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Ten USF faculty members receive national recognition as AAAS Fellows for academic research

New AAAS Fellows

The list includes USF's first Black honoree

TAMPA, Fla. – The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named 10 University of South Florida researchers as new Fellows, including a College of Education associate professor who will become the university’s first Black faculty member to receive one of the world’s most prestigious honors for academic research.

Ruthmae Sears is being recognized for her work in mathematics education as well as leading a team of academic experts in a recent study of structural racism and effects on the daily lives of people for the City of St. Petersburg.

The new AAAS Fellows span multiple colleges and disciplines, bringing the total number of Fellows at USF to 92.

"Our faculty is the lifeblood and backbone of the University of South Florida," USF President Rhea Law said. "And this distinguished, diverse group of faculty who represent a wide-range of disciplines are a big reason why USF is America's fastest-rising university, driving growth and economic development in the Tampa Bay region and beyond."

The tradition of AAAS Fellows dates to 1874. AAAS Fellows are a distinguished cadre of scientists, engineers, and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines ranging from research, teaching, and technology, to administration in academia, industry, and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public.

An induction ceremony for the new Fellows will be held on Feb. 19 at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

“AAAS is proud to bestow the honor of AAAS Fellow to some of today’s brightest minds who are integral to forging our path into the future,” said Dr. Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “We celebrate these distinguished individuals for their invaluable contributions to the scientific enterprise.”

The new AAAS Fellows from USF are listed below:

Norma Alcantar

Norma A. Alcantar, PhD


Citation: For seminal work in sustainable functional technologies to remove pollutants and purify drinking water, novel therapies for Alzheimer’s and cancer, ocean oil spill clean-up methodologies, and advances in aquaculture systems.

Alcantar is the associate dean for research and a professor in the Department of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering in the College of Engineering. Alcantar is a global pioneer in developing innovative natural technologies for environmental, medical, and industrial applications. Her research focuses on interfacial phenomena and chemical characterization of biomimetic membranes, drug delivery systems, micellar surfactants, green chemistry materials, water purification systems, nanoparticles and organic/inorganic thin films. She is internationally recognized for her inventions to filter contaminants from fresh water and provide clean drinking water in areas around the world lacking access to clean water; creating new technologies for clearing up oil spills; implementing a hybrid technology to remove bacteria and ammonia from aquaculture systems; and creating novel therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and treatments for cancer tumor cells. She currently holds 22 U.S. patents and was recently chosen to be inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.

Delcie Durham

Delcie Durham, PhD


Citation: For seminal contributions to sustainability and green engineering with an emphasis on product realization through lifecycle analysis and thermodynamic principles of energy and exergy for energy conversion and storage devices. 

Durham is Professor Emerita of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering and served as dean of the USF Graduate School. She is recognized for her pioneering research on sustainability and environmentally benign manufacturing and for her national leadership in advancing science. Her research focused on sustainable materials processes, life cycle analysis and assessment, and green engineering design. For nine years, she was a program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in engineering design and subsequently in the agency’s materials processing and manufacturing program. With other women program directors in the engineering directorate at NSF, she pioneered and co-sponsored a series of training workshops on academic leadership for women engineering faculty. 

Valerie Harwood

Valerie J. Harwood, PhD

Biological Sciences 

Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of biology, particularly for advances to microbial source tracking research and technologies, and demonstration of differential survival of E. coli strains in the environment.

Harwood is professor and chair of the Department of Integrative Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is an environmental microbiologist whose research focuses on water quality, and the nexus between microbial ecology and human health. She has made pioneering discoveries on bacterial contamination of bodies of water and is one of the founding scholars in using molecular methods to track the sources of microbes in environmental waters. One of her most important contributions helped significantly advance Microbial Source Tracking (MST) — the science of determining the dominant source of fecal pollution in environmental waters. She has worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies on the development of MST as a regulatory tool. She has served as expert consultant for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others. 

Richard Heller

Richard Heller, PhD

Medical Sciences 

Citation: For distinguished contributions to medical engineering, particularly in drug and gene delivery, developing delivery systems and protocols for in vivo non-viral gene transfer and advancing cancer immune gene therapy.

Heller is a professor of medical engineering and is regarded as a pioneer in developing efficient delivery systems for plasmid DNA and chemotherapeutics, and as the leading expert in gene electrotransfer. For more than 30 years, his research led to breakthroughs in the use of pulse electric fields to manipulate biological cells and tissue, especially for the treatment of various cancers. He holds 40 U.S. patents, 17 of which have been licensed to four companies. 

Chuanmin Hu

Chuanmin Hu, PhD

Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Sciences

Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of marine science, particularly for the discovery of the Atlantic Sargassum belt and pioneering research in remote sensing algorithms, data products, and applications.

