RIT Honors Distinguished Faculty Awardees for 2020

Manuela Campanelli, Satish Kandlikar and James Perkins recognized for transforming science and art

RIT's 2020 class of Distinguished Faculty: Manuela Campanelli, professor and director, Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, College of Science; Satish Kandlikar, Gleason Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Kate Gleason College of Engineering; and James Perkins, professor, medical illustration program, College of Health Sciences and Technology.

RIT honored its 2020 class of Distinguished Faculty, innovators who have been able to explain ripples in space and time, the complex science of bubbles and illustrate the beauty and intricacy of the body. Each has made an impression within the academic and science communities—all three have inspired new science, technology and art—and generously shared knowledge and experience with students.

This year’s recipients are:

The Distinguished Professor designation is given to tenured faculty who have shown continued excellence over their careers in teaching, scholarly contributions, lasting contributions in creative and professional work and service to both the university and community.

One of the aims of the Distinguished Professor Award is to recognize a faculty member’s career achievements. Yet, beyond the work, there is a remarkable dedication to their subjects and the inquiry that many do not hear about. Each of this year’ awardees share personal comments about their areas of expertise, the importance of this work and the connections to students:

Manuela Campanelli

As an accomplished scientist, what is it about the work that you enjoy?

My research focuses on the study of the most extreme conditions of gravity and matter there is in the universe, that is close to merging black holes, in particular the supermassive ones that resides at the center of galaxies like our own. These mergers are so powerful that they can release a gravitational wave energy equivalent to a billion years’ worth of an entire galaxy’s starlight in just few minutes. I am also interested in studying extreme phenomena that happens close to merging neutron stars and accreting supermassive black holes in connection to the combined emission of powerful gravitational waves, gamma ray-bursts and relativistic jets. I use some of the most powerful supercomputers to simulate these events. 

The desire to understand the physical processes that guide the formation and evolution of our universe, our solar system, and our planet has captured my imagination since I was a little girl. This fundamental drive to understand humanity’s role in the universe is still very central to everything I do today. And then there is the joy of being able to observe and discover new phenomena that no one has seen before. I have been lucky to have had a few of these moments in my career. I am recognized by my peers to have performed the first calculations ever of merging black holes, especially those that are spinning very fast around themselves, and to have discovered that supermassive black holes can be ejected from most galaxies at very high speeds. These theoretical contributions were fundamental to Nobel Prize-winning observations of gravitational waves. One of my papers is one of the General Relativity’s Centennial landmark papers, enjoying the company of Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking papers.

What is your philosophy of working with students as both a teacher and mentor?

I truly enjoy bringing my research in the classroom environment, and working very closely with my Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers. Their genuine motivations are infectious and they bring me back to the very fundamental reason why I chose to be a scientist above all.  

What does an award such as this mean to you personally/professionally?

Of course, it’s an honor to have been awarded this title in recognition of my scholarly accomplishments. Earlier in my career, I received a fellowship of the American Physical Society and one from the International Society of General Relativity for my research. The Trustee Research Award that I received was for involving students in my research. However, I feel that there are still too few accomplished women scientists that receive high level recognitions in our field. I am really happy to bring some balance with this award. We need to do more and better. I intend to use the research dollars associated with this award to support a female Ph.D. student in my team, but I also would like to use the prestige associated with this title to advocate for more support to women scientists at RIT.  

Satish Kandlikar

As an accomplished engineer, what is it about the work that you enjoy?

In an academic setting, our careers are focused on exploring knowledge, learning with students and enabling discoveries through creative endeavors. Students at RIT are uniquely positioned to participate in such activities through their broad spectrum of experience and a can-do attitude. Together, we questioned the current understanding and created new ways to solve long-standing problems in our field. And then we expanded our field. One such area was boiling heat transfer that is extending the limits of cooling in high performance computer chips. We established world-records in heat dissipation through fundamental understanding of the underlying mechanisms. We realized that a bubble holds the key to efficient heat transfer and we found ways to control individual bubbles to achieve unprecedented performance gains. We extended our thermal analysis ability to develop new ways to detect breast cancer that cannot be detected by established mammographic techniques. We partnered with clinicians and the students rose to occasion in delivering a unique computerized mathematical platform for detecting breast cancer. Addressing societal problems through an inventive approach is our passion and the joy of discovery is our true reward. We recognize our social responsibility and are eager to participate in every opportunity to work with minority and female students at RIT as well as in middle schools and high schools. The students quickly learn that the joy of giving far exceeds the joy of receiving, and everyone wins! 

What is your philosophy of working with students as both a teacher and mentor?

Students enjoy most when they are being productive. It is then a simple task for me to enable them to be productive. We learn through our imagination, knowledge is our playground, and creativity is our soul. And we collectively push the boundaries of possibilities. I am neither a teacher nor a mentor; I am simply a fortunate being who is able to invigorate the minds of students and enjoy the skies that are then opened up.

What does an award such as this mean to you personally/professionally?

The award is a reaffirmation that the path you followed is valued — yet it is most humbling to realize that you are merely a symbol of others’ dedication, efforts and achievements. Everyone I ever had the opportunity to interact with at RIT and outside, my global research and professional community, including middle school teachers and students, has a major role in achieving this milestone. In reality, they have won this award by enabling a fellow member to be an unwitting receiver of a recognition that truly belongs to them.

James Perkins

As an accomplished artist, what is it about the work that you enjoy?

As a medical illustrator, my job is to communicate complex medical and scientific information visually. To put it simply, I teach science with pictures. In order to do that, I must first research and thoroughly understand the subject. Then I have to consider the audience, whether they are undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, or researchers working on the cutting edge of their discipline. What do they already know and what do they need to learn from my picture? Then I craft a set of instructional objectives for the illustration and find the clearest way to depict them visually.

For me, the really fun part of this work is doing the research and conceptualizing the illustration. The actual drawing and rendering is secondary. Perhaps this is because my background is primarily in the sciences with relatively little formal training in art. I see myself more as a scientist who draws rather than an artist who knows some science.

What is your philosophy of working with students as both a teacher and mentor?

My role as a teacher is to prepare students for their careers (and to a certain extent, to prepare them for life in general.) This goes way beyond teaching subject matter or demonstrating a certain piece of graphics software. I try to prepare my students for what it’s like to interact with an employer or freelance client. They need to understand what a client expects and how to meet those expectations. Students need to understand how to conduct themselves on a job interview, how to network and market themselves, how to negotiate and write a contract for producing visual work. Something that many people don’t realize is that artists must learn to retain and protect their intellectual property rights (i.e., the copyright to their work). They must also learn to communicate in a professional manner using proper anatomic and scientific terminology.

What does an award such as this mean to you personally/professionally?

My Dad was also in academia. He was an outstanding teacher and had a great rapport with his students. MIT even named an award after him. If I know anything about teaching, I learned it from him. He’s also the one who taught me that the best researchers make the best teachers (this is actually engrained in the culture at MIT). It makes me incredibly proud that I’ve earned RIT’s highest honors in both teaching and scholarship. I feel that it proves that my Dad was right. I also assume it’s one of the main reasons I received the Distinguished Professor recognition.

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