University of Missouri
College of Arts & Science

Professors' Profound Impact Honored by System President

Nelson Cowan
Pictured: Nelson Cowan
Kattesh Katti
Pictured: Kattesh V. Katti

Thirteen faculty and students at the University of Missouri's four campuses have received President's Awards, two of them are faculty of the College of Arts and Science — Nelson Cowan, Curators' Professor in Psychological Sciences, and Kattesh V. Katti, Curators' Professor of Radiology and Physics. The President's Awards are the highest honor bestowed by the University of Missouri System for excellence among the university's four mission areas of teaching, research, service, and economic development.

"The faculty and students honored with a President's Award represent some of the finest, most dedicated educators and students we have on our four campuses," said University of Missouri Interim President Steve Owens. "Their passion and commitment to excellence have made a profound impact not only on our university but on all who have the pleasure of knowing and working with them."

The awards, which were expanded this year to account for the myriad opportunities for excellence among faculty and students, were presented to winners the first two weeks of March. Recipients will be honored at an awards dinner in June with the University of Missouri Board of Curators.

Sustained Excellence Award

Cowan received the Sustained Excellence Award which is given to a faculty member who demonstrates and sustains a record of distinguished scholarship, research, or creativity for 15 or more years.

Cowan has a prolific record of accomplishment in cognitive psychology, specifically regarding short-term working memory and attention. He has published more than 155 refereed articles and 46 book chapters, two books and two edited volumes. Cowan serves as director and co-creator of the Brain Imaging Center at MU and has received the Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Faculty Research. He began his work at MU in 1985 as an assistant professor and was named Middlebush Professor of the Social Sciences in 1995.

His research has focused on human working memory — the small amount of information that is kept actively in the mind for a short time. More specifically, Cowan looks at how much information can be kept in the mind at one time, and why it is limited. In order to measure the amount of memory, meaningful units or chunks held in the mind need to be identified; Cowan has determined that normal adults retain only three to five chunks at a time, and children and older adults remember fewer chunks than young adults.

"Recently, we have carried out brain-imaging research that has helped to identify one brain region as an area responsible for holding the several chunks while they are used in thought," says Cowan. "People with various learning disorders and neurologic conditions are deficient in working memory, and understanding how working memory operates may lead to treatments for these disorders."

Cowan says receiving the president's award raises his confidence that his efforts over the past 40 years to understand the human mind and brain have not been completely misguided.

"It also helps to enhance further my already strong gratitude for an outstanding set of mentors, collaborators, assistants, and students with whom I have had the pleasure of working during my career," says Cowan.

Economic Development Award

Katti was presented the Economic Development Award, which is given to a faculty member who has demonstrated success in directly contributing to the economic development of the state.

Katti is the principal inventor of 25 patents and over 30 invention disclosures, and has obtained $15 million in external funding and gifts as part of his work in the fields of chemistry, physics, radiopharmaceuticals, materials science, green nanotechnology, and nanomedicine. He received the Outstanding Missourian Award by the Missouri House of Representatives in 2008 for his exceptional achievements in the fields of science, technology, and education, including his work in developing gold nanoparticles through green nanotechnology that can detect prostate, breast, and other forms of cancer.

"My research over the last 20 years has focused on the design and development of smart chemicals for use in diagnosis and therapy of cancer and various debilitating diseases," says Katti.

Katti and his team's extensive work in gold, silver, platinum, and palladium, has laid the foundation for entry into nanomedicine, which consists of benign approaches for the synthesis of gold and silver nanoparticles.

"Our design includes providing a sense of direction to gold nanoparticles so that they can be used in specific tumor targeting," says Katti.

Radioactive gold nanoparticles are inherently therapeutic, and Katti and his collaborators have shown that intratumoral delivery of biocompatibility-tuned radioactive nanoparticles results in unprecedented control of tumor's growth with potential for complete tumor ablation.

"MU is a unique place in the field of nanomedicine because the University of Missouri Research Reactor is one of the few places in the world where therapeutic gold nanoparticles are produced for subsequent use in the development of a myriad of nanoceuticals," says Katti.

Recently, Katti has elevated MU's stature in the emerging area of nanomedicine by demonstrating that phytochemicals in soy, cinnamon, cumin, and tea can be used for the production of therapeutic gold nanoparticles, which will not only eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in the production of gold nanoparticles, but will make them cancer specific, thus opening a whole new field of green nanotechnology for medical applications.

"Gold nanoparticles are used in a myriad of technological applications including in sensors for telecommunications and automotive industry and as catalysts for the production of hydrogen in alternate energy production," says Katti. "Therefore, our approaches to green nanotechnology have economic development implications in the medical and technology industries."

Katti says that receiving the Economic Development Award signifies that he and his team are making credible progress in translating their inventions and research outcomes for the economic development of the region, state, and nation.

"Public education in our nation is supported by tax-payer contributions," says Katti. "Our efforts to develop life-saving pharmaceuticals is one way we can reciprocate directly to tax payers because licensing intellectual property to larger pharmaceutical companies for product development and commercialization would result in tremendous economic development."

Katti says his success over the past 20 years is a reflection of the proactive and highly supporting attitudes of the departmental leadership, the deans, the chancellor, and through MU's office of research, patents, and licensing.

"This award wouldn't have been a reality without the sustained contributions from my faculty collaborators, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students," says Katti.

He also thanks collaborators Raghuraman Kannan, assistant professor radiology, Cathy Cutler, senior research scientist, Evan Boote, associate research professor of radiology, and his wife and co-worker, Kavita Katti.

By Laura Lindsey, College of Arts and Science
March 18, 2011