Pianist, Wheat Geneticist Recipients of 2017 Innovator of the Year Award

by Lisa Howard

June 8, 2017

Lara Downes, artist in residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, and Jorge Dubcovsky, distinguished professor of plant sciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher, were named the 2017 Innovators of the Year by University of California, Davis, Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter at a ceremony on campus tonight.

These awards, which are part of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovation Awards, recognize individual faculty, staff or teams whose inventive accomplishments have had a measurable societal impact or present very strong potential to do so. Recipients of the award receive $10,000 that can be applied to their research or societal engagement program.

“UC Davis takes great pride in being a comprehensive university, one that, in fact, teaches and pursues research in more disciplines and professions than any other UC campus. It is thus very fitting that the two recipients of the 2017 Innovator of the Year Award vividly reflect our breadth, while also showing that impactful innovation can be found across the disciplinary spectrum,” said Hexter.

“Lara Downes, through her many stellar contributions in the field of music, has furthered UC Davis’ goals of artistic excellence, high-quality education, and promoting understanding among people from diverse backgrounds,” Hexter said. “And Jorge Dubcovsky, though his groundbreaking work in wheat breeding and genetics, has made major contributions in an area in which UC Davis is very proud to play a leadership role — feeding the world.”

Lara Downes, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

Lara Downes is an internationally recognized pianist and recording artist who has touched many people not only through her albums and performances but also through her outreach and mentorship work with youth nationwide. She is artist in residence at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis and also director of the center’s National Young Artists Program, which mentors the next generation of young musicians.

Downes’ artistic works span many genres. In October 2016, she released the album, America Again, which was inspired by Langston Hughes’ 1935 poem, “Let America Be America Again.”

Downes was moved by Hughes’ exploration of race and the American dream and found the themes still resonate today. She sees her music as building bridges.

“Music starts conversations,” said Downes. “Music is a place where people can come together from different perspectives and different backgrounds — and maybe even different sides of a divide—and find some common ground.”

America Again debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Classical charts and was picked by NPR as one of “10 Classical Albums that Saved 2016.” This past year she collaborated with U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove to launch the My Promise Project, a community transformative initiative that focuses on themes of promise, potential, citizenship, community, compassion, communication, self-awareness and self-esteem.

Jorge Dubcovsky, Department of Plant Sciences, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

UC Davis Professor Jorge Dubcovsky is a world-renowned wheat breeder and wheat geneticist whose recent innovation has greatly accelerated the study of gene function in wheat. His laboratory developed a gene capture tool and used it to sequence most wheat genes in a collection of 2,700 mutant lines.

“We have created a public database that contains 10 million mutations that can be used to find loss-of-function mutations in almost any wheat gene,” said Dubcovsky. Researchers can search this public database online and request the seeds carrying the desired mutations. More than 3,000 of these seed stocks have been distributed already to wheat researchers around the world.

Wheat provides 20 percent of the calories and 23 percent of the protein consumed by humans. More than 700 million tons of wheat are produced worldwide each year, meaning even small improvements can have a significant impact.

“In these times of climate change, resilience is important. You need to be able to respond to changes fast,” said Dubcovsky. His lab has used this technology to increase grain dietary fiber and size, and incorporated these traits into UC wheat varieties with increased grain protein content and improved resistance to diseases previously developed by his program.

About the UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovation Awards

Established in 2016, the UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovation Awards recognize faculty, community partners and industry leaders for their work, dedication and success in achieving societal impact either through innovations in technology or social engagement.

“The public mission of UC Davis is inextricably linked with the innovative spirit that drives our faculty, students and staff to transform their research, academic pursuits and passion into life-changing societal impact,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor for research and executive director of Venture Catalyst at UC Davis. “This year’s recipients of the Chancellor’s Innovator of the Year awards allow us to celebrate the unique range of innovation being fostered at UC Davis and the university innovators who are making their mark on the world.

In addition to the Innovator of the Year, awards were presented to Vivek Ranadivé and the Sacramento Kings organization for the Innovative Community Partner of the Year and to Gary Snyder, professor emeritus of English, for the Lifetime Achievement Award for Innovation. Both of those awards were announced in a press release last week.

Media contact

Lisa Howard, UC Davis Office of Research, 530-752-8117, lehoward@ucdavis.edu

Media Resources

UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovation Awards

Engineers, Painter First Recipients of Innovation Awards

Poet, Software Pioneer Receive UC Davis Innovation Awards

2017 Innovator of the Year Nominees

John Boone
Professor, Radiology And Biomedical Engineering
Breast Computed Tomography (Breast Ct) As An Alternative To Conventional Mammography.

Robert Brosnan
Professor, Surgical & Radiological Sciences
Relationship Between The Water Solubility Of A Drug And The Ability Of That Drug To Modulate Anesthetic-Sensitive Ion Channels And Receptors.

Gino Cortopassi
Professor, Molecular Biosciences
Novel Drug Discovery For Rare Mitochondrial Disease That Have No Approved Therapy.

