Campus Life

Bruce Bugbee Awarded USU's Top Research Honor

USU's 2016 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research award recipient Bruce Bugbee.

Utah State University has flown more experiments to space than most universities around the world, due in large part to the work of Bruce Bugbee. For his continued demonstration of creative achievement and excellence in research, the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences researcher is the 2016 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Award recipient, the most prestigious research accolade given at USU.

For 30 years, Bugbee and his students have worked with scientists on a range of NASA-funded projects to develop a life-support system for people traveling to space and investigating how to best grow plants in artificial mediums. Central to Bugbee’s research is the application of the principles of physics to plant biology, to find ways to develop biological life support systems on Earth and in reduced gravity environments.

Plants, Soils and Climate Department Head Paul Johnson said Bugbee’s ability to formulate fundamental questions and follow through with ground-breaking research have been keys to his success, positioning him as a top worldwide expert on controlled environment research.

“He embodies what this award is meant to recognize and even echoes D. Wynne Thorne’s scientific expertise in plant nutrition, soil-water relationships and the interactions of soil, climate and management practices,” Johnson said.

Bugbee’s work drew national attention late last year with the release of award-winning film “The Martian.” The film adaption of the novel by Andy Weir is a fictional portrayal of NASA Astronaut Mark Watney’s struggle to survive when stranded alone on Mars. Watney, a botanist, manages to grow his own food and is able to return home. National publications, including Popular Mechanics, TechCrunch, SpaceNews and The Huffington Post, reached out to Bugbee to validate the science of the storyline.

“Bruce has proven time and time again to be an invaluable asset to Utah State University, through his work as a researcher, faculty member and mentor to many graduate and undergraduate students,” said USU President Stan Albrecht. “His dedication to sharing the broader impacts of his research has expanded the university’s research portfolio to worldwide prominence. He truly exemplifies excellence in scholarship.”

Following a master’s degree from the University of California, Davis, Bugbee completed his doctorate at Penn State University. Having decided to one day return the West, Bugbee came to USU as a postdoc in 1981, where he remains as a researcher and faculty member.

“Utah State University has been fabulous to allow me to follow my passions and research,” Bugbee said. “I can’t imagine working anywhere else but at a university.”

Bugbee is the recipient of the 2012 Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology and the 2005 College of Agriculture Researcher of the Year Award. He is a past Chairman of the crop physiology division of the American Society of Agronomy and has been invited to speak at 21 universities in eight countries. Bugbee and his students have published more than 100 journal articles and book chapters, and his 3,170 citations are among the highest of in his field.

“Bruce continues to demonstrate a spirit of innovation and an appetite for discovery, placing him at the statewide and national forefront of academic research,” said Mark McLellan, vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “Scholars like him set USU apart in its land-grant mission to make research accessible to everyone.”

Twenty years ago, Bugbee founded Apogee Instruments, Inc., a company manufacturing instruments to measure photosynthetically-active radiation. Cornell University Professor Emeritus Louis D. Albright said this venture has been a notable success, aiding researchers throughout the nation to more accurately log data.

“An aspect of Bruce’s work that makes him unique is the way he has been able to bridge between the academic and commercial worlds,” Albright said. “We use (Apogee instruments) in the Controlled Environment Agriculture program at Cornell, so I can speak to this with many years of experience as a customer as well as fellow researcher.”

In 2001 Bruce received the USU Outstanding Graduate Mentor of the Year. Associate Department Head of Plants, Soils and Climate Scott Jones studied as a Ph.D. student with Bugbee on his committee; he said the professor went above and beyond his responsibilities, mentoring Jones and, inspiring him to “appreciate and internalize a passion for research.”

“He was able to put context behind the textbooks and numbers, an example I still try to emulate with my own teaching and research,” Jones said. “I have looked to Bruce for leadership, advice and guidance on many fronts; he has truly been an inspiration in the development of my professional career as I have passed from student to professor.”

Bugbee will be honored at the Research Gala Monday, April 11, at the Riverwoods Conference Center during USU Research Week 2016. Per tradition, Bugbee will give the annual D. Wynne Thorne lecture during Research Week 2017.

“Bruce Bugbee has accumulated a highly respected record of academic achievement over the years, but his main accomplishments may yet lie ahead,” said Cary A. Mitchell, professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University. “Thus, receipt of the Thorne Career Research Award will encourage Bruce to continue to expand his intellectual contributions to environmental plant physiology and controlled environment agriculture.”

Named after USU’s first vice president for research, the D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Award is given annually to one outstanding university researcher who is recommended by a committee of previous award recipients. Nominees are recommended by a committee of peers for the significance and quality of their research and recognition by national and international experts.

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Writer: Manda Perkins, PMC Communications,

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