The University of Arizona

UA Regents’ Professors Named in College of Science, Eller College of Management

By Daniel Stolte, University Communications | May 17, 2013

The new Regents' Professors' expertise ranges from astronomy to solar energy to making sense of extremely large amounts of data.

Supermassive black holes - or quasars - still present a mystery to astronomers. Xiaohui Fan's trail-blazing research into these mind-bending objects in the universe has been highlighted as a research priority in the National Academic Plan. (Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Supermassive black holes - or quasars - still present a mystery to astronomers. Xiaohui Fan's trail-blazing research into these mind-bending objects in the universe has been highlighted as a research priority in the National Academic Plan. (Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Xiaohui Fan is a professor in the UA department of astronomy.
Xiaohui Fan is a professor in the UA department of astronomy.
Neal Armstrong
Neal Armstrong
An organic photovoltaic cell on glass. One of Neal Armstrong's research goals is understanding and controlling the interfaces between organic and non-organic materials in these devices at nanometer-length scales (less than 1/100,000 the thickness of a human hair) to enable the development of long-lived solar energy conversion devices on flexible plastic substrates.
An organic photovoltaic cell on glass. One of Neal Armstrong's research goals is understanding and controlling the interfaces between organic and non-organic materials in these devices at nanometer-length scales (less than 1/100,000 the thickness of a human hair) to enable the development of long-lived solar energy conversion devices on flexible plastic substrates.
An eminent scholar in data mining and informatics: Hsinchun Chen of the Eller College of Management (Photo: Thomas Veneklasen)
An eminent scholar in data mining and informatics: Hsinchun Chen of the Eller College of Management (Photo: Thomas Veneklasen)
Visualizing extremely complex relationships of digital data is one of the research goals at the forefront of Hsinchun Chen's academic career.
Visualizing extremely complex relationships of digital data is one of the research goals at the forefront of Hsinchun Chen's academic career.

Three University of Arizona faculty members officially have been named Regents' Professors by the Arizona Board of Regents Academic Affairs Committee. 

The newly appointed UA Regents' Professors are Xiaohui Fan in the department of astronomy and Neal R. Armstrong in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, both in the UA College of Science, and Hsinchun Chen in the UA Eller College of Management.
 
The title is reserved for faculty members with exceptional achievements that have brought them national or international distinction. It also serves as recognition of the highest merit and unusual contributions to the quality of the individual's university.
 
Only 3 percent of a university's tenured or tenure-track faculty body can bear the title Regents' Professor at any given time. 
 
Xiaohui Fan
 
Twenty-five years ago, the youngest known objects in the universe were nearly 2 billion years old. Twelve years ago, Fan discovered quasars – extremely energetic compact sources powered by matter falling into massive black holes – that were less than 1 billion years old.
 
Why was this a paradigm shift? Astronomers working 2 billion years into the life of the universe would describe their surroundings so similarly to our current descriptions that it would take an expert to tell the difference. The "action" that shaped our universe occurred in the first billion years; Fan had discovered objects across this threshold in sufficient numbers to study them systematically. 
 
How Fan's quasars can rapidly grow black holes in their nuclei with masses that can exceed 1 billion times the mass of the sun and become extraordinarily luminous quasars is a mystery that has been highlighted as one of the three highest priorities for the entire field of astronomy, as described in the National Academy strategic plan for this decade. Accelerating the pace of this work is the foundation for NASA's next major astrophysics mission, the James Webb Space Telescope.
 
Fan also is a popular teacher and advisor who has mentored eight graduate students and five postdoctoral fellows and who works with Chinese students through the Kavli Institute at Peking University. Fan's work has been recognized by the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize (2003), the most prestigious award of the American Astronomical Society for researchers younger than 36, by a Packard Fellowship in 2004 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008. 
 
"Xiaohui Fan is one of the leading astronomers of his generation, and I'm thrilled that the Board of Regents and the University of Arizona are recognizing his accomplishments and recognized standing in our field by appointing him as a Regents' Professor," said Buell Jannuzi, director of the UA Steward Observatory and head of the department of astronomy.
 
Neal R. Armstrong
 
Converting solar energy into electricity is one of the major technical challenges of our time. Especially promising are composite materials that combine thin films of organic polymers with semiconductors to create flexible, portable solar-powered devices. 
 
