15 FL Scientists Named 'Most Influential'

Aug 19, 2014

A list of "cutting-edge" scientists who have the most influence on their fields -- using citations by other scholars as the yardstick -- includes 15 researchers based in Florida.

While most are known only in their field of study, a handful have made news. One even co-authored a bestseller.

Roy Baumeister, Ph.D, FSU psychologist
Credit YouTube.com

The Floridians are among 3,200 individuals on Thomson Reuters' 2014 list of The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds, which includes the top 1 percent of scientists named as references by others in scholarly papers in the years 2002 to 2012. The list covers 21 broad fields, from pure math or physics to applied sciences such as medicine or psychology.

No Floridians made the short list of "hot authors," which the publishers defined as the top one-tenth of 1 percent.  Most of them do genomic research and all but one work at either the Broad Institute in Boston, co-sponsored by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, or Washington University in St. Louis.

Of the Floridians on the top-1-percent list, one is a hot author of another sort. He is Roy Baumeister, Ph.D,  co-author of the bestseller Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

A psychology professor at Florida State University, Baumeister has a gift for explaining scientific concepts clearly and with wit, as his many presentations posted on YouTube demonstrate. He also has had the luck or foresight to focus on topics of great interest to the American public; he launched research on self-esteem in the 1970s,  a time when parents were just beginning to heed the call for endless praise.

"Self-esteem was a huge disappointment,"  Baumeister says in a recorded presentation. "It didn't really deliver the goods. Making people more conceited really doesn't make them better  off in any palpable way."

Instead, he says, research shows that self-esteem can only be earned through accomplishment, which requires self-control.  Those who can muster it most of the time are more successful in school and work, happier, physically healthier and apt to live longer.

That discovery led Baumeister to study the barriers to self-control, including a low blood-glucose level that indicates it has been several hours since a meal.  Another can be triggered by mental over-work, having to make too many decisions.

A majority of the other Floridians who made the Thomson Reuters list are involved in medical research.

Marco Pahor, MD, professor at University of Florida and director of UF's Institute on Aging, works on the epidemiology of aging and disability.  He led a multicenter study that gained wide noticethe Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, when it was published in May.

The LIFE study, as it is known, showed that daily  moderate physical activity could determine whether seniors are able to keep up everyday activities or become housebound.  This two-minute video from UF describes the study results.

John Newcomer, MD, is a psychiatrist who studies memory impairment and psychosis, especially schizophrenia; in recent years he has become well-known for research on mental illness as a risk factor for obesity, diabetes and death that is premature by 25 to 30  years. He is professor of clinical biomedical science at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where he also serves as interim vice president for research. 

Those with some knowledge of medicine may be interested in Newcomer's presentation at a forum on Medicaid mental health and drug therapy on YouTube; here is the link to Part One.

Shu-Feng Zhou, MD, Ph.D, is a professor and associate vice president for global medical development at University of South Florida's College of Pharmacy and a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. He studies anticancer drug development and is an international authority on interactions between herbal supplements and prescription drugs. He is originally from China.

Another researcher from China is Liwei Gu, Ph.D., associate professor at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. He studies the health-enhancing properties of compounds that come from fruits, vegetables and nuts. One of his recent publications involved how nanoparticles move through the intestines. ("Nano" -- a frequent prefix in science these days -- refers to a nanometer, equal to one-billionth of a meter.)

Vladimir Uversky, Ph.D., DSc., an associate professor of molecular medicine at USF, studies the science of proteins. He is especially focused on "misfolded" or "disordered" proteins, which have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS).

Dmitry Gabrilovich, MD, Ph.D. studies ways to harness the immune system to fight cancer. He made the list based on his research while at USF and Moffitt, but left in 2013 for the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.

Dominick Angiolillo, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the UF and medical director of the UF Cardiovascular Research Program at the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville. His research includes a wide range of topics in coronary artery disease, with special emphasis on anti-clotting medications. 

A seven-minute interview of Angiolillo aimed at physicians discusses options for anti-platelet drug therapy. He is originally from Italy.

Angela Laird, Ph.D., associate professor at Florida International University, is an authority on brain mapping. Her research involves comparison of brain networks in  individuals who are healthy and those who have psychiatric disorders or neurologic diseases, such as Alzheimer's.   

Other scientists on the list conduct research in fields that have less direct application to human health. They include George Christou, Ph.D., UF professor of chemistry. Originally from Cyprus, Christou studies nanoscale magnetic materials that have applications in information storage and quantum computing.

Another former Cypriot is Demetrios Christodoulides, Ph.D, a professor at the College of Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida. His research has applications in fiber optics, semiconductors and synthetic optical materials.

 Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., an USF assistant professor of chemistry, studies the potential use of nanoscopic spaces in porous materials for a host of applications in energy and the environment, including removing contaminants from water and air. He is originally from China.

Douglas and Pamela Soltis,  both Ph.D's at the UF in Gainesville, created a map of the evolution of flowering plants, and now specialize in study of one family of plants that has become significant to agriculture. While Doug Soltis has an appointment in the biology department and Pam Soltis' appointment is through the Natural History Museum, the two have long worked as a team.

In a joint profile in Science magazine called "The Power of Two" four years ago, a Smithsonian biologist called the Soltises “the most powerful, productive couple that may have ever been in botany."  In this video from UF, the couple explain their research.

One of the Floridians on the list, V. Lakshmikantham, Ph.D., died in 2012, near the end of the 11-year survey period.  He had been chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. A native of India, the professor served as editor of four journals on nonlinear analysis.

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 (desk) or e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.