Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Henry Russel awardees, lecturer named for 2010

Two young faculty researchers already affecting their respective fields will receive the Henry Russel Award, one of the highest honors the university bestows upon junior faculty.

Cindy Lustig, assistant professor of psychology, LSA; and Patricia Wittkopp, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, LSA, have been selected by the Russel Awards Faculty Advisory Committee chaired by Dean Janet Weiss of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

The committee also chose Richard Nisbett, Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, as the Henry Russel Lecturer for 2010. The Russel Lecture, presented by senior faculty, is scheduled for March 9, 2010, after the award presentations.

Lustig came to U-M in 2004. Her research has developed insights into the relationships between attention, learning and the development of new skills. A major component involves better understanding of how the brain’s neurotransmitter systems influence performance and brain activations.

In addition to her basic science research on this topic, a related research task developed by Lustig and her colleagues has been adopted by the national Cognitive Neuroscience Treatment Research to Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia initiative.

Lustig was the first to describe brain-imaging data that suggests older adults have difficulty avoiding distraction from internal thoughts, a phenomenon worsened by Alzheimer’s disease. The program developed by her lab helps older adults learn to focus their attention to enhance learning and later memory.

Wittkopp’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the genetic and molecular mechanisms that underlie changes in gene expression. She is widely recognized as one of the emerging leaders in the synthetic field of evolution and development. Her work appears in leading textbooks for evolutionary biology, population genetics and developmental biology, and she is a regularly invited speaker at international meetings.

At U-M Wittkopp is credited for making significant contributions to teaching through a creative pedagogical strategy for discussion courses involving active learning techniques and real-world examples. Colleagues at U-M and other universities have adopted it.

Nisbett served as an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University before joining the U-M faculty in 1971. He is recognized as one of the most creative and productive social psychologists in the history of that discipline, making landmark contributions to the study of:

• Obesity.

• How humans understand themselves and the social world.

• People’s use of induction and logic.

• Culture’s influence on violence, reasoning, perception and intelligence.

His many awards include the American Psychological Association’s William James Book Award for “The Geography of Thought (2004).”

The Russel Award and the Henry Russel Lectureship were established in 1925 with a bequest from Henry Russel of Detroit, who received three degrees from U-M.