Armstrong, a professor of chemistry with a joint appointment in the UA College of Optical Sciences, has been a world leader in developing and characterizing such materials throughout his 35-year career at the UA. He has pioneered the preparation of thin films on carefully prepared surfaces under ultra-high vacuum conditions, and his characterization of these composite systems has been at the forefront of fundamental research on molecular photoactive organic semiconductors.
 
The results from his research are critical to the technological development of new types of solar cells (organic photovoltaics or OPVs), as well as devices that directly convert electricity into light (organic light emitting diodes, OLEDs), found in the colorful displays of smart phones.
 
Scott Saavedra, head of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, said: "Since joining the UA faculty in 1978, professor Armstrong has amassed an outstanding record of contributions in research, teaching, service and outreach. The breadth of these contributions, particularly the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of his research program, and his impact on the scientific and professional development of his students and colleagues, make him a prototype for the title of Regents' Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. We are truly honored to have him as our colleague."
 
Armstrong's outstanding contributions go well beyond fundamental analytic methods; he has led several multi-investigator, multi-institution initiatives to prepare new materials, characterize their properties and fabricate the materials into molecular electronic devices. Armstrong conceptualized and heads the Center for Interface Science: Solar-Electric Materials, an Energy Frontier Research Center headquartered at the UA and funded by the Department of Energy for $15 million in 2009.  
 
This highly collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort involves six UA co-investigators and 10 additional co-investigators from four other universities and laboratories. The goal of the center, which provides unique, cross-disciplinary student training opportunities, is to understand how organic and hybrid materials can be adapted to solar energy conversion platforms. 
 
Armstrong has received numerous awards for his research including: the Senior Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize (2002); two NSF-Chemistry Special Awards for Creativity (1996, 2000); Galileo Circle UA College of Science (2011); and the UA Leading Edge Award (2011).
 
During his UA career, Armstrong has been the dissertation and thesis advisor to more than 50 graduate students and directed the research of more than 100 undergraduate students, post-doctoral research associates and visiting senior scientists. Because of the breadth of training his students receive, they are highly sought after for employment both in the U.S. and abroad by government laboratories, large industrial firms, small businesses, and colleges and universities.
 
His excellence as a classroom instructor was recognized by a Career Teaching Award from the UA College of Science.
 
Hsinchun Chen
 
With the world transitioning from analog to digital record-keeping, a pressing issue is how to make sense of the enormous amounts of data at our fingertips for the good of society. In 2012 alone, the world's technologies have generated enough data to fill up the hard drives of roughly a half-billion average personal computers. 
 
Chen, who holds the Thomas R. Brown Chair in Management and Technology in the UA Eller College of Management, is an international leader in making sense of extremely large amounts of data through the development of artificial intelligence tools for analyzing, categorizing and visualizing the data. He was researching "big data" for 20 years before the topic "big data" became a popular and highly visible research area.
 
Chen is the founder and director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Eller College. His lab developed the Dark Web project to track terrorism online, as well as the crime-fighting product COPLINK®, which allows law enforcement agencies to draw information from multiple databases and identify associations between crimes.
 
Eller College of Management Dean Len Jessup said: "We are extremely proud that Dr. Chen has joined Dr. Jay Nunamaker at the Eller College as one of the elite scholars and teachers honored as Regents' Professors. Like Dr. Nunamaker, Dr. Chen's research has had a tremendous impact not only on his academic field in information systems, but also related areas in industry and society at large."
 
Chen has contributed significantly to scholarship in information systems, digital libraries, biomedical informatics and intelligence and security informatics over the past 24 years at the UA, and he has been actively involved in the UA's MIS undergraduate and graduate education and the top-five national ranking of the MIS department.
 
Chen is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, the world's largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
 
He received the IEEE Computer Society 2006 Technical Achievement Award and the INFORMS Design Science Award in 2008. He has served as a Scientific Counselor/Advisor of the National Library of Medicine (USA), Academia Sinica (Taiwan) and National Library of China (China).
 
Chen's Google Scholar H-index is 64, which is among the top four of all information science faculty in the world. Since 1989, he has received 82 research grants totaling more than $30 million.
 
Chen's teaching evaluations are among the highest in the university. He has graduated 27 doctoral students, all except one of whom currently serve as faculty members at major academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and Pennsylvania State University.  
 
The UA's Regents' Professor Advisory Committee, comprised of a representative group of distinguished faculty, including Regents' Professors, is charged with reviewing the dossiers of nominees for this honorific designation. The committee makes its recommendations to the UA president.