March 29, 2010 — Coral Gables — A philosopher whose books and papers are studied and discussed in classes and scholarly journals all over the world, a scientist noted for his breakthrough research on the nervous system, and a geochemist whose work has led to better techniques for evaluating global warming are recipients of the University of Miami’s 14th annual Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity.
UM faculty members Colin McGinn, Karl L. Magleby, and Peter Swart received the award at a special ceremony held Monday on the Coral Gables campus. The award, which was presented by Executive Vice President and Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc, recognizes faculty who have made significant scholarly contributions to their field.
McGinn, a professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences, is considered one of the world’s most distinguished philosophers writing in English. His groundbreaking work has directed the flow of scholarly efforts in several core areas of philosophy, especially metaphysics, philosophy of mind, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of logic.
“His work on consciousness has been especially influential,” Harvey Siegel, chair of the Department of Philosophy, wrote in his letter nominating McGinn for the award. Siegel noted that McGinn’s wide-ranging work also covers ethics, aesthetics, and specific topics such as sports, film, and Shakespeare. “He is also the closest thing UM has to a ‘public intellectual,’ ” Siegel wrote, noting that McGinn writes regularly for the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and other publications.
Magleby, professor and chair of physiology and biophysics at the Miller School of Medicine, has been a member of the faculty since 1971 and chair of his department since 1992. Over the past 20 years, he and his team of students and post-docs developed techniques that changed how electrophysiologists study the activity of ion channels—proteins that form pores in the membranes of cells. It is the functioning of these channels that generates the electrical activity of nerve and muscle cells. He and his team discovered and characterized five different ion channels and developed kinetic gating mechanisms to describe how the channels function.
Magleby’s earlier work on the signals sent by nerve cells to muscle cells also contributed to our understanding of synaptic transmission and short-term synaptic plasticity. Although his research is basic in nature, the contributions from his laboratory have played important roles in characterizing synaptic transmission in normal function and in various disease processes. His research has been consistently funded by the NIH for more than 30 years.
Swart, professor and chair of marine geology and geophysics at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, is a pioneer in the use of scleractinian corals to assess environmental conditions. He laid the foundation for his groundbreaking work before he arrived at UM, conducting an experimental study of trace element and stable isotope incorporation into the skeletons of these corals. In his first Nature paper in 1980, he related the stable isotope composition to paleo-temperature, while in a second Nature article in 1981 he discussed the influence of human activity on reefs.
When he came to the Rosenstiel School, Swart continued his search for chemical proxies in corals as environmental indicators. The modern carbonate environment in Florida and the Bahamas became his natural laboratory. By incorporating and correlating meteorological and oceanographic data series with his geochemical analyses, he was able to record the climate and anthropogenic influence on corals back into the 17th century. Most recently he has explored sulfur and nitrogen isotopes as proxy for salinity and temperature.
David Birnbach, vice provost for faculty affairs, chaired this year’s selection committee, which included Richard Bookman, vice provost for research and executive dean for research and research training, and three past recipients: Glen Barber, professor of microbiology and immunology and co-leader of the Viral Oncology Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center; Okhee Lee, professor of teaching and learning at the School of Education; and Yadong Luo, professor of management in the School of Business Administration.
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