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Inside the Scholars Studio

Recognizing the high caliber of research and scholarly activity of WVU's Benedum Distinguished Scholars

April 9, 2024 | 7 p.m.

Join the Office of the Provost and WVU’s Benedum Distinguished Scholars for an evening of dialogue about research, passion and purpose. The showcase event is modeled after the Emmy-award winning series “Inside the Actors Studio” by James Lipton and highlights each honoree with short videos, a live panel discussion and a moderated Q&A session.

This celebration will be an in-person event at the Gladys G. Davis Theatre of the WVU Creative Arts Center. A livestreaming option will also be available to accommodate an extended virtual audience.

Vagner Augusto Benedito

Vagner Augusto Benedito

Professor, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

"Cracking the Plant Code: Plant Genetics Helping the Creation of More Resilient and Healthier Crops"

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Michael Sherwin

Michael Sherwin

Professor, College of Creative Arts

"Listening to the Land: A Personal Quest for Deeper Understanding and Belonging through Photography"

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weichao tu

Weichao Tu

Associate Professor, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

"The Invisible Doughnuts: The Secrets and Challenges of the Van Allen Radiation Belts"

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Watch the recording

About Vagner Augusto Benedito

Benedito is recognized as the 2022-23 Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Biosciences and Health Sciences for his significant research contributions to the cutting edge of plant genetics and physiology. He is described by his colleagues as a visionary scientist who translates complex technology into practical applications. For example, Benedito studies trichome development and acyl sugar accumulation so that tomatoes and other crops susceptible to insects and diseases can have natural, broad and lasting resistance. Using this powerful genetic technology to investigate pest resistance pathways helps to improve plant yields and secure a stable food supply, while also reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions.

Benedito is also working to create tools that increase the availability of foods with higher levels of healthy antioxidants — anthocyanin in purple tomato fruits and lycopene in sweet potatoes. Another project investigating anthocyanin biosynthesis and accumulation of anti-malarial compounds in plants has long-term potential for innovative medical applications.

Benedito has an impressive research record with 68 publications in high-impact journals in his field since arriving at WVU in 2009 and over 5,700 citations in the scientific literature. This research record translates into an average of about five publications per year making his publication record higher than 98 percent of researchers in agricultural plant sciences and 96 percent of those related to all genetic fields.

In addition, Benedito has established collaborations across WVU, the United States and with international colleagues in Brazil, China, France, India, Israel, Mozambique, Nigeria, Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and South Africa. This extensive network helps develop world-wide sustainable, low-input agriculture that is good for both people and the planet.

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About Michael Sherwin

Sherwin is the recipient of the 2022-23 Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award in the Humanities and the Arts. He is known for his seminal project “Vanishing Points,” a decade-long research, travel and artistic production that is both a book and a series of photographs made across 13 states. The photographs are of significant sites of previous Indigenous American presence, including sacred landforms, earthworks, documented archaeological sites and contested battlegrounds — all of which have been overlooked, co-opted and erased.

The monograph was published by the German firm Kehrer Verlag, one of the leading publishers of fine art photography books, and it was selected by Hyperallergic as one of the Top 10 Art Books of 2021. Sherwin has received over 15 internal and external awards and grants for “Vanishing Points.” The work reached a new level of exposure and acclaim as it was exhibited in 25 different group exhibitions and seven solo exhibitions across the United States and showcased in major international book fairs.

The work was also positively reviewed in The Washington Post, Nashville Scene and The Tennessean, and an interview with Sherwin was published on BuzzFeed News. Sherwin’s work is now included as part of the permanent collections at the University of New Mexico, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University and the University of Oregon.

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About Weichao Tu

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.

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.

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