Michael J. Plewa, a professor emeritus of genetics and University Scholar at Illinois, has been selected by The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi - the nation’s oldest and most selective all-discipline honor society - as the 2016-18 Phi Kappa Phi Scholar. Plewa received the award for his achievements in research, teaching, service and leadership.
A leader in environmental and molecular mutagenesis, Plewa has been recognized nationally and internationally for his research and publications. His extensive research has been continuously funded by competitive grants for more than 42 years.
His laboratory discovered biochemical pathways involved in the metabolism of environmental contaminants into mutagens by green plants and made significant discoveries in antimutagenesis and mutagenic synergy. For the past 17 years, he has developed the largest database on the toxicity, genotoxicity and the molecular mechanisms of action of drinking water disinfection byproducts.
“Dr. Plewa is a quintessential scholar and practitioner who has skillfully interwoven a career of research addressing environmental and molecular mutagenesis with special emphasis on toxicology of chemically treated (disinfected) drinking water,” says professor Harold E. Cheatham, the chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Scholar selection committee. “We are proud to honor his established career devoted to mentoring numerous cohorts of undergraduate honors and advanced graduate students.”
Over his career, Plewa has published more than 230 peer-reviewed research papers, reports and books. He has also served in a number of distinguished appointments including the director of the Institute for Environmental Studies, the president of the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society, and the president of Chapter 46 of Phi Kappa Phi. He currently is the associate director for interdisciplinary research and education integration for the U. of I.’s Safe Global Water Institute.
He was awarded visiting professorships at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Tennessee), National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (North Carolina), Kyoto University, faculty of engineering (Japan), Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague, Czech Republic) and Bradford University (United Kingdom). Plewa was named a Fulbright Senior Scholar. He most recently served as the chair for the 2015 Gordon Research Conference on Drinking Water Disinfection By-Products.
Plewa has received numerous awards for excellence in research and teaching. He received two separate Scientific and Technological Achievement Awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U. of I.’s Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research, the Broadrick-Allen Award for Excellence in Honors Teaching and the Senior Faculty Research Award from his college. Plewa was named a North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture National Teacher Fellow and received the Alumnus Achievement Award from Illinois State University.
Plewa has taught at Illinois for 42 years. Throughout his career, he has continued to work at the laboratory bench advising and learning from his undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in consort with his wife and colleague, professor Elizabeth Wagner, a Phi Kappa Phi Distinguished Member.
He holds a B.S. degree in biology from Loyola University Chicago, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biological sciences (genetics) from Illinois State University.
First presented in 1974, the Phi Kappa Phi Scholar Award recognizes excellence in teaching, research and public service. The award is given once every two years. Recipients receive a $1,000 honorarium, a life membership and recognition at the society's biennial convention.