Distinguished Research Master and Dissertation Awards Announced

BATON ROUGE – LSU Office of Research & Economic Development, or ORED, presents the Distinguished Research Master Awards to honor the exceptional research and scholarship of two LSU faculty each year. French Studies Professor John Protevi will be presented with the award for the arts, humanities, social and behavioral sciences. Chemistry Professor Graça Vicente will receive the award for science, technology, engineering and mathematics this year.

In addition, the LSU Alumni Association and the Graduate School sponsor the Distinguished Dissertation Awards presented to two doctoral students whose research and writing demonstrate superior scholarship. Katherine Willis, a native of Meadville, Pa., will receive the award in arts, humanities and social sciences for her dissertation that offers a revision to the role of the sublime in medieval literature for which she received her doctorate in English with a minor in linguistics. Aubrey Heath, a native of Houston, will receive the award in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for her dissertation on how volatile organic compounds oxidize in the environment to form smog. She received her doctorate in chemical engineering.

“Exceptional scholarship and research serve as the foundation for transformational discovery,” said LSU President F. King Alexander. “Congratulations to the Distinguished Research Masters and the Distinguished Dissertation awardees. Their work is vital to their respective fields and also contributes to LSU’s rich and enduring culture of creativity and excellence.”

The Distinguished Research Master Awards and Distinguished Dissertation Awards will be presented on April 20 at the Club at LSU Union Square.

“We are proud to recognize the high caliber scholarship of these scholars. Their ideas and dedication to the research enterprise are key to what makes LSU exceptional,” said Vice President of Research & Economic Development Kalliat T. Valsaraj.


John Protevi, Distinguished Research Master - Arts, Humanities, Social & Behavioral Sciences

French Studies, College of Humanities & Social Sciences

John ProteviJohn Protevi is the Phyllis M. Taylor Professor of French Studies, and by secondary appointment, a professor of philosophy. He is currently chair of the Department of French Studies. The holder of bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees from Pennsylvania State University, he received a doctorate in philosophy from Loyola University of Chicago in 1990. He was the Scots Philosophical Association Centenary Fellow in 2012, a recipient of the LSU Distinguished Faculty Award in 2013, the Niebuhr Lecturer at Elmhurst College in 2014 and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University in 2015.

Protevi teaches courses primarily in contemporary French philosophy including Foucault and Deleuze, and plans to offer courses in philosophy of mind and philosophy of biology. His research focuses on the intersections of dynamical systems theory, the cognitive, life and earth sciences and contemporary French philosophy.



Graça Vicente, Distinguished Research Master - Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

Department of Chemistry, College of Science

Graca VicenteGraça Vicente was born in Portugal and received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Davis, in 1990. After three post-doctoral experiences in France, Switzerland and Portugal, she started her academic career at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, in 1993. She moved back to the University of California, Davis, in 1998, and she came to LSU in 2001. Currently, she is the Charles H. Barré Distinguished Professor in Chemistry. She is also the program director for the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development, or IMSD, program.

Vicente’s research involves the synthesis of organic materials based on the porphyrin, chlorin, phthalocyanine and boron dipyrromethene cores, their conjugation to biomolecules and their development for applications in biology and medicine. She has mentored 27 graduate and 35 undergraduate students in her research laboratories at LSU. As a principal investigator, she has been awarded three individual research grants from the National Science Foundation, and six grants from the National Institutes of Health, since coming to LSU.

Vicente is the co-author of nine book chapters, 170 peer-reviewed publications and four patents. Her publications have been cited more than 4,700 times and her h-index is 38, according to the Web of Science. She has been honored with several awards, including a 2004 Young Investigator Award from the Society of Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines, a 2008 Tiger Athletic Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award, a 2009 Tiger Athletic Foundation President’s Award, a 2012 LSU-HHMI Distinguished Undergraduate Research Mentor Award and the 2015 LSU Foundation Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award.


Since 1983, the LSU Alumni Association and the Graduate School have sponsored two Distinguished Dissertation Awards. Graduates at any of the three commencements in a calendar year are eligible for nomination. A committee of the graduate faculty selects the winning dissertations. Award recipients receive a monetary gift and a certificate of commendation.


Katherine Willis - Josephine A. Roberts Alumni Association Distinguished Dissertation Award in Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Katherine WillisKatherine Willis’s dissertation, Chaucer’s “Naked Text” and the Tradition of the Medieval Sublime, offers a revision to the history of literary criticism and theory. Analyzing the Latin tradition from the late classical and patristic period forward, she overturns the commonplace that the sublime had no existence in the Middle Ages by documenting its centrality to medieval rhetoric and hermeneutics.

She defines the medieval sublime as the transporting power of deceptively simple style: the text that seems unornamented or humble is uniquely equipped to move its audience out of language and into great thoughts and great emotions. Her project is of special import for Chaucer studies as she challenges standard explanations of his “plain style.” Chaucer’s rhetorical interests, she argues, are best explained not by literary realism but by his commitment to write sublime poetry and to explore how sublimity works.  

Her department chair writes that her dissertation is “a work of groundbreaking scholarship” and a college selection committee member noted that it “will result in a major revision in how the concept of the sublime will be viewed.”

Willis received her bachelor of arts degree in English from Grove City College and her master of arts degree in English from LSU. She received her doctorate in English with a minor in linguistics from LSU in 2015, directed by Jesse M. Gellrich.

 She is now an assistant professor of early British literature and language at the University of Central Arkansas.


Aubrey Heath – LSU Alumni Association Distinguished Dissertation Award in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

Aubrey HeathIn this dissertation, Aqueous Atmospheric Species, a Dual Study: Phase 1. Comparison of the Effects of Temperature, Oxygen Level, Ionic Strength and pH on the Reaction of Benzene with Hydroxyl Radicals at the Air-water Interface to the Bulk Aqueous and Phase. 2. Determination of Carbonyl Compounds in Fog Water Samples via Online Concentration and HPLC, Aubrey Heath performed both laboratory and field studies to further understand atmospheric processes and the fate of common environmental pollutants, such as benzene and carbonyl compounds, in fog droplets.

The bulk of the dissertation focused on the reaction of benzene, a common primary atmospheric pollutant, with the hydroxyl radical in both a bulk-phase reactor and a thin film flow-tube reactor.

Volatile organic compounds, like benzene, can oxidize in the environment to form additional fog water pollutants, including carbonyl compounds. These compounds can form secondary organic aerosols and are precursors to photochemical smog. This study helped gain a better understanding for fog/smog processes in the natural environment. An award committee member noted that this research stood out as “impactful and impressive,” and the college selection committee highlighted its outstanding technical quality.

Heath received her bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering with a minor in chemistry from Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, and her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from LSU in 2015 under the guidance of her committee chair K.T. Valsaraj. While at LSU, she received the William Brookshire Graduate Assistantship in Chemical Engineering. She has made presentations at eight conferences, received the Student Presenter Award in chemical processes at the 249th ACS National Meeting, and was first author on three publications. Heath is currently working as a process engineer at G. R. Stucker and Associates in Baton Rouge.


Additional Links:

Distinguished Research Masters: http://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/ored/distinguished-research-masters/

Distinguished Dissertation Awards: https://sites01.lsu.edu/wp/graduateschool/current-students/distinguished-dissertation-awards/




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