Scholars of Excellence

Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award

The Chih Foundation recognizes groundbreaking research with transformative potential to greatly benefit society. The award seeks to support exceptional third- or fourth-year Science, Engineering or Medicine PhD, PharmD, or MD students.

Through their generosity, the Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award provides a $2,500 monetary award to exemplary scholars who reflect these qualities.

Research projects will be evaluated in relation to the following parameters:

  • Publications submitted to peer-reviewed journals that demonstrate a common theme within the nominee’s research area
  • Significance of research findings– does the project challenge existing paradigms, address an innovative hypothesis or critical barrier to progress in this field?
  • Originality of approach – does the project develop or employ novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, tools, or technologies in this area?
  • Extent of student contributions to the success of the research projects and publications completed within the research area
  • Clarity in content and format of the written materials.

The application deadline for consideration is in early October of each year.
For more information, please contact the Office of Graduate Studies.

Submission Material Requirements

The applicant will need to prepare the following materials:

  1. A 250-word (maximum) abstract describing the research area. Please address how these articles are advancing knowledge in your field.
  2. Select 2-3 of your top publications and describe how your research benefits health care, advances health science, or provides benefit to society. Prepare to address the following questions about each article in the online application:
    • Specify the significance of your research findings. What important problem are you addressing with this article? How are you challenging existing paradigms or addressing a critical hypothesis or barrier in this field?
    • Describe the originality of your approach. How does the project incorporate novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, tools, or technologies in this field?
      Clearly indicate what your role has been in each project described and the papers that you had primary responsibility for writing.
    • What other information would you like the judges to know about your research?
  3. A copy of the published papers and papers that are being reviewed for publication (including the abstract).
  4. Nominee’s current vita.

The 250 word abstract and the answers to the questions listed in item #2 above will be uploaded into the nomination form. Copies of the articles and the nominee’s CV must be submitted as one (1) document. 

2023 Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award Recipients


Xue Zhao (Chemistry)
Major Professor: Jianfeng Cai, Ph.D.

Research Summary

Cancer has been listed as the second leading cause of global death and continues to grow, exerting tremendous burden in individual well-being, public health, economic considerations and scientific advancements. Thus, it’s urgent to find more efficient treatment strategies in anti-cancer field. 

Peptidomimetics have attracted attention as promising drug candidates by mimicking the diverse structure and function of natural peptides, and overcoming the limitations of proteolytic degradation, lower bioavailability, and unfavorable pharmacokinetic profiles. Specifically, the development of selective inhibitors in protein-protein interactions targeting potential anticancer signaling pathways is critical for chemical biology and medicinal chemistry. 

Anticancer signaling pathways are intricate networks and the dysregulation of cell pathways is often associated with the development and progression of cancer. Now targeting the specific proteins in these signaling pathways has become a central focus. Here in my research, we have made efforts in targeting two different hallmarks of cancer cells with sulfonyl-γ-AA peptide which is originally developed in our lab and perfectly adopted for mimicry of the α helix involved in protein-protein interactions. 

One is the design of unprecedented mimetics of (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) VEGF-A, which specifically bind with VEGF receptors and could effectively either upregulate or downregulate angiogenesis and impact tumor vascular proliferation and metastasis further. The second one is the investigation of peptide-based inhibitors to disrupt hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) and p300 binding interaction which mediates hypoxia-response genes’ transcription cascade in tumor cells. The design and optimization of these peptidomimetics improves selectivity and pharmacokinetic properties, propelling them closer to clinical application.


Olusola Isaac Johnson (Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering)
Major Professor: John Kuhn, Ph.D.

Research Summary

Municipal solid waste in landfills undergoes anaerobic digestion, producing biogas, a significant methane emission source in the US. This biogas is often flared, exacerbating atmospheric carbon levels. My research aims to transform biogas into valuable chemicals and biofuels, leading to waste reduction, greenhouse gas mitigation, and renewable energy production. 

This involves designing amine-functionalized sorbents that can purify biogas in a single step, removing CO2, H2S, and water simultaneously, and enable diesel production through an intensified process to convert purified biogas into liquid hydrocarbon fuels. The amine adsorbent exhibits a 50% higher CO2 uptake capacity than state-of-the-art materials, reducing separation costs by 67%. 

Additionally, the tandem catalytic process integrating reforming and the FTS pathway enables a 54% reduction in capital investment and an 85% increase in yield. The key to this is developing stable, tunable catalysts to achieve the desired selectivity and kinetics for both reforming and CO hydrogenation to produce distillate-range hydrocarbon fuels. The reforming catalyst demonstrated a 4-fold activity increase and 3 orders of magnitude lower coke formation, enabling 160-hour stability. The FTS catalyst surface structure was controlled to boost hydrocarbon yield and limit CO2 emissions. 

Using advanced techniques, I uncovered synergistic active site formation, surface reactivity control, and reaction mechanisms... My work enables sustainable technologies for renewable fuel and chemical production from waste resources.


Niat Gebru (Molecular Medicine)
Major Professor: Laura Blair, Ph.D.

Research Summary

My research focuses on elucidating the role of Hsp90 co-chaperones in neuropsychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My initial article investigates FKBP52 and Aha1 contributions to the initiation or progression of AD pathogenesis, as a mimic of proteostasis imbalance. Our study provided additional knowledge about the potential mechanisms that may contribute to sporadic AD and reiterates contributions of aging. It also provides a better understanding of how tau accumulation relates to neuroinflammation. 

My second article is a review paper that looks at genetic mouse models of another chaperone protein FKBP51. It provides a universal outlook of at the separate studies done in these mouse models and identifies some limitations and challenges associated with these models. It provided me with the foundation my current research focused on targeting FKBP51 as a therapeutic target for some of these neuropsychiatric disorders. 

View 2023 Program

Past Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award Winners


Name Department College
Christian Brown Integrative Biology College of Arts and Sciences
Salman Sadiq Shuvo Electrical Engineering College of Engineering


Name Department College
Melissa Bikowitz Molecular Medicine Morsani College 
Ausmita Sarker Computer Science & Engineering College of Engineering
Veena Subramanian Cell Biology, Microbiology, & Molecular Biology College of Arts & Sciences


Name Department College
Michael Sacco Molecular Medicine Morsani College of Medicine
Karthick Mayilsamy Molecular Medicine Morsani College of Medicine


Name Department College
Anthony Sanchez Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology College of Arts and Sciences


Name Department College
Jeremy Baker Molecular Medicine Morsani College of Medicine
Bi Zhao Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology College of Arts and Sciences
Longwei Wang Electrical Engineering College of Engineering


Name Department College
Mengqiu Wang Marine Science College of Marine Science


Name Department College
Andy Weiss Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology College of Arts and Sciences