A faculty member working to modernize automotive manufacturing and vehicle design and a plant breeder helping to improve agricultural productivity were named Clemson University Researchers of the Year.

Srikanth Pilla, the ExonnMobil Employees Endowed Chair in Automotive Engineering in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, was named senior Researcher of the Year at the annual Clemson University Research Symposium on Wednesday. Richard Boyles, assistant professor of plant and environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, was named junior Researcher of the Year.

“Srikanth and Richard are pushing the boundaries of science in their fields and working closely with their communities so their innovations have great societal and economic impact. They exemplify the spirit of university research. I congratulate them and thank them for their efforts,” said Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research.

Three men pose for a photo
From left: Tanju Karanfil, Srikanth Pilla and Clemson University President Jim Clements.

Pilla’s research interests are in the fundamentals and applications of sustainable and lightweight functional materials and manufacturing technologies. He is founder of the Clemson Composites Center, a multi-disciplinary, industry-focused research and development center, and leads AIM for Composites, a new $10 million U.S. Department of Energy-funded Energy Frontier Research center that is working to create a new design approach that utilizes artificial intelligence to assist the discovery of advanced composites. Pilla has amassed more than $62 million in grant awards, co-authored more than 150 peer-reviewed articles and received numerous accolades, including the Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office Distinguished Team Award, the Environmental Protection Agency Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, and the S.C. Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research. He has advised 10 doctoral students, 22 master’s students and 20 undergraduate students.

“Srikanth Pilla’s hard work, dedication and vision have not only paved the way for transformative advancements in composite materials but are also shaping the workforce of the future and fostering economic development in South Carolina and beyond,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. “Dr. Pilla is a scholar and researcher par excellence, and I offer him my wholehearted congratulations on his recognition as Clemson University’s Research of the Year. It is very well deserved.”

three men pose for a photo.
From left: Tanju Karanfil, Richard Boyles and Clemson University President Jim Clements.

Boyles, a cereal grains breeder and geneticist at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center, combines molecular and conventional breeding methods to develop disease-resistant, nutritional crop varieties and hybrids with improved productivity. He received an Innovator Award from the Clemson University Research Foundation by licensing sorghum and oat lines that are now commercialized and are being grown on thousands of acres across the southeastern United States. He is chair-elect of the C-8 Plant Genetic Resources Division of the Crop Science Society of America and is a member of key committees such as the National Wheat Improvement Committee and the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. He has received nearly $15 million in research funding and has published 32 peer-reviewed articles. He has advised one PhD graduate and is currently advising a postdoctoral fellow and three graduate students. Boyles earned his PhD from Clemson in 2016 and in 2019 became a faculty member in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

“Rick Boyles is an outstanding researcher and an even more outstanding person,” said Paula Agudelo, associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences. “He grew up in South Carolina and is committed to helping the producers and growers in the area – for him this is personal because it’s his home. He is at the forefront of research in his field, but still understands the importance of how the knowledge can be applied so that his stakeholders can be successful.”

For Researcher of the Year, each colleges nominates a junior faculty member who received their terminal degree within the past 10 years and a senior faculty member. Winners were selected by an interdisciplinary committee.

In addition to Boyles, junior faculty nominees were Fadi Abdeljawad, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Serkhan Akturk, assistant professor of management in the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business; Matthew Browning, associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; Golnaz Arastoopour Irgens, assistant professor of education and human development in the College of Education; Claire Kirwin, assistant professor of philosophy and religion in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; and Matthew Koski, assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science.

Additional senior faculty nominees were Paula Agudelo, associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Jeff Anker, dean’s distinguished professor of chemistry in the College of Science; Anjali Joseph, Spartanburg Regional Health System Endowed Chair in Architecture and Health Design in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Robin Kowalski, professor of psychology in the College of Behavioral, Social & Health Sciences; Sandra Linder, professor of teaching and learning in the College of Education; and Philip Roth, Trevillian distinguished professor of management in the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business.

“Congratulations to all of our nominees,” Karanfil said. “Being nominated by your college for this award is a great honor. You are all deserving of this recognition.”

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