Arizona State University celebrates innovation every day. Once a year, the state of Arizona shines a light on those who do it best. This year, ASU researcher and Professor Ferran Garcia-Pichel and his lab were recognized as finalists for the Governor’s Innovator of the Year – Academia award.
The finalists were acknowledged at the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation event on Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Phoenix Convention Center. The award ceremony was held in partnership with the Arizona Technology Council and the Arizona Commerce Authority to encourage innovation and recognize Arizona’s leaders in technology and innovation.
“Our state is no longer content to rely upon traditional models focused on incremental growth,” Gov. Doug Ducey said. “In Arizona, we’ve pioneered transformation. We’ve become a state of disruptors, intent upon pursuing new ideas, and we’ve created the best environment in which to develop, test and scale cutting-edge technologies.” Ducey shared that 274,000 new jobs have been created in Arizona since 2015.
Garcia-Pichel is one of many in the state-wide effort to contribute to the scientific community. Recognizing their efforts is an important part of inspiring cutting-edge research across the state.
As a finalist for the Innovator of the Year Award in academia, Garcia-Pichel, a microbiology professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and director of the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, and his lab were recognized for their work in restoring the desert soil’s natural protective crusts through the use of what they call “microbial nurseries.”
Yasin Silva and Deborah Hall from ASU's West campus were also recognized as finalists for their BullyBlocker app, which employs predictive models and identification tools through social media to detect cyber bullying.
The winner in the academia category is Laurence Hurley, associate director of the BIO5 Collaborative Research Institute and co-director of the Molecular Therapeutics Program at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. Hurley’s research focuses on targeting DNA on a molecular scale in order to inhibit its transcription, and he founded TetraGene, a biotech company that aims to control the expression of undruggable targets.
“Shining a light on Arizona’s leading innovators inspires us all to do better,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer. “At Arizona State University, we are in constant pursuit of new ideas — especially ideas that make our world a better place. Professor Garcia-Pichel’s work in taming the desert dust through the development of microbial nurseries is an outstanding example of use-inspired research and our commitment to our fellow citizens of Arizona.”
This form of recognition serves as a testament to the importance of Garcia-Pichel’s research to Arizona’s environment.
“We are fortunate to count Dr. Garcia-Pichel among our team of dedicated researchers,” said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute. “We commend Governor Ducey for recognizing the important work he and his team are doing to preserve our health and environment.”
Garcia-Pichel’s lab was nominated for the award by Bert Jacobs, an ASU virology professor and the director of the School of Life Sciences. Jacobs believes that Garcia-Pichel’s work could lead to important applications, and it represents a good model for sustainable solutions.
Garcia-Pichel’s lab is developing new technologies to restore the desert’s crust, exemplified by its microbial nurseries. Much like reforestation, these nurseries are growing microbiomes that can be planted in the soils.
The first large-scale trial of this technology will take place in New Mexico in spring 2019.
Garcia-Pichel believes this recognition is vital, especially in shedding light on his innovative strategies and in changing the public’s perception of what can be done.
“Having local recognition for innovation is important to us. It makes us feel that our work is relevant,” he said. “Humans are creatures of habit, so when you are innovative, you may have to knock at the door recurrently because people tend to know just what they know. This recognition can be very important in reaching our long-term goals by giving us exposure.”
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