2015 Morrill Award winners announced

May 6, 2015  

Purdue's Morrill Awards were given Tuesday (May 5) at the Faculty Awards Convocation to three professors whose careers have demonstrated excellence in their teaching, research and engagement missions, as well as in demonstrating synergies among them.

This is the fourth year of the Morrill Award, initiated to honor the Morrill Act of 1862, which allowed for the establishment of land-grant colleges and universities. The award comes with a $30,000 prize, which may be used as discretionary funds or salary supplements. 

The 2015 Morrill Award winners:

Gebisa Ejeta, Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding & Genetics and International Agriculture

Ejeta has made extraordinary contributions to improving the food supply for millions of poor people, especially in his native Ethiopia and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Through research, he has increased the quality and drought resistance of sorghum. He has matched his effort and ingenuity in research with extensive public and private engagement so that his improved seeds reached the hands of villagers who also received the needed training for best results. As a great influence for change, he won the 2009 World Food Prize.

Since that time, he has used his recognition to redouble his advocacy for technical solutions such as plant genetics in fighting hunger, for the land-grant model of education and for programs to enlarge scientific efforts to feed people. He has served on numerous advisory boards, including appointments by the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. president. At Purdue, he is founder and director of the Center for Global Food Security, and he has mentored and advised more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In his home country and much of Africa, he is regarded as a hero.

Michael R. Ladisch, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

A pioneer in the biofuels industry, Ladisch has made key advances that enabled efficient and environmentally friendly production of ethanol from corn. He has continued with research that will allow the next generation of biofuels to come from biofeedstocks, materials generally viewed as waste and thus not in competition with food production. In food safety, he and his team have reduced the time required to detect food pathogens from several days to four hours. The esteem held for his work is seen in the large volume of research citations and the numerous high-level awards he has received.

Ladisch has furthered the practical application of his discoveries as chief technology officer of Mascoma, a biofuels startup, and he has extended his reach with two significant textbooks. He has combined his areas of knowledge in a graduate-level class titled Life of a Faculty Entrepreneur, and he has mentored more than 275 students, including 77 undergraduate researchers. He also is director of the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, housed in ABE, and he has a joint appointment in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

Wallace Tyner, the James and Lois Ackerman Professor in Agricultural Economics

Tyner is widely regarded as the leading analyst of U.S. energy economics policy. His clear vision of the field, bolstered by his undergraduate degree in chemistry, has allowed him to address the economics of biofuels in the 1970s and delineate the connection of energy economics with agricultural economics by 2008 -- framing the issues before others recognized them. All along, he has communicated his findings broadly and effectively, from industry and government leaders to Purdue Extension publications. His voice is sought for his insights and his policy recommendations.

An early Peace Corps volunteer, Tyner also has maintained a global outlook that has led to work in 15 countries, in particular assisting Morocco for years starting in 1985. His steady, thorough knowledge and policy skills continued to develop, and in the past decade he has been asked to chair numerous panels, including a National Academy of Sciences report on the Renewable Fuel Standard. At Purdue, he has mentored over 60 graduate students and he has pursued interdisciplinary approaches to many of the subjects he has studied. He also served as chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics for 13 years, building its strength and reputation. 

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