Two faculty members at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), José M. Argüello, the Walter and Miriam Rutman Professor of Biochemistry, and L. Ramdas Ram-Mohan, professor of physics, have been elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.
Election as a AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. This year, 391 members have been awarded this honor.
“We are delighted and very proud that Professors Argüello and Ram-Mohan are being honored by the AAAS,” said Bruce Bursten, WPI’s provost and retiring chair of the AAAS Section on Chemistry. “Election as a Fellow of the AAAS is a tangible recognition of our colleagues’ sustained academic excellence and their dedication to research and education.”
Argüello was elected by the AAAS Section on Biological Sciences “for distinguished research discoveries elucidating the mechanisms underlying metal ion transport and the role of bacterial metal transporters in agriculture and infectious disease.”
A member of the WPI faculty since 1996, he is a biochemist whose research focuses on the structure and function of proteins that transport heavy metals like copper, zinc, cobalt, and iron across cell membranes. These micronutrients perform fundamental functions in all living organisms, for example, maintaining structure, conferring catalytic activity to proteins, and participating in the transport of oxygen in the blood and the synthesis of sugars in plants. Metals also contribute to the virulence of pathogenic microorganisms and the ability of a cell to resist infection.
Because of the importance of these basic biological functions, a better understanding of the mechanisms of heavy metal transport has implications for the treatment of a host of diseases, for human and animal nutrition, and for the bioremediation of heavy metal pollution.
Argüello, who also holds an appointment as a member of the University of Massachusetts Center for Clinical and Translational Science, received a degree in biological chemistry from the National University of Cordoba and a PhD in biological sciences from the National University of Rio Cuarto in Argentina. He completed postdoctoral work in the Department of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania and in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Cincinnati.
He has received multiple research grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including an NIH Research Development Award for Minority Faculty in 1995 and a $1.3 million award in 2016 for a systematic study of copper in the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a leading cause of hospital-associated infections. He has published nearly 60 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the most-cited biomedical research journal in the world; Argüello was appointed to the journal's editorial board in 2012. He is the co-editor of the 2012 book Topics in Membranes: Metal Transporters (Elsevier).
Argüello served as a program director in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences in 2009, and in 2010 was appointed to a four-year term on the NIH's Macromolecular Structure and Function (A) study section to participate in the review and evaluation of research proposals aimed at understanding the nature of biological phenomena and applying that knowledge to enhance human health. In 2012, he received WPI’s Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship.
Ram-Mohan was elected by the AAAS Section on Physics “for major contributions to the development of computational algorithms and important advances in theory of electronic and optical properties of solid state and semiconductor materials.”
Since joining the WPI faculty in 1978 he has developed an international reputation as a pioneer in solid state physics, a field that has helped propel extraordinary advances in the speed and power of computers, telecommunications systems, lasers, and other high-tech devices. In addition to exploring the quantum mechanical properties of condensed matter, Ram-Mohan has developed powerful computational tools that have made it possible to predict with great accuracy the properties of increasingly complex semiconductor and optoelectronic devices and to precisely control the design of these ubiquitous systems.
The director of the university's Center for Computational NanoScience, Ram-Mohan's work on high-energy physics, condensed matter, and semiconductor physics has resulted in more than 200 peer-reviewed publications that have garnered more than 3,800 citations. He is also the founder of wavefunction engineering, a method for specifying certain quantum properties of semiconductor heterostructures—assemblies of two dissimilar semiconductor materials that display unique electrical or optoelectronic properties. This innovative method arises from the application of the finite element method, or FEM, a numerical analysis technique used widely in engineering, to quantum heterostructures.
Ram-Mohan, recognized as one of the foremost authorities on FEM, described this new field in his landmark 2002 book, Finite Element and Boundary Element Applications to Quantum Mechanics. He is also the founder of Quantum Semiconductor Algorithms Inc., which he established to commercialize his software for designing quantum semiconductor heterostructures. In 2012 he was named a Coleman Fellow at WPI in recognition of his entrepreneurial experience and expertise.
Ram-Mohan's research has earned him numerous awards and honors, including election as a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the American Vacuum Society, Australian Institute of Physics, and the United Kingdom Institute of Physics. He has received the Engineering Excellence Award of the Optical Society of America and the Department of the Air Force Certificate of Achievement, and served as the Clark Way Harrison Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Washington University in St. Louis in 2005. In 2008 he was awarded the Sarojini Damodaran Fellowship to deliver lectures at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.
WPI has recognized his research, teaching, and service with the Sigma Xi Senior Faculty Award for Research Excellence, the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Creative Scholarship and Research, the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize.
Professors Argüello and Ram-Mohan will receive an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin during the AAAS annual meeting on Feb. 18, 2017, in Boston. They join four current AAAS fellows at WPI: Provost Bruce Bursten, Dean of Arts and Sciences Karen Kashmanian Oates, and biology professors David Adams and Pamela Weathers.