Professional News

Outstanding UK faculty receive 2023 Kirwan Prize, Sturgill Award

Martha L. Peterson, winner of Sturgill Award and Youling Larry Xiong, winner of Kirwan Memorial Prize
Martha L. Peterson, winner of the Sturgill Award, and Youling Larry Xiong, winner of the Kirwan Memorial Prize. Photos by Morris Grubbs and Arden Barnes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 4, 2022) — Two University of Kentucky faculty members are recipients of The Graduate School’s two distinguished annual awards for exemplary research and outstanding contributions to graduate student mentoring and education.

The 2023 recipient of the Albert D. and Elizabeth H. Kirwan Memorial Prize is Youling Larry Xiong, Ph.D., a University Research Professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The prize is bestowed each year to a faculty member in recognition of their outstanding contributions to original research or scholarship, with an emphasis on work produced four years prior to the award.

The 2023 recipient of the William B. Sturgill Award is Martha L. Peterson, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics in the College of Medicine. The honor is presented each year to a graduate faculty member who has provided outstanding contributions to graduate education at UK.

Xiong and Peterson were recognized at UK’s annual Faculty Awards Ceremony on April 26.

Youling Larry Xiong — 2023 Albert D. and Elizabeth H. Kirwan Memorial Prize recipient

Professor Xiong’s most recent research focuses on plant-based meat alternatives, specifically structural modifications to proteins by plant polyphenols and enzymes as well as ultrasound treatment. His nominator points out that “his forward-thinking research is in response to worldwide interest in food security, sustainable agriculture, and human health” and that “his research lab is one of the most sought-after spaces by international scientists for advanced studies on food proteins.” His food science and nutrition research program has produced 318 peer-reviewed original articles, including 53 in the last four years. Nearly all of his publication venues have been first-tier high impact factor journals in the field.

One of Xiong’s most recent honors is being named a Fellow of the American Meat Science Association, which also honored him with a distinguished service award and an international lectureship award. Among his many earlier honors is the Bertebos Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy, referred to by Swedish scientists as the “Nobel Prize of Agriculture.”  

Xiong’s colleagues point to the high quality of his graduate training program, demonstrated particularly by his students’ prolific publications and winning national and university-level awards. In the last three years, two of his students’ dissertation research publications were awarded the “Most Cited Paper Award” by the Journal of Food Science.

Martha L. Peterson — 2023 William B. Sturgill Award recipient

For over 30 years, Peterson has demonstrated a deep dedication and commitment to research, teaching, mentorship and service in various roles at UK. In the words of one of her colleagues, “Her service to graduate education at UK has been that — true service.” He adds that her recent appointment to acting dean of the Graduate School was “not a role she sought, but a role she was willing to fill for the good of the institution and its graduate educational mission.” Other colleagues pointed out that as acting dean, Peterson has improved communication, stabilized operations, updated and clarified policies, led reviews and benchmarking efforts to establish a minimum graduate assistant stipend, and worked closely with UK administration to assure that mandatory fees for all graduate assistants would be covered by the university. 

Peterson’s contributions as a teacher and research mentor have been just as critical and impactful. Her graduate students point to the humanity she brings to her science classrooms and labs. One student commended her for leading her classes with “honesty and openness,” reminding him and his classmates that accomplished scientists need not know everything and admired the way she would “simply express that she wasn’t sure about a certain topic when we had group discussions.” She taught us, he says, to “keep working, keep going, and keep trying to satiate our curiosity.”

Another student commented that “Even though I was her student for only a semester, the values and skills she taught have transferred to my success not only in the classroom but in my everyday life as a professional.” A third student shared a brief personal story that reminds us all that a mentor’s small acts can have large effects: “In the last year of my Ph.D.,” the student writes, “I was working on putting together pieces of DNA sequencing data and finding it absolutely daunting to compile my sequences into a detailed map of where my two newly discovered long non-coding RNAs were located with regard to their coding RNA counterparts. To help me better understand how to map these sequences, Dr. Peterson took it upon herself to carefully hand draw a map for me. I still have this drawing as a keepsake, and as a result of her mentorship, I have adopted this detail-oriented mentality and hope to pass it along to my future mentees.”


The Albert D. and Elizabeth H. Kirwan Memorial Prize is given annually to a faculty member in recognition of outstanding contributions to original research or scholarship, with an emphasis on work produced four years prior to the award. Established in 1995, this award recognizes its namesakes' collaborative research efforts and passion to foster an environment at UK that promotes the highest quality research and scholarship.

Albert "Ab" Kirwan was head football coach at UK from 1938 to 1944 and was a distinguished faculty member and scholar in the field of Southern history. He later served as dean of The Graduate School and as the seventh president of the university.

Elizabeth Kirwan was awarded the Sullivan Medallion in 1973 for her service to UK and the Lexington community. She held executive roles across more than 10 organizations, including president of the UK Woman’s Club and chairwoman of the Lexington Parks and Recreation Board.

The Kirwan Memorial Prize was established in 1995 and recognizes its namesakes' collaborative research efforts, as well as Albert Kirwan's endeavors in creating an environment at UK that promotes high quality research and scholarship.

Established in 1975, the Sturgill Award is named in honor of alumnus William B. Sturgill, who contributed to higher education through organizing and serving as president of the Hazard Independent College Foundation, in addition to working with legislators to develop the community college system across the Commonwealth.

Sturgill, who died in 2014, was born in Lackey, Kentucky, and graduated from UK in 1946. He was involved in a variety of businesses, including executive and owner of several coal operations, East Kentucky Investment Company, Fourth Street and Gentry Tobacco Warehouses and the Hartland Development Project. Sturgill served as both secretary of energy and secretary of agriculture under Gov. John Y. Brown Jr.  He served 18 years on UK's Board of Trustees, including serving as chair for 10 years. The Sturgill Development Building is named in his honor.

For more information about the awards, visit

The mission of The Graduate School is to promote excellence at all levels of graduate education at the University of Kentucky. By encouraging and supporting the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in an environment of diversity and interdisciplinary cooperation, The Graduate School aides graduate programs in preparing students as future leaders of the global society in research, teaching, applied science, creative production, policy making and public service.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.