Jorge Dubcovsky
Distinguished Professor And Howard Hughes Medical Institute Researcher, Plant Sciences
Enabling Research, Novel Plant Breeding Techniques And Tools, And Release Of New Wheat Varieties With Enhanced Nutritional Content.

Lara Downes
Artist In Residence And Director, Young Artists Program
Recording And Touring Project, America Again — A Reflection On American Past And Present, Progress And Change, Diversity And Adversity, Hopes And Dreams.

Robert Emmons
Professor, Psychology
Raising Public Consciousness About The Meaning And Significance Of Gratitude And Elucidating The Relevance And Importance Of Gratitude Research To Everyday Life.

Bryce Falk
Distinguished Professor, Plant Pathology
Andre Knoesen
Professor, Electrical Engineering
Erkin Seker
Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Josh Hihath
Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Maria Marco
Associate Professor, Food Science and Technology
Paul Feldstein
Circularis Biotechnology
Molecular Biology, Microbiology And Electrical Engineering Approaches For Rapid, Rna-Based Microbial Detection.

Bruce German
Professor, Food Science & Technology,
Carlito Lebrilla
Professor, Chemistry
Daniela Barile
Associate Professor, Food Science & Technology
David Mills Professor
Food Science & Technology
Mark Underwood
Professor, Pediatrics
Translating Correlation Of Disease With The Infant Gut Microbiome To Enable Commercialization Of Novel Probiotic

Bruce Hammock
Professor, Entomology & Nematology
Developing Human Therapeutics For Neuropathic Pain.

Andrew Hargadon
Soderquist Chair, Entrepreneurship; Faculty Director, Child Institute For Innovation And Entrepreneurship
Program And Pedagogy That Builds The Networks Necessary To Help University Researchers Maximize The Social And Economic Impact Of Their Work.

David Horsley
Professor, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering“
Ultrasonic Sensor Technologies For Virtual Reality And Augmented Reality Applications

Ben Houlton
Professor, Land Air Water Resources; Director, John Muir Institute Of Environment
Connection Between Molecular Ecology And Nitrogen Emissions From Soil.

Tina Jeoh
Assitant Professor, Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Herbert Scher
Research Engineer, Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Scott Strobel
Phd Candidate, Biological & Agricultural Engineering
Novel Process To Generate Cross-Linked Polymer Microcapsules Using Existing Industrial Technology.

Michael Austin Johnson
Assistant Professor, Emergency Medicine
Automated Endovascular Technology With Novel Critical Care Algorithms.

Nancy Lane Professor
Internal Medicine
Wei Yao Professor
Internal Medicine
Kit Lam
Associate Professor, Biochemistry & Molecular Medicine
Ruiwu Liu Professor
Biochemistry & Molecular Medicine
Developed Bone-Targeted Delivery Of Mesenchymal Stem Cells To Various Sites Of Human Clinical Relevance.

Richard Levenson
Professor And Vice Chair, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Strategic Technologies
Technology Enabling Tissue Pathology Assessments Without Requiring Sample Preparation And Glass Slides

Mark Mascal
Professor, Chemistry
Conversion Of Waste Biomass Into An Intermediate That Can Be Used To Produce A Renewable Polymer For Use In Plastics Production.

Molly Mccarthy
Associate Director, Humanities Institute
Community-Engaged Research In The Humanities, Arts, And Social Sciences While Allowing Graduate Students In Phd Programs To Gain More Diverse Career Experience.

Mike And Renee Child Institute For Innovation And Entrepreneurship
Executive Director, Associate Directors, Program Managers, Assistants, And Volunteers
Providing Members Of The Uc Davis Community With The Tools, Best Practices And The Enabling Networks They Need To Commercialize Their Research And Ideas And Get Them Out In The World.

Mark Modera
Director, Western Cooling Efficiency Center
Sealing Building Shells Through Proprietary Automated Application Of An Aerosolized Sealant.

Michael Mulhearn
Associate Professor, Physics
Crayfis Experiment, An Innovative Approach To Observational Cosmological Physics Which Uses The Camera Sensor In Smartphones To Detect Particles From Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays.

Tingrui Pan
Professor And Director, Biomedical Engineering
Developing Wearable Sensors And Microfluidics

Jon Ramsey
Professor, Molecular Biosciences
Health And Physiological Effects Of Calorie Restriction.

Michael Rogawski
Professor, Neurology And Pharmacology
Developing Human Therapeutics For Epilepsy And Post-Partum Depression And Advancing Treatments For Psychiatric And Neurological Disorders.

Justin Siegel
Assistant Professor, Biochemistry & Molecular Medicine And Chemistry
Invented A Highly Specific Enzyme Active In The Stomach That Digests Gluten And May Enable Treatment Of Celiac Disease.

Michael Siminovitch
Professor, Director And Rosenfeld Chair, Energy Efficiency
Sustainable Lighting Design And Enhanced Color Quality Of Lighting Products.

Susan Williams
Professor, Evolution & Ecology, Bodega Marine Laboratory
Rehabilitating Coral Reefs, Restoring Seagrass Beds, And Building Scientific Capacity In An Indonesian University Through Training, Collaboration, And Community Outreach.

Gergely Zimanyi
Professor, Physics
Photovoltaic Desalination.

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