Preston Larson, a research scientist in the Samuel Roberts Noble Microscopy Laboratory at the University of Oklahoma, is the 2013 recipient of the Regents’ Award for Superior Staff.
The OU Board of Regents established the award in 1988 to recognize outstanding contributions made by OU staff members whose job performance, service activities and dedication have enhanced the mission of the university. The award was presented at the Norman campus staff awards ceremony April 23 in Oklahoma Memorial Union.
In his nomination letter, Scott Russell, George Lynn Cross Research Professor of Botany and director of the Samuel Roberts Noble Electron Microscopy Laboratory, said that Larson “excels in every regard and is a great asset to the research and educational missions of the University of Oklahoma.”
Russell said that Larson has been responsible for all the scanning electron imaging on the university’s Norman campus since starting work in the lab in 2005, while continuing to conduct research and publish his own scholarly work. He also teaches two graduate courses in electron microscopy each year, including Scanning Electron Microscopy, which Russell said has been “transformed from principally a biology-oriented course to one that increasingly has chemists, biochemists, bioengineers, nanoengineers, geologist and materials scientists,” and has assumed a greater lead in acquiring grants to purchase microscopes and ancillary equipment for the lab.
He added that Larson also has become the lab’s expert in component-by-component trouble-shooting, a move that has saved the university about $1 million so far in unrenewed service contracts.” Russell said Larson often allows class members to observe how electronic problems are isolated, tested and repaired, instilling in students a clearer understanding of the equipment and the importance of properly maintaining them.
Russell added that Larson “is always busy; he gladly works through lunch and stays late to be able to meet researchers’ needs in an uncomplaining and timely fashion. He is a great asset as an OU employee and is a great team builder.”
In a letter of support, Matthew Johnson, Presidential Professor of Physics and director of the OU Center for Semiconductor Physics in Nanostructure, wrote, “I have worked with electron microscopists at academic institutions as well as internationally leading industrial labs; Preston is as good as or even better than the microscopists at these premier institutions. We are lucky to have Preston here at OU.”
In another letter of support, Andrew Elwood Madden, assistant professor of geology and geophysics, noted that OU recently acquired a nearly state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope which, while greatly benefitting the research programs across campus, would “just be an unusable, strange-looking box taking up space, perhaps accessible only to one or two individuals on campus, were it not for Larson’s technical expertise and easy-going, welcoming personality.” Madden also praised Larson for his “exceptional collegiality and professional demeanor.”
The OU research scientist also was cited for assuming a leadership role in the Oklahoma Microscopy Society, a local affiliate of two national microscopy scientific organizations. As part of the society’s educational outreach program, Larson annually participates in the annual Oklahoma Ugly Bug Contest, through which second- through sixth-grade school students from across the state can bring in an insect to be imaged using the high-tech microscopes. Winning schools receive an optical dissecting microscope. In 2007, the contest received national attention as part of a Nature documentary, “The Beauty of Ugly,” that aired on PBS in the United States and the BBC in the United Kingdom.