February 21, 2016

President Obama Awards Early Career Honor to Cornell Scientists

Print More

Cornell researcher Prof. Kenong Xu, horticulture, and Prof. Lena Kourkoutis, applied physics, were among the 105 researchers honored with the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers which will be presented by President Barack Obama, the White House announced Thursday.

The PECASE Award is the highest honor the U.S. government bestows to outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. President Obama congratulated the recipients in a White House press release.

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Barack Obama said in the release. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

Xu received this award from the United States Department of Agriculture for his work on the genomics of apple fruit acidity. He is the principal investigator of the project starting in 2010 and his research is currently supported by a USDA/National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitive grant award.

“The goal of the work is to elucidate the genetic and molecular mechanisms of apple fruit acidity,” Xu explained. “An important accomplishment so far has been the identification of a gene called Ma that largely controls apple fruit acidity levels.”

Xu said that this discovery not only furthers understanding of fruit acidity, but also has allowed the development of a predictive functional marker, which would help farmers identify which seeds to plant.

“Apple breeders have been using this marker to select seedlings of desirable fruit acidity levels at young stages even before the seedlings are planted, thereby considerably improving apple breeding efficiency by saving time and resources,” he said.

Xu said he is excited for what this award means for his work.

“The award will encourage us to work even harder on this project to accomplish more. This is the most significant award I have ever received and I am extremely honored,” he said.

Kourkoutis received the award from the Department of Defense for her contributions to the development and applications of atomic-resolution electron microscopy and spectroscopy, and to the discovery and control of new multifunctional materials.

Kourkoutis and her group of researchers use state-of-the-art electron microscopy techniques to study the microscopic properties of next generation energy material, according to their project website.

“The PECASE award will support my group’s research to advance the fundamental understanding of how novel properties emerge in artificially engineered materials,” she said. “Ultimately, this will help to design strategies to control them and to engineer novel and technologically relevant materials and devices.”

All recipients of this award will receive their awards at a Washington, DC ceremony this spring.