Five Ford Research Fellows named for 2008

2008 Ford Research FellowsFive innovative SMU researchers have received the University’s 2008 Ford Research Fellowships. This year’s recipients are Rhonda Blair, Theatre; Marc Christensen, Electrical Engineering; Rajani Sudan, English; Kumar Venkataraman, Finance; and Steven Vik, Biological Sciences.

Established in 2002 through a $1 million pledge from Gerald Ford, chair of SMU’s Board of Trustees, the fellowships help the University retain and reward outstanding scholars. Each recipient receives a cash prize for research support during the year.

Read more about this year’s recipients. Right, the new Ford Fellows were honored by the SMU Board of Trustees at its May meeting. Left to right: SMU Trustee Gerald J. Ford and his wife, Kelli; Vik, Blair, Christensen, Sudan and Venkataraman.

Rhonda Blair, Theatre – Blair’s research focuses on the application of cognitive neuroscience to acting processes. She has organized working groups for scholars and artists who use cognitive and neurosciences in their research and has led three working groups at the Performance Studies preconference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. She has co-chaired and convened a seminar and a research group for the American Society for Theatre Research and is the author of The Actor, Image and Action: Acting and Cognitive Neuroscience (Routledge, 2008). The first of its kind, the text is designed to integrate new strategies derived from the sciences into acting.

Marc Christensen, Electrical Engineering – Christensen, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering, has built a nationally recognized research group in photonics and computational imaging. His work in applications such as imaging sensors and micro-mirror arrays has been funded by entities ranging from the National Science Foundation to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In 2007, he became a member of the first class of researchers to receive the DARPA Young Faculty Award for his work in active illumination for adaptive multi-resolution sensing. Currently, he leads a research project that also involves senior faculty from the University of Delaware, UT-Dallas, and Sandia National Laboratory.

Rajani Sudan, English – Sudan is a specialist in early modern British literature whose research interests include literature and science, cultural representations of imperial identity, and cyberculture. Her first book, Fair Exotics: Xenophobic Subjects in English Literature, 1720-1850 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), traced the fascination with and fear of foreign people and places that influenced thinking in the Romantic era. Fair Exotics received a 2002-03 Godbey Authors’ Award for outstanding research by an SMU faculty member. Sudan’s upcoming book, Mud, Mortar and Other Technologies of Empire, focuses on the non-European origins of the Enlightenment.

Kumar Venkataraman, Finance – Venkataraman specializes in market microstructure dynamics and applying sophisticated models to large databases of financial variables. His research has influenced important policy debates on the structure of financial markets and has been cited by regulators in the United States (Securities and Exchange Commission) and in Europe (Financial Services Authority). His work has been featured in industry publications such as The CFA Digest and in several books, including The Handbook of World Stock, Derivatives and Commodities Exchanges. He has published articles in The Review of Accounting Studies, The Journal of Financial Economics, and The Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis. He is an invited member of the National Bureau of Economic Research Working Group on Market Microstructure.

Steven Vik, Biological Sciences – Vik’s research interests include protein structure and function, and the biochemistry of membrane-bound enzymes. His work focuses on key mechanisms of bioenergetics – the study of how living systems get and use the energy sources required to sustain life. He has made significant contributions to the understanding of the key enzyme in these processes, the ATP synthase. Vik was the first to correctly deduce the internal mechanisms of how the movement of charged ions across a biological membrane coupled with the ATP synthase’s rotary mechanism produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – essential for nerve functioning, muscular and molecular movement and other vital cellular processes. He is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.