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UB scientist receives White House award

Meredith Kulwicki/University at Buffalo

A University at Buffalo scientist was bestowed Thursday with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award is the country’s highest honor for early-career researchers in science and technology.

Blair Johnson, PhD, is an exercise physiologist and assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions. His research focuses on understanding the effects of external stress—like water immersion—on the human body.

“We’re looking at how different environmental stressors influence physiology or things like your heart rate and ventilation and blood flow to tissues,” Johnson said, speaking in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “We’re looking at those responses that are like the fight or flight response.”

Johnson was recognized Thursday along with hundreds of scientists who represent the 2015, 2016 and 2017 award recipients at a ceremony at the Daughters of the American Revolution national headquarters. The building is just blocks from the White House, where the Trump administration has been skeptical of some scientific research, particularly work related to climate change.

But Johnson said the award has nothing to with politics.

“Anytime you’re recognized by the White House, regardless of who’s running the show, it’s a really special award,” he said. “It means a lot regardless of what the administration’s views are.”

PECASE recipients are nominated by a federal agency. Johnson was nominated by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), within the Department of Defense, for his participation in UB studies funded by ONR. One of those studies focused on oxygen toxicity, a potentially lethal condition that can occur at deep depths and high pressure, in U.S. Navy divers.

“Blair is an exceptional scientist who is making important contributions to our understanding of breathing control,” said Dave Hostler, chair of UB’s Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. “PECASE is the ultimate early-career award as this elite group is considered to be the best of the best.”

Johnson’s research is housed within UB’s Center for Research and Education in Special Environments, and he said he has “loved the transition to Buffalo” from The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Johnson also shared that he took this opportunity to visit the nation’s capital with his family, and that he was looking forward to meeting some of his fellow honorees.

“It should be a lot of fun to see what all these other scientists are doing and [to] at least try to understand what they do based on the titles of their research.”

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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