Gov. Henry McMaster is honoring Jessica Larsen of Clemson University with an award that recognizes the research she is conducting to better understand and treat diseases of the central nervous system.
Larsen, a Dean’s Assistant Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has won the 2022 Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research.
“It’s exciting, almost validating in a way,” she said. “I’ve got five Ph.D. students and 25 undergraduates, and it feels good to be recognized for all the work we’re putting in.”
Larsen and her students conduct research in the field of polymeric nanotechnology. They work to develop materials that respond to diseases in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.
The research can lead to new materials to better diagnose disease, deliver drugs and regenerate tissue, she said.
The group has a special focus on GM1 gangliosidosis, an inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disorder affects 1 in 100,000 to 200,000 newborns, Larsen said.
David Bruce, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Clemson, said the award underscores that Larsen is an exceptionally talented, hard-working researcher and educator.
“Dr. Larsen is conducting innovative research that shows promise for easing suffering and saving lives,” he said. “Her work also provides opportunities for students to work on the cutting-edge of health innovation. She is highly deserving of this award.”
Larsen joined Clemson in 2017 after receiving a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Auburn University.
“When I visited Clemson, I saw the collegiality of the people in my department, and this whole Clemson family feel was very true inside of this building,” she said in Earle Hall, the department’s current home.
Larsen has racked up several honors in recent years, including the Outstanding Woman Award in the faculty category from the Clemson University Commission on Women. She received funding for her GM1 gangliosidosis research through a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.
Larsen said her favorite part of being on the Clemson faculty is the opportunity to advise top-notch students, who she has found to be inquisitive, excited and passionate. A bulletin board in her office is covered in hand-written thank-you notes from students.
“Those are the moments that really get me– when they send me these emails or letters letting me know the impact that I’ve made on their lives,” Larsen said. “I have to remind them that they give themselves the opportunity. I just provided the space.”
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said Larsen’s award from the governor is well-deserved.
“Dr. Larsen is expanding knowledge in the field of health innovation, helping create an engineering workforce of the future and helping raise Clemson’s national and international profile,” Gramopadhye said. “I offer her my wholehearted congratulations on this honor.”