Fan Ren first to receive UF’s new Preeminence Term Professorship

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A national leader in diabetes research and an engineer revolutionizing medical examinations are the first recipients of the University of Florida Foundation’s new Preeminence Term Professorships. The $25,000 awards recognize UF professors for their extraordinary accomplishments and the prestige they bring to the university.

Chemical engineer Fan Ren and pathologist Mark Atkinson can use the awards to hire research assistants, purchase equipment, participate in special training, travel, collaborate on work and invest in other means of support that enhance research. Ren is pioneering the use of sensors to detect potential medical problems in humans. Atkinson is focused on preventing and curing diabetes. They were selected to receive the Preeminence Term Professorships from a pool of UF’s top faculty members who were nominated by their deans.

“When you step back and look at our faculty, you can’t help but be inspired. Our professors and researchers are spectacular,” said UF Provost Joe Glover. “Mark and Fan are great examples of that. The extra boost this term professorship provides will bring them that much closer to breakthroughs.”

Endowed term professorships are representative of UF’s commitment to and investment in faculty members whose work is transforming lives. Such endowments are considered a cornerstone in UF’s aspiration to climb into the Top 10 of all public universities because they provide additional funding for projects and help UF retain and recruit the most talented professors.

“One measure of the University of Florida’s excellence is the quality of its faculty,” said Tom Mitchell, UF’s vice president for Development and Alumni Affairs. “We are pleased to recognize two outstanding individuals who are among our most distinguished and recognized faculty members.”

Ren, a chemical engineering professor in the College of Engineering, leads a UF team developing sensors that can detect chemical and biological signs that indicate health issues such as kidney disease and breast cancer. For instance, rather than pricking their fingers to check blood sugar, diabetics can use low-cost sensors to detect glucose on their breath.

Atkinson, co-director of the UF Diabetes Center of Excellence in the College of Medicine, oversees a team of doctors and researchers working to unravel what causes diabetes and to prevent, manage and cure it. More than 220 million people worldwide have the disease, which can lead to blindness, kidney and heart failure, and other complications.

“Dr. Atkinson’s international stature, genuine passion for diabetes research and eagerness to improve the lives of diabetic patients and their families are key factors to his success. His contributions to the field of diabetes — and those of the outstanding research team he has assembled here at UF — have been transformative,” said Michael Good, dean of UF’s College of Medicine.

The award will help Atkinson fund experiments and positions for graduate assistants, both of which, he said, will enable “meaningful and impactful contributions” to diabetes research.

“I am incredibly honored and grateful to receive this award, especially when I consider the depth and breadth of excellence of research activities by my University of Florida colleagues,” Atkinson said.

Like Atkinson, Ren’s work has the potential to significantly impact society, said Cammy Abernathy, dean of UF’s College of Engineering.

“Professor Ren’s contributions have been remarkable,” she said. “Aside from achieving scientific breakthroughs across a range of engineering disciplines, Fan is also held in the highest regard by his peers and mentees alike for his insistence on fulfilling the social responsibilities of engineers.”

Ren is quick to credit his colleagues and student researchers for his successes so far, and said his UF team is working on more innovative projects.

“There’s still much to be done in making people’s lives better, and this award will help me to continue doing this,” Ren said.