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Weichao Tu named 2022-23 Benedum Distinguished Scholar

Three exceptional faculty members at WVU have been named 2022-23 Benedum Distinguished Scholars in recognition of the high caliber of their research and scholarly activity. 

Honorees include: 

  • Vagner Augusto Benedito, professor of genetics and plant physiology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design,

  •  Michael Sherwin, associate professor of photography in the College of Creative Arts,

  • Weichao Tu, associate professor of space physics in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

The Benedum Distinguished Scholars Awards, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, are awarded annually to faculty engaged in “creative research” in as many as four categories: behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology. This year, exceptional scholars were identified in three of the four categories. 

“Each year, the Benedum Distinguished Scholar Awards honor the most outstanding researchers and scholars at WVU, and this year is no different,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed. “These faculty members are delving into deep societal questions, finding solutions for food supply issues and striving to better understand Earth’s geomagnetic field. Their achievements are exceptional, inspiring and impactful.”

Tu is honored as the 2022-23 Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Physical Science and Technologies. She is recognized nationally and internationally for her creative development of new and comprehensive models of radiation belt particle dynamics. As a space physicist, Tu has focused on understanding, modeling and predicting the dynamics of energetic “killer” electrons in the Earth’s radiation belts.

Weichao Tu

Tu created the first three-dimensional diffusion model that reproduces the strong enhancement of outer belt electrons during a geomagnetic storm. The model is the first of its kind to incorporate real-time information on the physical processes and thus accurately model the radiation belt enhancement. In addition, Tu has developed the first model to account for radiation belt dropouts and newly discovered loss processes due to anomalous geometrics of Earth’s magnetic fields. Understanding these electrons and processes are crucial in reducing the hazardous radiative environment within which spacecrafts and communication satellites currently operate.

Tu has been recognized with a National Science Foundation Career Award — the most prestigious NSF award for early-career faculty, a Cottrell Scholar Award and the Katherine E. Weimer Award from the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics. She has secured $5.37 million of funding and authored 25 publications in the past seven years. Tu has also given 32 invited talks and seminars at various international conferences and institutes. 

In addition, she created a space science learning module in collaboration with the West Virginia Science Public Outreach Team, and it has been disseminated statewide to increase space science knowledge and interest among Appalachian middle school students. 

Each Benedum Distinguished Scholar will receive a $5,000 professional development honorarium. The Scholars will be recognized during a faculty and staff awards reception at Blaney House on April 26 and will be featured in next year’s Benedum Distinguished Scholars Showcase.

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