Alice Cheung Receives Coveted Plant Biology Excellence Award

Alice Cheung
Alice Cheung

The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) recently announced that Alice Cheung, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, will receive the 2020 Lawrence Bogorad Award for Excellence in Plant Biology Research, made every other year to “a plant scientist whose work both illuminates the present and suggests paths to enlighten the future.”

Along with the society’s international recognition, Cheung will receive a plaque and monetary award. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time and place for honoring her and recipients of other ASPB awards has not been settled yet, the organization says. The award is named for Bogorad, Cheung’s postdoctoral mentor, for his contributions to plant biology that include bringing molecular biology techniques to bear on plant biology, groundbreaking research on chloroplast genetics, biogenesis, structure and function, and inspired teaching and mentoring.

Jennifer Normanly, head of biochemistry and molecular biology who has worked with Cheung for more than 20 years, says, “Alice is a superb scientist with many groundbreaking contributions to her credit and a passion for research that is awe-inspiring. She is a thoughtful, compassionate and generous mentor to students, postdocs and junior colleagues, and one who is sincerely committed to training future generations of plant biologists. As a faculty colleague, her intellectual depth and broad perspective on science makes her a valued member of our campus and of the plant biology community.”

On a personal note, Normanly recalls that when she came to campus as a young scientist, she and Cheung were among few researchers using the model plant system Arabidopsis plus molecular genetic approaches to study plant growth and development. “I was delighted to have Alice as a laboratory neighbor, and she thoughtfully included my smaller group in her lab meetings, which enriched the intellectual environment both for me and for my research advisees. Her presence on campus immediately raised the stature of the plant biology program.”

Cheung says Bogorad was a generous and unassuming mentor and her experience in the lab “taught me optimism and resilience, and I continue to be thankful for the many life-long friendships forged in the lab during those days.” She adds, “I am grateful for the honor, for what it means to me professionally and personally.” Cheung notes that she is particularly thankful for Jennifer, colleagues and friends from her peer scientific community off campus who have so generously nominated her for the award. 

Normanly says Cheung’s research investigating processes and mechanisms of plant reproduction and pollen tube growth – the centerpiece cell growth process that enables fertilization –  features “innovative experimental approaches” that range “from sophisticated biochemistry that detects detail molecular interactions to advanced imaging systems to allow visualization of growth processes in living cells and tissues in real time.”

The department head points to Cheung’s “impressive accomplishment” in receiving simultaneous funding by two different divisions of National Science Foundation (NSF) , “a testament to her superb track record of important contributions to molecular mechanisms of plant fertilization,” in work that is also relevant to organismal and evolutionary biology.

Cheung has contributed more than 90 publications to her field, many of them in highly regarded journals, and has served as a long-time editor for Plant Physiology. She is a frequent lead editor for focus issues in areas closest to her research interests and expertise. Her previous honors include being named an ASPB Fellow, leader of an NSF Research Coordination Network Award on Integrative Pollen Biology, the 2012 College of Natural Science’s Outstanding Research Award, a Distinguished Faculty Lecturer honor and the Chancellor’s Medal. In 2018 she was awarded a Conti Faculty Fellowship.