Chemistry, Engineering Professors Named Clemson Researchers of the Year

Staff Report From South Carolina CEO

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

A prolific inventor and a scientist working to increase diversity in the engineering field were named Researchers of the Year at Clemson University.

Ken Marcus, a chemistry professor whose discoveries have fueled innovations in health care, national defense, advanced materials and other industries, was named senior Researcher of the Year. Mark Blenner, the McQueen-Quattlebaum associate professor in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, was named junior Researcher of the Year.

“The Researcher of the Year awards were created to recognize the efforts of high-achieving faculty whose work is improving society through the generation and dissemination of new knowledge. Drs. Marcus and Blenner offer wonderful examples of the impact university faculty members can have,” said Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research.

Marcus specializes in the development of analytical chemistry instrumentation and holds nearly 15 patents on technologies now commercially available. His discoveries have been used to sense the makeup and origin of nuclear explosions and to identify the layers and thicknesses of coatings, paints, primers and other materials in the hood of a NASCAR race car, to name just two examples.

“It is a tremendous honor to be listed alongside of the other nominees, most of whom I have known for many years,” Marcus said. “I want to thank my colleagues who have supported me through the years, but most importantly, I must thank the 40-plus past and current Ph.D. students who have worked in my laboratory. As they know, I have no idea of how to physically acquire any data, I am just the idea and money guy and hopefully a good mentor. My research sponsors have been very supportive and enabling. Finally, I have to thank the support of my family, my wife, Lisa, and the Brady Bunch. I am a lucky guy.”

Marcus is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (London), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Applied Spectroscopy and the National Academy of Inventors. He also serves on the editorial advisory board of three scientific journals.

College of Science Dean Cynthia Y. Young noted that Marcus has made seminal contributions in two areas of analytical chemistry: plasma-based analysis and analytical separations.

“Many commercially available instruments have been developed based on the Marcus team’s discoveries,” Young said. “Ken has tremendous acumen in the recruitment and development of excellent doctoral talent and many of his former students are now scientists at national laboratories. Dr. Marcus is leading the advancement of science and we could not be prouder.”

Blenner is a biotechnology expert whose innovations using metabolic engineering and synthetic biology are facilitating the conversion of low-value renewable substrates into more valuable products like biofuels, bioplastics, pharmaceuticals and omega-3 fatty acids for supplements and fish feed. His diverse research portfolio has applications in space exploration, waste utilization, covert surveillance of nuclear weapons development and much more. Blenner also is leading a statewide effort to attract more chemical engineering students with an eye toward diversifying the profession.

“I am honored and humbled to receive this award. In addition to all my research students, research mentors and collaborators, I would like to share my award with my colleagues at Clemson,” Blenner said. “Having a vibrant and intellectually stimulating working environment has been a critical driver of my achievements.”

Blenner’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Blenner on the award.

“One of the most heartening aspects of Dr. Blenner’s work in the college is the level of student engagement he provides, not only for graduate students but also undergraduates,” Gramopadhye said. “His lab — one of the largest in the college — provides fertile ground for research and innovation at all levels.”

The Researcher of the Year awards were announced at the university’s annual Research Symposium, which brings together faculty from across the Clemson footprint to share ideas and explore the creation of interdisciplinary research teams that can tackle complex societal problems. The awards program was created with input from the Vice President of Research Faculty Advisory Board.

For the Researcher of the Year awards, each college nominated a senior faculty member and a junior faculty member who received his or her terminal degree within the past 10 years. Winners were selected by an interdisciplinary faculty committee.

Junior faculty nominees included David Jachowski from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Eric Morris from the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Greg Cranmer from the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; Sandra Linder from the College of Education; Blenner from the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; and Xian Lu from the College of Science.

Senior faculty nominees were John Rodgers from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Will Stockton from the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Catherine Mobley from the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; Phillip Roth from the College of Business; Antonis Katsiyannis from the College of Education; Laine Mears from the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; and Marcus from the College of Science.