Distinguished McKnight University Professors

The Distinguished McKnight University Professorship program recognizes outstanding faculty members who have recently achieved full professor status. Recipients hold the title “Distinguished McKnight University Professor” for as long as they remain employed at the University of Minnesota. Instructions for 2019 nominations are available here. Award recipients are chosen in late February and announced in March.

2019 Distinguished McKnight Professors


Deborah A. Ferrington
Ophthalmology & Visual Neurosciences, Medical School

Pioneering studies in the aging eye and age-related macular degeneration

Considering the growing number of senior citizens worldwide, there is an urgent need to prevent age-related diseases. This proactive strategy requires an understanding of aging at the cellular level. Deborah Ferrington’s investigations of the aging retina and of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the elderly’s primary cause of blindness, have led to novel insights into the unique factors that distinguish normal aging from disease. These advances in knowledge have led to new strategies for treating AMD.


Christy L. Haynes
Chemistry, College of Science & Engineering

Pushing the limits of analytical chemistry

Christy Haynes’ research pushes the limits of measurement technology in complex environments to reveal critical insights related to human health and safety. Haynes’ expertise in making and characterizing nanoscale materials, executing high sensitivity analytical measurements, and working in complex biological and ecological systems has facilitated impactful contributions in toxicology, physiology, biomedicine, and sustainable design.


Susan D. Jones
Ecology, Evolution & Behavior, College of Biological Sciences

Living with human-animal diseases: Lessons from history

Through her path-breaking research in the global history of human-animal diseases (plague, anthrax, influenza), Jones works to understand how we can keep human and animal populations healthy without destroying our environment. History reveals how some past disease eradication campaigns failed tragically, contributing to famine, large-scale sociocultural disruption, and environmental degradation. Working with local people, building on existing social institutions, and collaborating with scientists, Jones helps chart new directions in understanding and controlling re-emergent human-animal diseases.


Richard M. Lee
Psychology, College of Liberal Arts

The role of culture, race, and ethnicity in Asian American mental health

Richard Lee contests traditional psychological theories and research by prioritizing the racial and ethnic experiences of Asian American and other minority youth and their families. He has developed new, important conceptual models and measurement instruments to better understand the role of immigration, acculturation, discrimination, and identity development. Moreover, he has used his empirical findings to help develop interventions designed to prevent mental health problems. His groundbreaking, internationally recognized research has helped to establish the field of ethnic minority and cultural psychology.


Vuk Mandic
School of Physics & Astronomy, College of Science & Engineering

Searching for the beginning of time

Vuk Mandic has made significant contributions to the recent discoveries of gravitational waves with LIGO and Virgo detectors and to searches for Dark Matter, the missing mass in the universe that is believed to hide in the form of new massive particles. His experiments aim to illuminate the first moments of the evolution of the universe and to understand the physical laws that apply at very high energies that are not reproducible in laboratories.


Sang-Hyun Oh
Electrical & Computer Engineering, College of Science & Engineering

Miniaturization of nanostructures toward the atomic scale

Sang-Hyun Oh's group invented a new technique called atomic layer lithography capable of generating features as small as one nanometer, exceeding the resolution limit of state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies by more than an order of magnitude. Other conventional techniques cannot mass-produce such small and uniform gaps. The resulting structures are essential building blocks for electronic, optical devices, and biosensors, thus these methods have been widely adopted by many researchers world-wide to perform experiments in previously inaccessible regimes.


Kevin D. Wickman
Pharmacology, Medical School

Molecules and mechanisms that regulate cell excitability in the heart and brain

The function of the heart and brain is shaped by excitatory and inhibitory influences acting at the cellular level. Many debilitating medical problems including arrhythmias, epilepsy, addiction, and pain are caused by an imbalance in cell excitability. Professor Kevin Wickman seeks to elucidate molecular mechanisms that impact cell excitability in the heart and brain. With this knowledge, new approaches to diagnose, treat, or prevent medical problems linked to pathological excitability can be envisioned, developed, and optimized.

2018 Distinguished McKnight Professors


David A. Chang
History, College of Liberal Arts

Indigenous People, Global Visions: Transforming Understandings of Nations and Empires through Indigenous History

David A. Chang has moved the fields of American history and global history dramatically forward, revealing the complexity of Native people’s intellectual engagements with global currents, and demonstrating how indigenous people’s relations with colonizers shaped the development of the United States’ boundaries, economy, and identity. Over the course of two award-winning books and over a dozen articles in leading journals, he has expanded the field and range of Indigenous studies by pushing beyond disciplinary boundaries.


