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Michigan State awards 4 elite professorships

Michigan State awards 4 elite professorships

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2015
Author: Aaryn Richard
Category: MSU Foundation Professor

Published: Apr. 2, 2015

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University (MSU), with support from the MSU Foundation, will honor four faculty members with the designation, MSU Foundation Professor, in recognition of their exceptional contributions to research and instruction.

The professorships are part of an initiative to attract and retain highly successful faculty members. Each of the recipients receives five years of supplemental research support and holds the MSU Foundation Professor designation permanently.

The new MSU Foundation Professors are:

Christoph Benning, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, one of the world’s foremost experts in plant lipid metabolism; his work could ultimately lead to plant varieties tailored specifically for biofuel production;

Robin Buell, professor of plant biology, an expert in the genomic aspects of plant biology and plant pathogens; using inexpensive genomic data, she is working to speed the development and breeding of more productive, healthy, drought-tolerant and disease-resistant food and bioenergy crops;

Andrew Christlieb, professor of mathematics, who uses advanced mathematical and computational methods to solve problems in physics and engineering; he and MSU collaborators are currently working to establish a nationally recognized Plasma Assisted Combustion program, in which plasma energy is used to enhance the burning of fuels; and

Dean DellaPenna, University Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, a plant physiologist who studies medicinal plant genomics and plant metabolism and micronutrients; he is one of MSU’s most visible ambassadors to the international plant science community and to governmental and non-governmental agencies on the importance of basic plant research for increasing the productivity and nutritional value of plants for human health.

All four faculty members are affiliated with MSU’s College of Natural Science (NatSci) and will be honored during investiture ceremonies at the college on April 15 and 16. Benning, Buell and DellaPenna are also MSU AgBioResearch scientists.

According to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, “The MSU Foundation Professors program helps the university compete for the best talent with a designation that is comparable to an endowed chair. Our focus will continue to be on attracting donations from external sources to build a stronger base of endowed chairs to offer to our researchers, and this program provides a bridge to that self-sustaining future.”

MSU Foundation Executive Director Dave Washburn noted that titled chairs are highly regarded in the academic community. “By offering these prestigious designations to our strongest researchers, we hope to demonstrate the power of investing in MSU people,” he said.

In addition to funding supplied by the MSU Foundation and administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, the MSU Office of the Provost and the faculty member’s academic unit contribute funds to support each MSU Foundation Professor.

“These outstanding faculty members uphold and advance the university’s reputation,” said Provost June Youatt. “Their research and grant success have earned them international distinction. This program helps us recognize their contributions in a meaningful way.”

“This initiative has an explicit focus on research quality,” said Stephen Hsu, vice president for Research and Graduate Studies. “Clearly, the scientists in our first group of MSU Foundation Professors demonstrate MSU’s strengths in pursuing world-class solutions to human challenges.”

“These faculty members are globally recognized for their scientific accomplishments,” added R. James Kirkpatrick, CNS dean. “Their research productivity, innovative thinking, quality teaching, and leadership place them at the very top of their fields. Their distinction as MSU Foundation Professors is well deserved.”


Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

About the Michigan State University Foundation

Established in 1973 as an independent non-profit, the Michigan State University Foundation is committed to the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies invented by MSU faculty, staff, and students. The MSU Foundation’s overarching goal is to support research, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the University. Additionally, the MSU Foundation operates Spartan Innovations, Red Cedar Ventures, Michigan Rise, and the University Corporate Research Park. More information on the organization’s notable achievements, services, leadership, and history are available at