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Awards for Research Excellence

Recognizing faculty with significant research achievements in basic research and mission-oriented or applied research


The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech research division established the Award for Research Excellence in 2002 for the purpose of promoting research in the college. The research division gives annual awards to two faculty members who have reached a significant level of research achievement within their disciplines.

One award recognizes excellence in basic research, while the other awards excellence in mission-oriented or applied research.

Boris Vinatzer

Award for Excellence in Basic Research winner David Schmale
Excellence in Basic Research Winner Boris Vinatzer

Vinatzer is a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences who has helped identify emerging plant disease. Boris has with funding from NSF, he is currently unraveling the molecular basis of ice nucleation in this bacterium.

This research is highly relevant to climate change because there is growing evidence that the abundance of ice nucleation active bacteria in clouds affects global warming and the frequency and intensity of precipitation.

Vinatzer’s entire academic career, from his Ph.D. project at the University of Bologna in Italy to his research as faculty member in CALS, has centered on using the latest available technologies to gain basic insights into the genetics of bacteria and plants and to improve plant health. In his Ph.D. research, he used a recently-developed cloning technology to identify the very first gene in any tree that confers disease resistance.

In his postdoctoral work, he took advantage of one of the first genome-sequenced bacterial plant pathogens to identify its complete repertoire of a key type of virulence gene. This helped to unravel how bacteria cause plant disease and to determine how we can develop plants that resist them.

Jacob Barney

Award for Excellence in Applied Research winner Greg Evanylo
Excellence in Applied Research winner Jacob Barney

Barney is an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and specializes in invasive species, a major threat to global biodiversity.

His research has had a major influence on how impacts of plant invasions are measured and classified. This is an active and rapidly evolving area of research in the invasive plant science field that is in need of more rigorous synthesis.

Invasive species present one of the five greatest threats to global biodiversity and food security, costing more than $1.5 trillion annually. Quantifying, predicting, and mitigating the impacts of invasive species is of utmost importance. These are the axes by which Barney aligns his research program to deliver effective strategies to stakeholders at both the local and national levels.

Barney has created novel ways of quantifying the ecological impacts of invasive plants, which are surprisingly poorly understood. This methodology has gained global attention as being the standard by which impacts are quantified; the impacts are then key for prioritizing invasive species management.

Barney has collaborated and co-authored articles with some of the most influential plant invasion ecologists and weed scientists in the world speaks to the quality, rigor, and impact of his research.

Picture of Kang Xia

Kang Xia, Professor, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences; environmental chemistry; Basic Research

Picture of Zach Easton

Zach Easton, Associate professor and Extension specialist, Department of Biological Systems Engineering; water resource engineering and modeling

The research must show evidence of excellence in the performance of diligent research, studious inquiry, and exhaustive investigation. The aim of the research is discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions, theories, or laws in light of newly discovered facts, or the practical application of such new or revised conclusions, theories, or laws.

  • To be eligible, the recipient must have been an on- or off-campus member of the CALS faculty for a period of at least three years.
  • The research must have been done at Virginia Tech (on- or off-campus). Continuation of research started before becoming a member of the CALS faculty will be considered, but preference will be given to research conducted at Virginia Tech.
  • A recipient will be selected based on his or her research ability as evaluated by peers and major awards, scholarly activities, and peer-refereed publications (refereed journal articles, books, other publications, and patents).
  • Preference should be given to sustained research over a period of three to ten years, although in exceptional cases, the award may be given for a single piece of outstanding work without regard to time.
  • The award may be granted jointly to two or more persons where the research was done jointly.