Martin Greven
School of Physics & Astronomy, College of Science & Engineering

Deciphering the Complex Properties of Unconventional Superconductors

Martin Greven’s research focuses on the experimental study of copper-oxide superconductors, one of the most active research fields in physics during the past three decades. Such superconductors have significant technological potential, yet their enigmatic properties defy conventional wisdom. Professor Greven has pioneered the growth of pristine crystals of the most desirable of these quantum materials and made several breakthrough discoveries regarding their electromagnetic properties using a variety of experimental techniques.


Satish Kumar
Chemical Engineering & Materials Science, College of Science & Engineering

The Engineering Science of Liquid-Phase Materials Processing

Materials in a liquid state must be extruded, molded, spread, and dried to manufacture a wide range of products such as coatings, films, and fibers, as well as biomedical, mechanical, and electronic devices. Professor Kumar’s research uses a combination of theory and experiment to address fundamental issues that are central to understanding, designing, and optimizing these materials processing operations. Working with industrial partners, Kumar formulates and studies problems to advance both fundamental understanding and industrial practice.


Glenn I. Roisman
Institute of Child Development, College of Education & Human Development
The Enduring Legacy of Early Interpersonal Experiences

Professor Roisman has spent his distinguished career extending into adulthood landmark longitudinal studies of human development that span the life-course. Leveraging these unique datasets and innovative statistical methods, Roisman’s contributions reveal: (a) in which domains, (b) through what mechanisms, and (c) for whom early relationship experiences endure in their impacts. His current work is illuminating how childhood experiences support or undermine adults’ physical health via studies that disambiguate the effects of social experiences from genetics.


Michael Travisano
Ecology, Evolution & Behavior, College of Biological Sciences
The Origins of Biological Innovation

Innovation in biological systems is the fundamental basis for life, and is responsible for its complexity and diversity. Professor Travisano’s research is focused on understanding the origins of biological innovation experimentally. He investigates innovations at different levels of organization in laboratory experiments with microbes. Current research concentrates on the origins of gene function, multicellularity and life itself. This research changes how we view living systems and opens opportunities for innovation in antibiotics and understanding disease.


Natalia Y. Tretyakova
Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy
Environmental DNA Damage and Its Role in Disease

Natalia Tretyakova’s research is focused on advancing the frontiers of environmental health and medicine. She has made breakthrough discoveries of the mechanisms of epigenetic deregulation and cancer causing mutations associated with environmental exposure and lifestyle factors. Professor Tretyakova has pioneered novel methodologies to detect DNA damage, evaluated the ability of altered DNA bases to induce genetic mutations, and developed DNA based biomarkers of cancer risk. Her work has advanced our understanding of the role of DNA damage in human disease, informing future strategies for improving human health.

2017 Distinguished McKnight Professors


Stephanie M. Carlson
Institute of Child Development, College of Education and Human Development
Self-control in Early Childhood

Stephanie Carlson conducts research on the development of executive function (the brain basis of self-control), including how to measure it in children as young as age 2; what to expect of children of different ages and life experiences; what distinguishes children who have better or worse executive function; and perhaps most importantly, how to improve these critical skills that predict greater achievement in multiple areas of life.


Tianhong Cui
Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering
Micro and Nano-Systems for High Performance Sensors

Tianhong Cui’s research is in the area of Micro/Nano Electro Mechanical Systems (M/NEMS). He is a pioneer in self-assembled M/NEMS and in polymer nanomanufacturing. M/NEMS sensors have become pervasive in every-day life from detecting collisions in cars to measuring motion in cellular phones to detecting markers of diseases in medicine. Cui’s research focuses on using “bottom up” self-assembly approaches and polymer processing to develop new functional materials that greatly expand the functionalities of M/NEMS sensors.



Reuben S. Harris
Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, Medical School and College of Biological Sciences
Mechanisms of Mutation in Immunity and Cancer

Reuben Harris is dedicated to advancing frontiers in mutation research. He has made breakthrough discoveries on mechanisms of mutation in multiple areas including bacterial evolution, antibody diversification, retrovirus restriction, and cancer pathogenesis. His fundamental discoveries have become textbook models and informed strategies for improving human health. His recent work on cancer mutation has revealed a major pathogenic role for enzymes called APOBECs, and this breakthrough has created clear opportunities for diagnostic and therapeutic advances.


