USF Professors Earn Prestigious Sloan Fellowships

Cameron Ainsworth and Jiangfeng Zhou are the only faculty from Florida universities to receive the award.


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2013) — Two University of South Florida faculty members in biological oceanography and physics are among just 126 scholars and scientists in the United State and Canada named Alfred P. Sloan Foundation research fellows for 2013. 


Assistant Professors Cameron Ainsworth and Jiangfeng Zhou are the only representatives of a Florida college or university to make this year’s list, which includes fellows from other top-tier research institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Cal Tech, Columbia, Duke, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


A member of the USF College of Marine Science team conducting ongoing studies of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Ainsworth’s particular specialty is fisheries management and how human activities influence the structure and functioning of marine communities.


Zhou, meanwhile, focuses his research on theoretical modeling and experimental characterization of photonic (light generating, transmitting, modulating, switching or detecting) structures including metamaterials, surface plasmons (in quantum physics, quasiparticles resulting from the quantization of plasma oscillations), and photonic crystals.


Each joined the USF faculty in 2011 and each will now receive a two-year, $50,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation that they may use to acquire equipment, secure technical assistance, provide trainee support, engage in professional travel or any other activity directly related to their research.

Conferred annually since 1955, the Sloan Research Fellowships seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise. Initially given only in chemistry, mathematics, and physics, the prestigious awards now also promote research in computer science, economics, molecular biology, neuroscience, and ocean sciences.

More than 700 nominations are submitted to the Sloan Fellowship selection committees — one per eligible discipline — each year. Fellows are chosen on the basis of their independent research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become leaders in the scientific community through their contributions to their field.

Thirty-eight Sloan Fellows in chemistry, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, and physics have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

Ainsworth indicated he intends to use the Sloan Fellowship grant to advance his work to develop a marine ecosystem model describing impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill as well as an integrated ecosystem assessment for fisheries managers.


“The Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem is under an array of threats from human activities,” he said. “Recognition by the Sloan Foundation is an important affirmation of this type of whole-ecosystem science, which is a relatively new field that deviates from the familiar reductionist approach traditionally employed in resources management.”


Expressing his appreciation to colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences and Physics Department for their “unreserved support of my teaching and research” leading to the Sloan award, Zhou said his fellowship “will extend my research activities in the areas of metamaterials and plasmonics, which have attracted much attention and resulted in many novel applications including electromagnetic invisibility cloaking, high-resolution optical imaging and novel photonic devices.”


With their selection as Sloan Fellows, Ainsworth and Zhou add their names to the swelling list of USF faculty members receiving national honors during the 2012-13 academic year, including Mechanical Engineering Professor Autar Kaw, named in November as a U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Council for Advancement and Support of Education.


In addition, 15 USF faculty members were formally inducted as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — the world’s largest general scientific society supporting scientific education and science outreach — during that organization’s annual meeting Feb. 14-18 in Boston.


“At the core of any great university rests its faculty, talented and passionate scholars who devote their time and energies to finding innovative solutions to complex and pervasive problems,” said Provost Ralph Wilcox.


“As Professors Ainsworth and Zhou once again demonstrate, USF is fortunate to serve as the academic home to an immensely gifted and diverse faculty that engages daily in groundbreaking research, scholarship, and creative activity, and that has contributed so much to making USF the global research institution it is today. This latest achievement will further strengthen our reputation as a university committed to academic excellence and to the betterment of our state, our nation, and our world.”


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.