College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota
College of Science and Engineering

Three College of Science and Engineering faculty named Distinguished McKnight Professors

Distinguished McKnight Professors 


Rhonda Zurn, College of Science and Engineering,, (612) 626-7959

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (04/11/2011) - Three College of Science and Engineering faculty members are among four Universitywide recipients of the 2011 Distinguished McKnight Professorship, a program designed to recognize and reward the University's most outstanding mid-career faculty. 

The winners were chosen for the level of distinction and prestige that their scholarly work brings to the University; the merit of their achievements and the potential for greater attainment in the field; the dimension of their national or international reputation, including leadership efforts in interdisciplinary or collaborative initiatives; the extent to which their career has flourished at Minnesota and their work and reputation are identified with Minnesota; the quality of their teaching and advising; and their contributions to the wider community. Each recipient will receive a research grant of approximately $100,000 to be used over five years.

The new Distinguished McKnight Professors are:

Professor Saif Benjaafar (mechanical engineering)

An internationally renowned leader in supply chain management, Professor Benjaafar has published groundbreaking research on how complex and global supply chains should be designed and managed. His research has been recognized by numerous honors, including best paper awards from IIE, MSOM, MHI, and IEEE. Benjaafar has earned the George Taylor Distinguished Teaching Award and serves as a fellow of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. As a visiting professor at institutions in France, Belgium, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore, his research truly spans the globe. Under professor Benjaafar’s leadership, the Industrial Engineering program now touts a national ranking, is led by several highly regarded faculty members, and has seen an increase in student enrollment and research funding.

Professor Mark D. Distefano (chemistry)

As a world leader in the chemistry of proteins, Professor Distefano has effectively used organic chemistry to solve biological problems including the study of enzymes that act as isoprenoids and have key applications in cancer research and protein therapeutics. His research aims to develop protein cavities for biocatalysis that have applications for environmentally friendly chemical synthesis. His work has been published in top journals and his papers have been cited nearly 2,000 times by his peers. Distefano was the recipient of an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award as well as an NSF CAREER Award. His dedication to teaching and mentoring students earned him the George Taylor Award for Distinguished Teaching and a Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award.

Professor Marc M. Hirschmann (geology and geophysics)

Professor Hirschmann’s research has had a profound and lasting impact on the study of planetary sciences, and understanding the interiors of the Earth and other planets. He studies mantle melting that leads to planetary volcanism, its relationship to tectonic processes that create and destroy planetary crusts, and deep Earth volatile cycles. He has been awarded an NSF CAREER Award as well as a University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship. As a result of his collaborative research and prestigious reputation, the Department of Geology and Geophysics has experienced an increase in enrollment of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

The fourth University of Minnesota recipient of the 2011 Distinguished MccKnight Professorship is Deniz Ones (psychology) in the College of Liberal Arts.

On July 1, 2010 the Institute of Technology changed its name to the College of Science and Engineering.