Monica Luciana
Psychology, College of Liberal Arts
Adolescent Brain Development and Impacts of Substance Use

Using neurobehavioral probes and pioneering longitudinal designs, Monica Luciana is making transformative contributions to the understanding of adolescent development. Her theoretical and empirical work has advanced understanding of mechanisms of change, providing novel insights about adolescent risk-taking and how the developing brain is impacted by substance use. This
work educates parents and teachers, guides public health prevention efforts, informs legislation regarding legal drinking and driving ages, and presents practical dilemmas for juvenile justice.


Theresa M. Reineke
Chemistry, College of Science and Engineering
Innovating Polymeric Materials for Therapeutic Delivery and Sustainability

Theresa Reineke’s research is focused on improving human health and the environment through pioneering contributions to the field of polymer chemistry. Her research has enabled fundamental and applied technology advancements in three areas: polymer-based biomolecule delivery systems for treatment of genetic disease, enhancing oral delivery of important drugs with polymer-based delivery systems, and sustainable and environmentally friendly polymers/plastics from naturally occurring chemicals derived from plants.


Loren Terveen
Computer Science and Engineering, College of Science and Engineering
Fulfilling the Promise of Online Collaboration for All

Loren Terveen’s research is concentrated in the areas of human-computer interaction and social computing. Specifically, Professor Terveen's work addresses opportunities and challenges raised by the emergence and eventual universal adoption of the World Wide Web. He has focused on developing algorithms and user interfaces to help people locate information more effectively; analyzing how people communicate and work together online; and creating new interaction techniques to address these problems and meet these needs.

2016 Distinguished McKnight Professors


William A. Arnold
Environmental Engineering, College of Science and Engineering
Clean Water for All: Ensuring the Quality and Safety of Water Resources

Prof. Arnold's research centers on the environmental fate and impacts of manmade chemicals on which modern society relies. He seeks to define the processes by which industrial chemicals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals are transformed in aquatic systems. He evaluates chemical persistence in lakes and rivers, identifies potentially harmful reaction products, and develops technologies to clean up contaminated waters to reverse or prevent environmental damage. His work ensures safe, clean water for people and ecosystems.


Kristin E. Hickman
Law School
Tax Administration: Efficacy and Legitimacy Through Transparency and Accountability

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. described taxes as “the lifeblood of government” and “the price we pay for a civilized society.” Without effective tax administration, taxes go uncollected, and government ceases to function. Kristin Hickman’s work evaluates IRS administrative practices with an eye toward facilitating and legitimizing tax administration through transparency, public participation, and judicial review. Relied upon by scholars, lawyers, the IRS, and the courts, her work is reshaping tax administration in the United States.


Sarah E. Hobbie
Ecology, Evolution & Behavior, College of Biological Sciences
Understanding Consequences of Human-Caused Environmental Changes for Ecosystems:from Cities to the Great Plains

From local to global scales, human activities, inadvertently and through deliberate management, are altering climate, atmospheric chemistry, landscapes, and biodiversity. Hobbie’s research aims to understand how these environmental changes are altering the structure and functioning of ecosystems. Her research ranges from city neighborhoods, where she explores the consequences of urbanization for biodiversity and water quality, to the Central Great Plains, where she explores ecosystem feedbacks to the global climate system.


George Karypis
Computer Science & Engineering, College of Science and Engineering
Practical and Effective Algorithms for Big Data Applications on High-Performance Computing Architectures

The nominee’s research work is concentrated in the areas of high-performance computing and data mining and focuses on developing novel algorithms that are grounded in theory and solve important problems in scientific computing, business intelligence, e-commerce, online systems, biology, and drug discovery, and on translating this research into practical and efficient software tools that can be used to solve real-world problems in these areas. These tools can be used both for educational purposes and also to enable novel research in the various scientific disciplines.


Michael Lackey
English, Division of the Humanities, University of Minnesota Morris
Literature, Political History, and Social Justice

From his book about African American atheist writers, which examines the role the God concept has played in the subjugation and violation of certain groups of people, to his multibook project about biofiction (literature that names its protagonist after an actual historical figure), Michael Lackey’s pioneering work as editor, interviewer, and author clarifies how literature functions to expose the structures and conditions of oppression and charts cultural and political pathways toward a more socially just future.


Erika Lee
History, College of Liberal Arts
Immigration and Race in the U.S. and the World

Lee’s path-breaking research examines global migration and its consequences, especially to the U.S., from the colonial era to the present. She has discovered new sources of historical research and developed new frameworks that have changed the way scholars understand and write American and global history. Her award-winning books have broad national and international influence, she has helped to establish the interdisciplinary field of Asian American Studies, and she is a highly sought-after public intellectual.



