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Four mid-career researchers from the University of Central Florida received Rising Stars awards by the Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine of Florida (ASEMFL), a group that brings together the nation’s most distinguished and impactful scholars who live and work in Florida.

They are among 12 honorees competitively selected from nominated researchers at universities across the state in the categories of science, engineering, and medicine and public health.

From UCF’s College of Sciences, Kerri Donaldson Hanna in the Department of Physics, and Xiaohu Xia in the Department of Chemistry, were selected as two of the three Rising Stars in the science category. From the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Akihiro Kushima in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Thomas Wahl in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering, are two of the six selected in the engineering category.

Donaldson Hanna, Xia, Kushima and Wahl — and the eight other Rising Stars honorees from institutions across Florida — received their awards Nov. 3 during ASEMFL’s two-day annual meeting in Orlando, hosted by the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

Honoring the states’ rising stars in science, engineering and medicine is a new feature of ASEMFL’s annual meeting program, now in its fifth year.

“The goal is to recognize researchers working in the state of Florida who are on the cusp of consideration for full ASEMFL membership. Rising Stars recognition showcases these individuals’ significantly growing contributions to their disciplines,” says Angela Laird, ASEMFL member and Rising Stars committee chair. The committee includes members of the national academies at multiple Florida institutions.

“Identifying Rising Stars allows the distinguished members of ASEMFL to more actively engage with, and mentor, mid-career investigators to ensure the growth and prominence of ASEMFL and call attention to the state of Florida’s pioneering contributions to science, engineering and medicine,” Laird says.

ASEMFL’s annual meeting, with 150 attendees, featured the Rising Stars awards as well as the induction of 15 new members announced earlier this year, including two from UCF: Pegasus Professor Talat Rahman and Luminar Technologies co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jason Eichenholz ’95 ’98PhD.

At the meeting, UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright, an ASEMFL member inducted in 2022, moderated two panel discussions. The panels involved university presidents and research leaders from across the state discussing universities’ challenges and opportunities in supporting Florida’s economic development, research and innovation.

The meeting also included a keynote speech by John Anderson, president of the National Academy of Engineering, and a research poster session showcasing the work of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from across Florida, including more than 40 posters from UCF.

Members of the National Academies who live or work in Florida have automatic ASEMFL membership. ASEMFL’s new members, who are inducted annually after a rigorous selection process, are regarded as having potential to become National Academy members. National Academy membership is considered the highest career distinction in the United States in the three disciplines.

Housed at the University of Central Florida and founded in 2018, ASEMFL is a not-for-profit organization of top scholars and researchers from universities, public agencies and industries statewide who study issues in science, engineering and medicine that impact the people of Florida and provide unbiased, expert advice related to these issues.

Tom Wahl receives his award in front of screen with his picture
Tom Wahl

Wahl is being honored for his fundamental contributions to research of extreme sea level changes, compound events and assessment of coastal flood risk. His research focuses on the vulnerability of coastal societies, built infrastructure, and fragile ecosystems as he investigates changes in sea level, tides, storm surges, ocean waves, freshwater flows, and the interactions between them, as well as the associated impacts to explore possible adaptation strategies. He is a recipient of a NASA Early Career Investigator Award and CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.