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Ohio State University Honors Three Researchers

Tom Borgerding
OSU professors Ulrich Heinz, James Cowan, and Julia F. Andrews receive honors from Board of Trustees

Ohio State University is a $6-billion enterprise with more than 64,000 students. Much of its budget is driven by research grants. While some of the research is esoteric, some of the professors are academic heavyweights. 

Three professors walked into the OSU Board of Trustees meeting room.
(Slight Applause)
The chemist, the art historian,  and the theoretical physicist were honored for their decades of research and writings.

"My research lies in this field of bio-inorganic chemistry. The study of metals in biology," says James Cowan. Professor Cowan says people need metals, and they need them in just the right amounts.

"If you pick up a food item in your local supermarket and you look at the nutritional label on the back, you're going to see listings of percentage daily requirements of copper, and iron, manganese, and calcium and so on," says Cowan. "And these are the mineral ions, some of them trace elements,  that are essential for the correct functioning of every cell in our bodies and how cells communicate."   

Cowan adds when the body's bio-chemical reactions don't work right it gives way to disease.

"And so the biological chemistry of metals is intimately connected to health and well-being."

Cowan says his research seeks to understand the molecular basis of disease through the study of metals function in the human body.  

Art historian Julia F. Andrews delved into Chinese art during her academic career at Ohio State,  especially during what's known as the post-Mao period when Chinese leaders sought to dismantle policies of Mao Zedong, policies  that brought violent class struggles in China during the mid sixties and early 1970s.

"When studying in Beijing in 1980, I wondered about how chinese artists came to paint the bombastic political propaganda they had made and why his legacy remained so strong despite the market reforms and international orientation of the post Mao era," says Andrews.

Later, professor Andrews organized a show of post-Mao Chinese art in Columbus and curated part of a Guggenheim exhibit on 5,000 years of Chinese art.

"Our selections yielded the first historically organized display of modern Chinese art ever held in the West. Such a comprehensive show, selected on the quality and significance of the art, not on political criteria, had never been held in China," says Andrews.  

Andrews says almost overnight universities around the English speaking world began offering courses on modern Chinese art.  

While professor Andrews studied Chinese art,  professor Ulrich Heinz and his collaborators were busy smashing atoms in so-called super-colliders. Looking for clues to the origin of the universe.

"I am a theoretical physicist interested in quark gluon plasma, this is the matter that filled the universe at its beginning, just after the Big Bang," says Heinz.

He said Quark Gluon Plasma.

"It exists only at temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the center of the sun."    

Heinz reports what he calls 'fantastic results' from his atom smashing experiments and research on the obscure plasma.

"It flows more easily with less viscosity than any other fluid ever observed by man, we therefore call it the perfect liquid," says Heinz.

Professor Heinz' works has been cited thousands of times in academic journals. But, he  concluded his remarks with a more mundane question.

"Why should taxpayers put so much money in these experiments?" He asked.

Heinz answered with a paraphrase from 19th century British scientist Michael Faraday who was asked by his Prime Minister about potential uses of Faraday's groundbreaking work on electricity.   

"Who reportedly said, I have no idea your honor but someday I am sure you will tax it, (laughter) and of course he was right."

Professors Heinz, Andrews, and Cowan were commended for their work at Ohio State.  They were designated distinguished professors.