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Five New Bass Professors Named for Excellence in Teaching and Research

Part of the Spring 2020 Awards and Honors Series
2020 Bass Fellows : (from left to right) Sheila Patek, Jun Yang, Brenton Hoffman, Gregory Samanez-Larkin​​​​​​​ and Christine Payne
2020 Bass Fellows : (from left to right) Sheila Patek, Jun Yang, Brenton Hoffman, Gregory Samanez-Larkin​​​​​​​ and Christine Payne

Five Duke professors with demonstrated excellence in research and undergraduate instruction have been selected as the 2020 Bass Fellows.

“This moment of crisis has highlighted the importance of having faculty who excel, both in teaching and in research,” said Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education. “Bass Fellows represent the best that Duke offers -- faculty with a commitment to discovery and delivering a transformational undergraduate education, one that changes lives and strengthens our global communities.”  

The chairs were created in 1996 when Anne T. and Robert Bass gave $10 million as a matching gift to encourage Duke alumni, parents and friends to endow the positions. Candidates are nominated by faculty and evaluated by a faculty committee for having achieved “true excellence in both research and teaching” and being good university citizens. Bass professors hold their named chairs for five-year terms and then become lifetime members of the Bass Society of Fellows, which now numbers 106. 

Thomas Robisheaux, the Fred W. Shaffer Professor of History whose research focuses on early modern Europe, was elected this month to serve as the new faculty director of the Bass Society of Fellows. He succeeds Lisa Keister, a professor of sociology who holds a joint appointment in the Sanford School of Public Policy.

The newly appointed Bass Fellows are:

Brenton Hoffman, James L. and Elizabeth M. Vincent Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering. The primary goal of Hoffman’s research program is to use an interdisciplinary approach to first advance the basic understanding of mechanotransduction and then use this knowledge to guide the development of new treatments for mechanosensitive diseases. He has developed and taught two major courses -- Cell Mechanics and Mechanotransduction, and Biomaterials and Biomechanics, a required course for juniors who choose to focus on cell and tissue engineering, biomaterials or biomechanics.  Hoffman has mentored more than 20 undergraduate researchers.   

Sheila Patek, Mrs. Alexander Heymeyer Professor of Biology. Patek studies the unifying principles that guide, limit, and promote the evolutionary diversity of biomechanical systems. Her research has yielded discoveries of new biological phenomena, original tests of macroevolutionary hypotheses, and new frameworks for understanding the mechanical foundations of biological diversity. Her classes receive very positive student evaluations. She also created the Muser website, which connects undergraduates to mentored research opportunities across campus.  

Christine Payne, Mary Milus Yoh and Harold L. Yoh, Jr. Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science.  Payne came to Duke from Georgia Tech in 2018. Her research focuses on cellular interactions with nanoparticles, which increasingly are being used as sources for heating in cancer therapy or as drug delivery vehicles. She has already made an impact on teaching through her new course on the “Materials Science of Science Fiction.”

Gregory Samanez-Larkin, Jack H. Neely Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience. Samanez-Larkin’s research lies at the intersection of human development, affective science, health psychology, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics and experimental finance. His four undergraduate courses, including an upper-level seminar and a foundational statistics/data-analysis class, have earned him exceptional student evaluations.    

Jun Yang, Bishop-MacDermott Family Professor of Computer Science. As the co-director of the Duke Database Research Group, Yang’s primary research interest lies in the area of database and data-intensive computing, which includes computational journalism, using computing to help to preserve public interest journalism. Before his arrival at Duke, the computer science department did not offer any courses in databases. Yang developed a coherent curriculum from scratch. His highly popular Introduction to Database Systems, usually attracts about 150 students. 

For more information, visit the Bass Fellows website