College of Science; Research

Governor honors Clemson faculty for research impact


Gov. Henry McMaster has recognized two Clemson University faculty members for their contributions to scientific discovery, education and public service.

Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research and professor of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, has received the 2021 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Research, and Marco Ajello, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, received the 2021 Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research. 

From left: Gov. Henry McMaster, Clemson University Vice President for Research Tanju Karanfil, and Bob Quinn, executive director of the South Carolina Research Authority, pose for a photo at the South Carolina capitol.
From left: Gov. Henry McMaster, Clemson University Vice President for Research Tanju Karanfil, and Bob Quinn, executive director of the South Carolina Research Authority.

“Dr. Karanfil’s success in research is a product of exceptional analytical thinking skills and a deep focus on problem-solving,” said Robert Jones, executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. “Through hard work and dedication to his students and colleagues, he has excelled in his own research program and has served as a model to inspire others. Tanju is truly one of South Carolina’s treasures!”

“The exciting research conducted by Dr. Marco Ajello is expanding our understanding of the universe, and connecting Clemson faculty and students with scholars and world-class research facilities across the globe,” Jones added. “His brilliant work and new discoveries are propelling Clemson’s growing reputation as a center of excellence in astrophysics.”

An international expert on water quality, Karanfil has made significant contributions to the scientific understanding of water contaminants and treatment, and as a licensed professional engineer in South Carolina, serves frequently as a consultant to utilities and engineering firms. Karanfil’s research has aided the understanding and removal of contaminants from drinking water, wastewater effluents and swimming pools. He also extensively studied the effect of wildfires on water quality and treatability and has supported the development of new technologies for water and wastewater treatment to protect public health. 

I’d like to thank Gov. McMaster for recognizing the role scientific research plays in improving quality of life in South Carolina. I am humbled to join the great scientists who have earned this distinction before me, and I congratulate Marco Ajello, a great young scientist with a bright future.


Karanfil has published two books and more than 160 peer-reviewed journal articles during his career. He has mentored more than 100 graduate students, post-doctoral research associates and graduate-level visiting scholars. During his career, Karanfil has earned numerous national and international awards, including a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. He and his students also have earned several best dissertation/thesis and paper awards in recognition of their scientific contributions. Karanfil has been elected principal member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences in his native Turkey and has earned the Science Special Award in Engineering from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey.

2021 Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research.
Gov. Henry McMaster, left, presents the 2021 Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research to Marco Ajello.

Karanfil is a registered professional engineer in the State of South Carolina, a board-certified environmental engineer by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and a Fellow of the International Water Association.

As vice president for research, Karanfil has led the University’s research enterprise through a period of tremendous growth, which has solidified Clemson among the nation’s top Carnegie R1 universities. 

Ajello is an astrophysicist whose research has led to breakthroughs in scientific understanding of the evolution of supermassive black holes and unraveled some of our universe’s mysteries. His research interests include high-energy astrophysics, cosmology and particle astrophysics. 

Ajello led an international research team that measured all the starlight ever produced throughout the observable universe’s history. Astrophysicists believe that our 13.7-billion-year-old universe began forming the first stars when it was just a few hundred million years old. There are now about two trillion galaxies and a trillion-trillion stars. 

Ajello was also part of a research team that devised a new measurement of the Hubble Constant, the unit of measure used to describe the rate of expansion of the universe, and another that captured the first photographic proof that merging galaxies can produce jets of charged particles that travel at nearly the speed of light.

This is one of the most significant events of my career. I’m truly humbled and honored to receive the Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research.


Ajello has received more than $2.9 million in research funding since he joined the Clemson faculty in 2014. He has mentored more than 25 postdoctoral researchers and students, including graduate student Lea Marcotulli, who recently received a prestigious NASA Hubble Fellowship, a first at Clemson. 

Ajello has co-authored 323 peer-reviewed articles during his career. He has won several awards, including the College of Science’s Rising Star in Discovery Award for excellence in forefront research and the University Research, Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Award for authoring a paper that has received more than 1,000 citations. He was part of two research teams that received the Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society for significant contributions to high-energy astrophysics. Ajello is also a recipient of the Otto Hahn Medal, an award given by the Max Planck Society in Germany to junior researchers for outstanding scientific achievement.

Governor’s Awards are jointly sponsored by the Governor’s Office and the South Carolina Academy of Sciences.

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