From the nomination materials:

“This program is the outcome of remarkable vision and decisive action in experimental science on the part of this team, beginning in spring 2020 with the emergence of coronavirus infections in the U.S. It was immediately apparent that accurate tests for viral infection were greatly needed, and that the normal governmental and commercial channels for providing those tests would be overwhelmed.  

Rather than simply wait for national systems to sort themselves out, the molecular biologists in the team initiated a bold plan to prepare and validate all of the components needed to perform hundreds of thousands of tests using the accepted polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based method approved for clinical use, and to do this entirely in-house on the Georgia Tech campus.

Very soon after the appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Professor Williams began the construction of the Georgia Tech version of the PCR test, and its necessary technical infrastructure, without a mandate. Professors Gibson, Keskinocak, and Weitz provided key scientific insight and leadership for a GT campus-wide testing system. Dr. Bryksin was, and remains, the program’s indispensable technical expert — creating and optimizing processes for the complex steps that need to be performed flawlessly on thousands of samples per day. He was also the first to see and act on the need for CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) certification, an essential component of GT’s ability to collect and use the resulting information. 

Dr. Farrell, Ms. Williamson, and Dr. Shannon solved many seemingly insurmountable bureaucratic and organizational barriers, including the rapid creation of staff positions and space in the EBB building. Many others have contributed mightily of course, including the companion symptomatic testing program at Stamps Health Services run by Dr. Ben Holton, but these were the true visionaries and indispensables.

With a screening capacity of 3,000 saliva samples per day and using CLIA-certified, FDA-approved methodology, this program is now a model for efforts at other universities and institutions in the state of Georgia and nationwide."

A chemistry professor’s formula for diversity, mentorship

Stefan France, an associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, receives the Outstanding Achievement in Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research 2021 Award. In addition to $7,500, France wins a $2,500 research support grant.

This award honors multiple contributions by France. From the nomination materials:

“In Spring 2020, France became the Project Leader for GT-CREATER, an American Chemical Society-funded Bridge Site that offers two-year thesis M.S. degrees to support the transition from undergraduate to graduate school for underrepresented minority students.

France has trained approximately 60 undergraduates, about half from Georgia Tech. Since 2016, he has served as the principal investigator for the National Science Foundation-funded Chemistry Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site, providing summer research opportunities to more than 30 undergraduates from around the country.
In 2019, France established the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Bridges to the Professoriate (B2P), a pre-professional group for students and postdocs interested in obtaining academic positions. He also serves as co-advisor for the GT Chapter of National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE).”

Class of 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award

Furthermore, the Georgia Tech Faculty Honors Committee has also presented its Class of 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award to Pamela Pollet, Safety Program Coordinator, Senior Research Scientist, and Associate Director of the Specialty Separation Center for the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The Outstanding Teacher Award is given to those who “display teaching excellence, including extraordinary efforts in teaching, inspiration transmitted to students, direct impact and involvement with students, intellectual integrity and scholarship, and impact on post graduate success of students,” according to the Faculty Honors Committee Awards website. 

All of the Institute Research Awards were presented at the virtual Faculty and Staff Honors celebration on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

For More Information Contact

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer II/Science Writer
College of Sciences