National Women’s History Month, March 2015

Celebrating Purdue Women Faculty Members with a special feature from Research Communications, part of the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships office.

Janet Ayres has co-authored a Purdue Extension publication on the methamphetamine scourge in Indiana, which leads the nation in meth lab raids. “While nationwide methamphetamine use has followed a decreasing trend in recent years, meth use in Indiana has shown an increasing pattern,” she and graduate research assistant Danielle Carriere write.


Priyanka Brunese, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation, has been selected for a multi-university collaborative think tank that taps campus and community expertise on a complex societal topic. “The goal is not to solve the problem. Problems are complex by nature,” Brunese says. “The point is to bring people from different areas of expertise together in dialogue to explore a common vision for the future and options for getting there.”


Purdue archaeologist Michele Buzon is excavating in Tombos, Sudan, to answer questions about the Egyptian and Nubian cultures from thousands of years ago. "By excavating the burial tombs we'll investigate if there was intermarriage and how they interacted in general as well as if Egyptians absorbed Nubian culture. Artifacts, burial structure and even burial positions will provide some clues," she says.


Margaret Church helped found the internationally known journal Modern Fiction Studies, playing an instrumental role in the publication and serving as its co-editor from 1971 until her death. Church was widely known for her work with the James Joyce Foundation and for her many published writings.


Marlo D. David studies Black women in American society during the latter half of the 20th century, focusing particularly on representations of motherhood. “I find inspiration in different women based on the facets of life that I am facing at any particular time,” she says.


Jennifer DeBoer, assistant professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, is using a National Science Foundation CAREER award to evaluate and improve online courses for engineering undergraduates from diverse backgrounds. “Increasing the retention and achievement of women, minorities, and high attrition groups in engineering is of paramount national strategic interest,” she says, “and online learning has emerged as a popular strategy for expanding access.”


Evolutionary ecologist Nancy Emery studies the vernal pool wetlands of western North America, the sand dunes of the Great Lakes, rock outcrops of the Appalachian Mountains, and eastern deciduous forests to understand how plants adapt and persist. “The results of our work inform conservation and management strategies for narrowly restricted plant species in human-impacted landscapes,” she says.


Kendra Erk, assistant professor of materials engineering, is using a National Science Foundation CAREER award to develop new internal curing agents for concrete. Her goal is to create stronger and more corrosive-resistant concrete ― a boon to the country’s aging infrastructure. “Results from this research project will directly benefit the U.S. economy as well as the well-being and safety of the general population,” she writes.


Purdue researcher Peggy A. Ertmer has co-edited a new book, “Essential Readings in Problem-Based Learning: Exploring and Extending the Legacy of Howard S. Barrows.” Taking stock of developments in the field, the book bridges the gap between practice and the theoretical tradition that Barrows originated.


Virginia Ferris joined the Purdue faculty in 1965 and currently serves as a professor of nematology, systematics & molecular biology. An internationally renowned researcher of nematodes, she discovered and developed resistance genes in soybean-to-soybean cyst nematodes, among other accomplishments.


In all aspects of her career, Martha Garcia-Saenz stands tall -- from her involvement in helping to reshape the skyline of Bogota, Colombia, to her dedication to her students and their careers. Garcia-Saenz is associate professor and program coordinator of construction engineering and management technology at Purdue North Central.


In the early 20th century, Lillian Gilbreth and her husband, Frank, pioneered motion studies and time management, seeking to make factory and other repetitive tasks more economical and more pleasant. Known as “the first lady of engineering,” Gilbreth received the Herbert Hoover Medal for Distinguished Public Service and, in 1965, became the first woman inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.


As a professor of electrical engineering for more than two decades, Violet Haas (1926-1986) contributed her technical expertise to Purdue in optimal control, nonlinear control and optimal estimation. She also encouraged future generations of female students to pursue the discipline.


Sherry Harbin, Purdue associate professor of biomedical engineering, founded GeniPhys, a startup based on her research in collagen and engineering matrix technologies in 2014. “The technology has reached a point where it is ready to move to the public, and Purdue's support system for university entrepreneurs is strong,” she says.


Alka Harriger is teaching educators and students how to combine information technology with fitness and learning in innovative and fun ways. The three-year Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists (TECHFIT) project parlays kids' innate interest in video games and solving big problems to inspire them to gain the STEM skills needed to create technology-based fitness games.