Kathleen Vohs
Marketing, Carlson School
The Perils and Promise of Human Motivation

Professor Vohs studies human motivation, which inspires action toward immediate desires and lofty goals. Self-control helps people prioritize long-term outcomes over immediate rewards, and thus is exceptionally important for health, prosperity, rationality, and relationship success. Vohs shows why self-control failures are so common, and how to prevent them. Vohs discovered that the mere idea of money changes motivation. Thoughts about money enhance subsequent persistence and performance — but impede giving, helping, and caring.

2015 Distinguished McKnight Professors


George E. Heimpel
Biological Control at a Crossroads in Agriculture and Conservation

In biological control, living organisms are introduced to control invasive species.  This method has been used with great success, but also carries ecological risk. Professor Heimpel is making fundamental contributions in implementing this strategy to protect both soybeans in the U.S. and Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands.  He is also developing conceptual models that allow a balancing of benefits and risks in biological control to arrive at best overall solutions for managing invasive species.


Alexandra B. Klass
Transporting Energy: U.S. Infrastructure Challenges

Alexandra Klass’s research centers on energy law, environmental law, and natural resources law. Her recent work explores laws governing the nation’s energy transportation infrastructure—oil pipelines, natural gas pipelines, and electric transmission lines—and how changes in those laws could better respond to the new domestic sources of oil, natural gas, and wind energy that are in locations not well served by existing energy transportation infrastructure.


Jean O'Brien
American Indian Studies 
Indigenous Sovereignty and the State

Jean O’Brien’s pioneering scholarship on Indigenous survival and self-determination within the settler state stands at the forefront of a new global approach to Indigenous studies. Her work has overturned conventional accounts of Indigenous history in the northeastern U.S., challenging national narratives that have written Indigenous peoples out of existence. She is co-founder and served as second president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the premier association for global Indigenous studies.


Frank J. Symons
Educational Psychology
Translating the Neuroscience of Pain to Transform the Treatment of Self-Injury

Frank Symons’ ground-breaking work is transforming the field of special education by challenging the conventional wisdom about pain, sensory processing, and self-injury. The goal of his research is to bridge the gap between what neuroscience tells us about pain and what special education can do about self-injury. The significance of his approach is in identifying biomarker risk factors to improve the possibility of preventing the development of this devastating behavior disorder.


Jakub Tolar
Pioneering New Uses of Stem Cells to Treat Incurable Genetic Disorders in Children

Inspired by the needs of his patients, Jakub Tolar is a physician scientist who has pioneered new therapies for children with otherwise lethal disorders. He is now viewed as one ofthe world’s experts in the treatment of epidermolysis bullosa, an extremely painful skin blistering disorder that often leads to death. He has also come to be a University advocate for new areas of medical science, such as genome editing and regenerative medicine.

Distinguished McKnight University Professors Named in Previous Years

This list is of those currently at the University of Minnesota.

David A. Andow, Entomology — Ecological and evolutionary principles in environmental sciences

Lydia Artymiw, Music — Piano performance

George BaranyChemistry — Peptide synthesis

Frank S. BatesChemical Engineering & Materials Science — Synthesized molecular polymer structures

Saif BenjaafarMechanical Engineering — Science and engineering of supply chain operations

Judith BermanGenetics, Cell Biology & Development — Model and pathogenic yeasts

David BernlohrBiochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biophysics — Lipid metabolism

John C. Bischof, Mechanical Engineering — Biomaterial cryopreservation and thermal therapies

Graham V. CandlerAerospace Engineering & Mechanics — Computational hypersonic fluid dynamics

Bernardo Cockburn, Mathematics — Computational mathematics

Bianca M. Conti-FineBiochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biophysics — Molecular immunology

Christopher J. Cramer, Chemistry — Computational chemistry

Jeffrey J. DerbyChemical Engineering & Materials Science — Computational models of crystal growth

Mark D.DistefanoChemistry — Protein chemistry for biotechnology and health applications

R. Lawrence Edwards, Geology & Geophysics — Climate change in the earth’s recent past

Ann M. FallonEntomology — Insect molecular biology

Efi Foufoula-GeorgiouCivil Engineering — Hydrologic science

Patricia A. Frazier, Psychology  Coping with traumatic life events

John FreemanPolitical Science — Economic growth and redistribution of wealth

C. Daniel Frisbie, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science — Materials and Process Design for Flexible, Next Generation Electronics

Laura Gagliardi, Chemistry — Theoretical modeling of fundamental chemical and physical processes relevant to energy and sustainability

Paul GlewweApplied Economics — Impact of government policies on education, child nutrition, poverty and inequality in developing countries

