Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that three USDA researchers have been named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers—the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers. The recipients were officially named by President Obama earlier this month and are being recognized today in a formal ceremony at the White House.

“Science provides the basis for all the work performed at USDA and our commitment to science informs our efforts to improve the lives of the American people,” said Vilsack. “The researchers who are receiving this award today have demonstrated outstanding talent and dedication through their cutting-edge agricultural and forestry research and have made great contributions to society.”

The Department’s recipients are:

• Jeffrey S. Ross-Ibarra; University of California, Davis assistant professor – recognized for his research in using a novel approach, based on population genetics, to identify genes that would be useful in improving varieties of corn. In this USDA-funded research project, Ross-Ibarra and his team are working to identify the genotype, or genetic profile, of 60,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms. These are genetic variations that occur when a single nucleotide in the DNA sequence differs from a genetic standard.

• Lee K. Cerveny, Forest Service research social scientist – recognized for a decade of science contributions that have elevated understanding of the human dimensions of natural resource management in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Her work has ranged from examinations of the effects of a variety of social changes on southeast Alaska communities, to investigations of the use of science by recreation and fire managers and the role of partnerships in maintaining the Forest Service’s organizational capacity. Cerveny recently launched a multi-year study to visually map human activities and important places in forests on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. The community-workshop-based project is identifying the diversity of recreation, cultural, historic, and economic connections residents have to the Olympic Peninsula, information that will help managers and planners there make decisions about the area’s lands and resources.

• Michael L. Looper, Agricultural Research Service animal scientist – recognized for his work that, since 2002, has enhanced understanding of livestock management practices, especially concerning systematic approaches to animal production.  At the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Arkansas, Looper’s fundamental research determined key mechanisms of how the brain communicates with the reproductive system in cattle.  Dr. Looper has also provided unique insight into food safety issues related to forages commonly grazed in the United States.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers have received research grants for up to five years to further their studies in support of critical government missions.