ATLANTA – Mercer University President William D. Underwood announced at the spring Board of Trustees meeting in Atlanta this week the appointment of two new Distinguished University Professors, Dr. Adam Kiefer in the College of Liberal Arts and Dr. Ha Van Vo in the School of Engineering. They join current Distinguished University Professors Robert McDuffie in the Townsend School of Music; Dr. David P. Gushee in McAfee School of Theology; and Dr. Wallace L. Daniel in the College of Liberal Arts.
The highest academic rank available to a Mercer faculty member is Distinguished University Professor. The appointment recognizes extraordinary scholarship or creative work by faculty who have achieved national and international distinction in their fields.
“Dr. Kiefer and Dr. Vo are accomplished scholars, outstanding teachers, beloved mentors to our students, and are both doing work that is making a profound difference in people’s lives around the globe,” Underwood said. “They model every day Mercer’s commitment to integrating research and service to improve the human condition. I am pleased to appoint them as Distinguished University Professors.”
Dr. Kiefer, who earned his undergraduate degree from Allegheny College and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, joined Mercer’s Chemistry Department in 2008. He has played a lead role in Mercer On Mission initiatives in Mozambique and Ecuador that have developed and implemented methods for reducing mercury poisoning among artisanal gold miners. The work has led to collaborations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Argonne National Laboratory and with scientists at other institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
Small-scale gold mining in the developing world is the largest source of man-made atmospheric mercury contamination, which can have devastating consequences for those impacted by the contamination. Exposed children can experience IQ losses, delayed speech and other neurodevelopmental deficits. Adults suffer damage to the cerebellum, visual cortex and motor strip. Mercury contamination from these mining activities impacts millions of people globally. Dr. Kiefer’s laboratory at Mercer is one of very few in the world dedicated to developing solutions to this global health crisis. Teams of students led by Dr. Kiefer have developed analytical techniques using portable atomic absorption spectrometers and GPS units to map cities and identify the locations of excessive mercury pollution in the atmosphere. With guidance from the EPA and Argonne, Dr. Kiefer and his colleagues and students are developing programs to remediate the mercury contamination as well as systems for capturing the mercury before it is released.
“Mercer University’s commitment to engage students in service-oriented research is unique and has allowed me to develop a research program that addresses a global issue that is largely overlooked,” Dr. Kiefer said. “I am thankful for this recognition, and I look forward to continuing my work with Mercer students exploring solutions to environmental pollution.”
Dr. Vo, who is completing his 11th year at Mercer, holds engineering and medical degrees and has dedicated his career to improving the lives of amputees due to his personal experience with those in his home country of Vietnam who lost limbs to leftover ordnance from the Vietnam War. Through the University’s longest-running Mercer On Mission program, Dr. Vo and his students and faculty colleagues in the Biomedical Engineering Department developed a patented Universal Socket Prosthetic, an artificial leg that is affordable, easily fitted and extremely durable. Over the last eight years, more than 7,000 Vietnamese amputees have been fitted with the Mercer prostheses, allowing them to lead more productive and fulfilling lives while creating life-transforming opportunities for Mercer students who have participated in the program. The prime minister of Vietnam has called Mercer the most effective non-governmental organization (NGO) working in that country today. President Bill Clinton described Dr. Vo’s work “as an exemplary approach to addressing a specific global challenge.”
There are more than 100,000 amputees in Vietnam, and most of the patients who are fitted with the Mercer prostheses are laborers, so Dr. Vo knew at the outset that the devices needed to stand up to rigorous use. Traditional below-the-knee prosthetics cost between $8,000 and $10,000, while the Universal Socket Prosthetic, which received a U.S. patent in 2015, costs less than $250. In 2015, the program was issued a Certificate of Operation, which officially acknowledges the Vietnamese government’s recognition and approval of its work. The certificate allows program-related taxes and fees to be waived, provides access to banking privileges and facilitates major purchases such as a vehicle that Mercer-trained fitters use to travel among several clinics in the country, including Ben Tre, Can Tho and Phung Hiep. These developments have allowed the program to expand its capacity to fit as many as 3,200 new patients per year.
“It is a tremendous honor to be named a Distinguished University Professor, particularly since I am surrounded by so many talented and devoted colleagues. My work at Mercer really is a dream come true,” Dr. Vo said. “Ever since I left my home country of Vietnam as a young boy, I had always hoped that I could return some day to help the poor and the needy. President Underwood’s enthusiastic support of my work through Mercer On Mission has allowed me to live out that dream. Whether I am in the classroom teaching, in the lab working on new designs, or in Vietnam fitting amputees with prostheses, I am more grateful than I could ever express for each of these opportunities that Mercer University has given to me.”
“Drs. Kiefer and Vo have both established internationally recognized programs that exemplify Mercer’s emphasis on engaging in ‘Research That Reaches Out,’” said Mercer Provost Dr. D. Scott Davis. “They are most deserving of being recognized as Distinguished University Professors.”