Megan GunnarChild Development — Stress hormones and human development

Patricia HamplEnglish — Writings of fiction, memoirs, essays, and poetry

Jill E. HasdayLaw— Family Law Reimagined

Bin HeBiomedical Engineering — Biomedical imaging and neuroengineering

Marc A. Hillmyer, Chemistry  Nanostructured polymers for the environment

Marc M. HirschmannGeology & Geophysics — High-pressure experimental studies of partial melting of the mantle and deep-earth volatile cycles

Wei-Shou HuChemical Engineering & Materials Science — Cell culture engineering

William G. IaconoPsychology — Biological markers for schizophrenia

Richard D. JamesAerospace Engineering & Mechanics — Mechanical behavior of solid phase matter

Marc K. Jenkins, Microbiology — Immunology

Timothy J. KehoeEconomics — General economic equilibrium analysis

Joseph A. KonstanComputer Science & Engineering — Human-computer interaction

Uwe R. Kortshagen, Mechanical Engineering — Plasma research

Robert F. Krueger, Psychology — Reducing the burden of mental disorder through data-based classification research

Gordon E. LeggePsychology — Psychology of vision, perception, and reading

Chris Leighton, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science— Electronic and magnetic properties of novel materials

Timothy P. Lodge, Chemistry — Experimental physical chemistry/polymer science

Ann S. Masten, Child Development — Resilience in children at risk

Gary J. Muehlbauer, Agronomy & Plant Genetics; Plant Biology — Genomics applied to studying plant function and agricultural productivity

Claudia Neuhauser, Ecology, Evolution & Behavior — Research at the interface of mathematics and biology

Eric A. Newman, Neuroscience — Functions of glial cells in the brain

Keith A. OlivePhysics & Astronomy — Cosmological astrophysics and the nature of the universe

S. Douglas OlsonClassical & Near Eastern Studies — Ancient Greek literature

Deniz S. OnesPsychology — Measuring psychological characteristics for employment

Andrew J. OxenhamPsychology; Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery — Fundamental and translational contributions to understanding human hearing and disorders

Craig PackerEcology, Evolution & Behavior — Behavior of African lions

Nikos Papanikolopoulos, Computer Science & Engineering — Robotics and automation

Keshab K. Parhi, Electrical & Computer Engineering — Very Large Scale Integration design

David Y. H. PuiMechanical Engineering — Aerosol science

A. David RedishNeuroscience— Reading the mind within the brain to access mammalian decision-making processes and vulnerabilities

Peter B. Reich, Forest Resources — Forest and grassland ecology

Victor Reiner, Mathematics — Algebraic combinatorics

Steven RugglesHistory — Historical family demography

C. Ford RungeApplied Economics — Agricultural policy analysis and the economics of trade

Michael J. SadowskySoil, Water & Climate — Environmental microbiology

David Samuels, Political Science — Sources of good government: Why new democracies are established and how they represent voters' concerns

Sachin S. SapatnekarElectrical & Computer Engineering — Computer-aided design of integrated circuits

Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biophysics — Designer microorganisms for drug discovery and biotechnology

Shashi ShekharComputer Science & Engineering — Computational structure of large spatial databases

J. Ilja Siepmann, Chemistry — Molecular simulation of complex chemical systems and processes

Marla SpivakEntomology — Honeybee behavior

Andreas SteinChemistry — Synthesis of porous materials and nanostructures

Vladimír SverakMathematics — Pure and applied mathematics

G. David TilmanEcology, Evolution & Behavior — Biodiversity and the well-being of ecosystems

William B. TolmanChemistry — Bioinorganic chemistry

Robert T. Tranquillo, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science — Biomedical engineering

Christopher Uggen, Sociology — The effect of life course transitions on crime and deviance

Lawrence P. WackettBiochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biophysics — Biocatalysis and biodegradation

Jian-Ping Wang, Electrical & Computer Engineering — Magnetic materials and sSpintronic devices for information storage and computing and molecular diagnostics

John Watkins, English — Early modern literature and the transformation of monarchy

Li-Na WeiPharmacology — Vitamin A and gene regulation

George D. WeiblenPlant Biology— Biodiversity discovery on the rainforest frontier

Barbara Young Welke, History; Law — Law and the conditions of freedom in everyday life

Donna L. Whitney, Geology & Geophysics  Geo-materials research and applications to continental tectonics

Nevin D. YoungPlant Pathology — Legume genetics and genomics/bioinformatics

Zhi-Li ZhangComputer Science & Engineering — Computer networking and internet development: packet scheduling, video delivery, reliable network routing, and network management