Hu is a professor of optical oceanography in the College of Marine Science and directs the Optical Oceanography Lab. His research focuses on studying marine algal blooms, particularly red tide; oil spills and coastal water quality changes using field, laboratory and remote sensing techniques. His discovery of the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt — a biomass of brown seaweed that extends from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico — made the Guinness World Records and was selected by Discover magazine as one of the top 50 discoveries in 2019. Hu has made pioneering developments in cutting-edge remote sensing algorithms and data products. The Virtual Buoy System, Integrated Redtide Information System, and Sargassum Watch System developed by the Hu lab have served more than 60 countries.

Randy Larsen

Randy Larsen, PhD


Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of physical and biophysical chemistry, particularly for the advancement of time resolved thermodynamics of biomolecules and porous material photophysics.

Larsen is a professor of chemistry and associate dean for research and scholarship in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is a physical chemist whose research program covers both the molecular basis of disease and functional materials. Larsen also has significantly advanced the field of research surrounding metal organic frameworks — porous materials that have emerged as important platforms for a wide range of applications in energy, environmental sustainability, medicine, and industrial processing. 

Stephen McNutt

Stephen R. McNutt, PhD

Geology and Geography

Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of volcano seismology, particularly volcanic hazards assessments, triggering effects of tides and sea-level, and development of databases on volcanic earthquake swarms and volcanic tremor.

McNutt is a professor in the School of Geosciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is a world leader in the use of seismology and related geophysical tools to monitor hazardous natural events. He led the development of the Alaska Volcano Observatory Seismic Network, an integrated real-time geophysical and geodetic observing system for 31 Alaskan volcanoes that threaten critical airline flight paths. The work involved tracking earthquakes, infrasound, changes in land elevation and the occurrence of lightning to predict hazardous volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis, and track dangerous eruptive plumes. His is developing a similar observational network focused on the active volcanoes of Central America, the Andes, and the Antilles, working with USF colleagues to address both the scientific and human impacts of hazardous natural events. He also pioneered the study of volcanic lightning, which is important to understanding the processes of ash particle modification.

Yashwant Pathak

Yashwant Pathak, PhD  

Pharmaceutical Sciences

Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of pharmacy, particularly for developments in nanotechnology and drug delivery systems, especially in treating cancers and age-related macular degeneration.

Pathak is a professor and associate dean for faculty affairs in the Taneja College of Pharmacy. He is an internationally distinguished researcher and scholar whose discoveries have advanced the field of pharmacy and drug discovery. Nearly 40 years ago, he was the first to develop applications of rosin and rosin derivatives for the controlled release of drugs. This was a foundational step forward in drug delivery, and today this process is in use in pharmaceuticals ranging from aspirin to complex drug matrices. Pathak also developed a novel type of microsphere, again advancing the field of drug delivery systems, as microspheres are critical for controlled drug delivery. More recently, he developed ophthalmic drug delivery systems with a special focus on nano applications, to treat age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Dr. Pathak also leads in projects in the novel developments of nanoparticles as delivery systems for anti-cancer drug molecules.

Ruthmae Sears

Ruthmae Sears, PhD  


Citation: For distinguished contributions to social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at both national and community levels, and for contributions to mathematics education.

Sears is an associate professor and associate director for the Coalition for Science Literacy in the College of Education, where she has served as the faculty facilitator for the Inclusive and Equitable Pedagogy program. Her research focuses on curriculum issues and systemic change initiatives in kindergarten through college; the development of reasoning and proof skills; clinical experiences in secondary mathematics; and the integration of technology in mathematics teaching and learning. She is the principal investigator for the City of St. Petersburg’s recent study on structural racism that is the basis for the community’s deeper examination of longstanding equity issues. In addition to her research, Sears also provides extensive service to the profession and to the community. She is co-chair of the Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC) Annual Meeting; and the Accelerating Systemic Change Network (ASCN) in STEM Higher Education Working group for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Marilyn Stern

Marilyn Stern, PhD  


Citation: For distinguished contributions to the field of psychology, particularly for development of parent-involved interventions for obese children and adolescents, pediatric cancer survivors, and at-risk youth.

Stern is a professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and holds additional affiliate appointments in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Pediatrics in the Morsani College of Medicine. She is a pediatric health psychologist whose research has focused on psychosocial oncology in children and adolescents dealing with obesity and cancer, especially youth from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. She advanced understanding of the complexities these youth face when navigating post-recovery, long-term health, and transition to survivorship. She developed the notable intervention programs NOURISH-T, designed specifically for pediatric cancer survivors and their parents, and ADAPT, to assist Latino families dealing with obesity.

About the University of South Florida

The University of South Florida, a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success, generates an annual economic impact of more than $6 billion. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at

About AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational Medicine; Science Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances; Science Immunology; and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For additional information about AAAS, visit

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