UH honors glaucoma researcher with overall career excellence award

One of the world's foremost glaucoma researchers, Ronald S. Harwerth, is the recipient of the 2011 Esther Farfel Award, the highest distinction bestowed upon faculty by the University of Houston (UH). Carrying with it a cash prize of $10,000, the Farfel Award is a symbol of overall career excellence. With the first award given in 1979, Harwerth is the 33rd recipient.

"I feel very honored to receive the Esther Farfel award in recognition of my career at UH," Harwerth said. "I am especially grateful to my colleagues and students for their support of my nomination."

Harwerth is internationally recognized as one of the most pre-eminent glaucoma researchers in optometry. In particular, he has tackled the difficulty of diagnosing glaucoma in its initial stages. In his landmark work, Harwerth pointed out the reason why the two basic tests for this disease do not always agree, with his findings explaining the different ways glaucoma presents itself. This significant work led to his standing among the world's premier visual scientists.

"In addition to the enormous contributions he has made to the understanding of binocular vision, amblyopia and glaucoma, he also has conducted significant research in a number of other areas," said professor Balwantray Chauhan from Dalhousie University in Canada. "A contribution in just one of these areas would constitute a significant lifetime achievement in research. The fact that Ron has furthered our understanding of knowledge in such diverse areas is a testament to his remarkable achievements."

Professor Chris A. Johnson from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said Harwerth "has a wonderful ability to explain complicated issues in a manner that is readily understandable, and his work has both basic scientific merit, as well as direct clinical application. This demonstrates that he is one of those rare individuals who is highly proficient in translational research from the laboratory to the clinic."

With a 50-year history at UH, Harwerth's contributions to the university date back to the early 1960s, receiving his B.S. in 1962 and O.D. in 1964 from UH's College of Optometry. In 1971, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston. Progressing from a clinical assistant at UH in 1963 up through the ranks to becoming a full professor in 1978, Harwerth became part of the inaugural group of UH's John and Rebecca Moores Professors in 1997. He has been chair of the UH optometry college's department of vision sciences since 2004.

"Dr. Harwerth's exemplary dedication to the highest standards of scholarly activities and his no-nonsense approach to faculty responsibilities have played a fundamental role in establishing a culture of excellence in our college," said Earl Smith, dean of the College of Optometry. "As a leader and role model within our faculty, Dr. Harwerth has contributed, more than any other individual, to the evolution of our college from basically a teaching institution into an internationally recognized center for excellence in vision research. He is absolutely committed to doing the right thing to advance science, our students and the college and is an ideal academic citizen."

In another ringing endorsement, Dennis M. Levi, one of Harwerth's first students who now is a professor and dean at the University of California-Berkeley, said, "What stands out for me is that he taught us the pure joy of research, the wonder of discovery and the dedication needed to succeed. He taught by example that research is not based on a sudden flash of inspiration, but on serious study, dedicated scholarship, hard work, insight and intuition. His superb mentorship was not just about research, but also carried over to being a good teacher, colleague and citizen."

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