9 Luminary Award Recipients Honored for Making an Impact on the World

The third annual awards recognize researchers  for being academic leaders making an impact on the world through their studies and scholarship.


Honorees celebrated with colleagues and UCF leadership at the 2019 Luminary Awards celebration.

The University of Central Florida honored nine outstanding faculty members Wednesday during the third annual Luminary Awards Celebration.

The recipients are academic leaders making an impact through their research and scholarship. From a faculty member working to disrupt the spread of terrorism to another who designed a mobile sensor to detect disease, they are all making the world a better place, according to the Office of Research and Faculty Excellence, which cosponsored the event.

“As a historian by training, I really like the term ‘luminary,’” Interim President Thad Seymour Jr. said during the celebration. “To me it signifies people who throughout history have been at the very pinnacle of their field, shining a light on solutions for our civilization. Thank you for shining a bright light on your field and on UCF and the incredible impact we have on our community.”

Provost Elizabeth Dooley, vice provost for Faculty Excellence Jana Jasinski, and vice president for research Elizabeth Klonoff also participated in the ceremony. Recipients received a glass award and each week one faculty member will be featured on the Office of Research website through the end of this year.

The first spotlight can be found here.

This year’s recipients are:

Lori Walters, School for Modeling, Simulation and Training and the Department of History. Walters is passionate about history and uses technology to preserve it and engage the public. She develops virtual historic environments, utilizes laser scanners for digital preservation, and captures oral histories to bring the past to life. Walters enables others to understand the heritage of the U.S. space program in Florida, discover the wonders of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, and find a new appreciation of mid-century architecture.

Noemi Pinilla-Alonso, Florida Space Institute. Pinilla-Alonso is an internationally recognized researcher in the field of asteroid characterization and other small planetary bodies. She has been instrumental in creating collaborations that have elevated the work done at UCF’s Florida Space Institute, the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Studies within the College of Sciences, and at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Researchers recognize Pinilla-Alonso because of her commitment to leadership and good science.

Deanna Sellnow, Nicholson School of Communication and Media. Sellnow is the person you want on your speed dial when a crisis is about to hit. Groups around the world ask for her advice because of her expertise in crisis communications. The U.S. Geological Service has tapped her to help the operational earthquake-forecasting arm of the organization with effective risk and crisis communication. She also serves on an international team of experts that is developing a communication protocol for combating the spread of terrorism and improving biosecurity around the world.

Madhab Neupane, College of Sciences. Neupane is a relatively new professor at UCF, arriving in 2016 after completing his postdoctoral studies at Princeton University and a stint at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has been an active contributor pushing the frontier of quantum materials research since 2011. His research is carving out a new era of communication. Instead of using silicon to advance technology he is studying new quantum materials that will act as conductors, which use and store energy at the subatomic level. This field of research may revolutionize computing and all industries that rely on any form of electronic information processing.

Shin-Tson Wu, College of Optics and Photonics. Wu is a preeminent scholar, prolific inventor, excellent teacher, student mentor and distinguished professional in the field of optics and photonics. His work, cited more than 32,000 times, led to the display technology used on smart phones and augmented displays. He’s helped more than 32 doctoral and seven master’s students who have gone on to work at places such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and research and academic centers around the world.

Vicki Loerzel, College of Nursing. Loerzel is enhancing the lives of cancer survivors through her research. Her research focus is in developing practical and useful interventions to help people with cancer manage side effects related to their treatment. She uses technology and patient experiences to develop interventions that patients are more likely to use. Loerzel developed an avatar-based video game that patients play, which helps them better manage their nausea after chemotherapy. Another project is focused on examining risk factors for unplanned emergency room and hospital admissions during treatment for cancer so interventions can be developed to keep people at home.

Martine Vanryckeghem, College of Health Professions and Sciences. Vanryckeghem literally helps people speak. Her research has impacted thousands of people who stutter and her ability to easily collaborate with other researchers has led to pioneering work with children. Vanryckeghem developed assessment tools to identify stuttering among children and adults used in more than 30 countries across four continents.

Jiyu Fang, College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Advance Materials Processing and Analysis Center. Fang’s research focuses on the interdisciplinary areas of physics, chemistry, materials and biology, to study self-organized and stimuli response soft matter. His work is highly cited by others in his field. His expertise has led him to develop liquid crystal-based optical sensors, which can be used for the simple, fast and sensitive detection of the biomarkers of diseases and the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis.

Stephen Fiore, School of Modeling, Simulation and Training. Fiore has a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Modeling, Simulation and Training. His expertise is focused on understanding and enhancing research on cognition and collaboration. His work in this emerging field has led agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Advanced Research Projects Agency to ask for his counsel.