Medical entomologist Catherine Hill decodes insect genomes to design insecticides that exploit them. “What we work on is discovering next-generation insecticides that are safer for the environment and nontarget organisms like humans and honey bees,” she explains. You’re on the hunt for what might be the next blockbuster insecticide.”


Caroline Janney’s interest in the Civil War was sparked at a young age on family trips to battle sites, including Gettysburg National Military Park. “History is as much about the future as it is the past,” says the associate professor of history. “I’m interested in how people view their past because it speaks to how they view their present. It’s never as simple as just studying the history.”


Purdue researcher Rebecca Kramer is on Forbes magazine’s annual “30 Under 30” list of outstanding young researchers. Kramer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was recognized for her work in “soft machines” made of elastic materials for potential applications in robotics, medical devices and consumer electronics.


Linda Lee heads Purdue’s Ecological Sciences and Engineering Interdisciplinary Grad Program. "The world's population has now reached 7 billion people, a staggering level of growth for a planet whose population was only 6 billion just over a decade ago," she says. "With this growth - and future growth - comes major challenges that will force humanity to reconsider its responsibility to the planet."


Alejandra Magana, assistant professor of computer and information technology, is using a National Science Foundation CAREER award to identify the best way to incorporate modeling and simulation practices into undergraduate engineering education. “In technology research, we want our designs to have direct impact,” Magana says. “We will focus on identifying pathways for learning these skills, but at the same time we will conduct testing with these professors to make sure our designs work in a classroom setting.”


María Marshall conducts applied research and Extension programs in small business development and family business management. “I find family businesses fascinating. They’re about people, not about the dollar,” says the associate professor of agricultural economics. “Most of them want to work with family and keep a heritage alive.”


Haley Oliver, assistant professor of food science, has found that standard cleaning procedures in retail delis may not eradicate Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which can cause a potentially fatal disease in people with vulnerable immune systems. “This is a public health challenge,” Oliver says. “We can’t in good conscience tell people with weak immune systems that it is safe to eat at the deli.”


Alyssa Panitch, the Leslie E. Geddes Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is the inaugural director of the Deliberate Innovation for Faculty (DIFF) program and has been involved in the launch of three startups, including Symic Biomedical Inc. “I feel strongly about the importance of including entrepreneurship and technology transfer as part of our research goals,” Panitch says.


Nancy Pelaez was part of a team that performed the first large-scale study of U.S. science faculty with education specialties – a growing and widespread group. “It is clear science departments recognize the value in these positions in improving teaching and learning because such positions were found across the nation and within different types of institutions,” says the associate professor of biological sciences.


Purdue researcher Marisol Sepúlveda studies the health effects of environmental contaminants in populations of free-ranging fish and wildlife. “Pollutants in water represent one of the major threats to human and ecological health,” she says. “Protecting waterways from pollution and understanding its impacts is a major focus of research in this field.”


Kavita Shah studies the underlying mechanisms and molecular targets of cancer to aid in new drug development. “Finding more and more drug targets is a step toward personalized therapy,” she says. “Cancer is not the same; it’s very unique to each patient. The more tools you have, the more you can eliminate human suffering.”


Besma Smida, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is using a National Science Foundation CAREER Award to pursue backscatter modulation, in which electromagnetic waves are modulated and reflected by the same antenna that receives them. The results of this analysis will advance the knowledge of antenna scattering for a wide range of applications.


Vikki Weake, an assistant professor of biochemistry, studies fruit flies to understand the molecular foundations of cancer development. “I believe that by understanding the fundamental mechanisms of how cells copy their DNA and express their genes, we will be able to design new drugs that are more effective at treating cancer — without some of the terrible side effects,” she says.


Mary J. Wirth, the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, founded bioVidria Inc., a life sciences startup focused on new materials for protein analysis to advance pharmaceuticals, proteomics, and agriculture.


Plant pathologist Kiersten Wise conducts field studies on new disease management approaches, including preventive techniques, and examines the wider use of fungicides on the economics and sustainability of crop production. Questions from farmers often determine where she concentrates her resources. “A lot of great research ideas have come from talking with growers,” she says.


For Yoon Yeo, there is a world of treatment possibilities inside existing pharmaceutical drugs, and they can be unlocked through the study and creation of novel drug delivery systems. “It’s my professional goal to eventually advance a drug delivery system to the point where it can make a real difference in the lives of people suffering from devastating diseases,” she says.






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