Applicants will be considered ineligible if they:

  • Have already received this award in previous years.
  • Have been recognized by Virginia Tech as recipients of the Alumni Award for Research Excellence.
  • Are a Distinguished Professor.
  • Are retired faculty.
  • The CALS associate dean for research shall issue invitations for nominations during the spring semester.
  • Nominations may come from alumni, students, faculty, department heads, AREC or center directors, and deans.
  • The CALS associate dean for research will designate the form and content of nominating material in keeping with the criteria set forth for these awards.
  • Nominators are urged to prepare the documentation so that peers in unrelated fields can appreciate the significance of the nominee's work. The issues of how the work relates to the state-of-the-art and what impact it has had on the field should be addressed clearly and concisely.
  • A selection committee chaired by the CALS associate dean of research will select the award winners.
  • Each nominee will be considered by the award committee for two additional years, if not selected the first year of consideration, for a total of three years.
  • The award includes $2,500 to the selected individual, plus an additional $2,500 in support of his/her program.
  • A certificate will be presented to the selected individuals either at the annual meeting of the CALS Dean or during another appropriate ceremony organized to recognize the accomplishments of CALS faculty.

Please address the following, by number and with the indicated headings, on no more than two pages.

  1. Name of the nominee: Attach curriculum vita, including list of publications, awards, grants, invited lectures, etc. The award may be granted jointly to two or more CALS faculty for collaborative research. In such cases, please submit vitae, etc. for all nominees.
  2. Specific scholarly achievements: A brief description.
  3. Research area: Address the importance of the area of research or scholarship and the impact of the work of the nominee. If quotations from reviews or other papers are given, please supply copies of the complete text. Indicate the significance, frequency, etc. of awards or prizes received. Service in professional societies may be cited as evidence of professional visibility, but please do not cite university or community service, or accomplishments in instruction.
  4. Exemplary contributions: Cite not more than five of the most important refereed papers published by the nominee.
  5. References: Nomination packages should include two letters of reference. One letter should be from an individual who works at Virginia Tech, and the second letter should be from an individual outside the university. Both references should be familiar with the candidate's achievements and their impact and significance.
  6. Proposed citation: No more than 20 words to be used on the plaque and as part of news releases.
  7. Proposed by: If by a committee, please list members. Include date of nomination.

Past Award Winners

Name and Department Focus Area Award
Kang Xia, Professor, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences Environmental Chemistry Basic Research
Zach Easton, Associate Professor, Extension Specialist, Department of Biological System Engineering Water resource engineering and modeling Applied Research
David Schmale, Professor
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Aerobiology Basic Research
Greg Evanylo, Professor, Extension Specialist
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Agricultural and urban nutrient management
Applied Research
Elizabeth R. Gilbert, Associate Professor
Animal and Poultry Sciences
Discoveries related to brain, fat, and appetite physiology
Basic Research
James "Jim" Owen Jr., Assistant Professor
Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center
Improving resource (water and nutrients) efficiency
Applied Research
Jim Westwood, Professor
Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science
Parasitic plant biology
Basic Research
Lee Daniels, Professor
Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences
Reclamation of disturbed lands Applied Research
Zach Adelman, Associate Professor
Molecular and vector biology Basic Research
Percival Zhang, Professor
Biological Systems Engineering
Applied sciences and disruptive biomanufacturing Applied Research
Pablo Sobrado, Associate Professor
Elucidation of novel enzyme mechanisms and drug discovery Basic Research
George Davis, Professor
Wen You, Associate Professor
Agricultural and Applied Economics
Importance of incorporating time in the evaluation of the adequacy of SNAP benefits Applied Research
Richard Veilleux, Professor
Genetic research horticulture crops Basic Research
Wade Thomason, Associate Professor
Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences
Science of crop production Applied Research
Igor Sharakhov, Associate Professor
Genomics, vector biology, and medical entomology Basic Research
Jeffrey Derr, Professor
Plant Pathology and Weed Science
Weed management Applied Research
Zhijian Jake Tu, Professor
Vector-borne diseases Basic Research
James Christopher Bergh, Professor
Pest management Applied Research
Deborah Good, Associate Professor
Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise
Molecular gene regulation Basic Research
Thomas Kuhar, Associate Professor
Pest management Applied Research


Saied Mostaghimi
H.E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Professor and Associate Dean
CALS Research
104 Hutcheson Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Laura S. Rasnick
Administrative Research Programs Assistant

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
104B Hutcheson Hall Virginia Tech
250 Drillfield Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061