University professor receives $250,000 award

By Samantha Boyle, Assistant Daytime News Editor

Frances “Ming” Kuo, associate professor in ACES, was awarded $250,000 as a recipient of the 23rd annual Heinz Family Foundation grants on Wednesday.

The Heinz Awards, as the grants are called, were established to honor the late Sen. John Heinz and those who have contributed to the five areas that were important to Heinz: the environment, arts and humanities, human condition, public policy, and technology, the economy and employment.

“I’m considering putting some of it toward my research,” Kuo said in an email. “And maybe a new pair of cowboy boots.”

Kuo, an environmental psychologist in the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, has received the award for her contribution to the environment.

Kuo said she was shocked and honored when she found out she won the award. 

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“Her rigorous, meticulously designed studies have demonstrated that the presence of green spaces and the opportunity to experience nature have significant, measurable impact on the psychological, physical and social aspects of human health, especially children’s cognitive development,” said an ACES press release

Some of the research Kuo has done is to examine the role of greenery on crime and aggression in urban settings, according to the press release. She has also studied whether exposure to greenery impacts the severity of ADHD symptoms.  

A $10 million tree-planting initiative by the city of Chicago was the result of her research.

Kuo said she thinks she was chosen to receive the Heinz Award because of luck, stubbornness and obsessiveness.

“Luck because I stumbled upon the effects of nature on people early on in my career and followed what the data were telling me,” Kuo said. “Stubbornness because I was willing to pursue a line of investigation when it wasn’t popular.”

As one of the first in her field, there was a lot of information to still be discovered, she said.

“Obsessiveness helps investigators think of, and rule out, alternative explanations of phenomena,” she said.

Currently, Kuo is working on a three-year project, which examines how green space relates to health expenditures among members of the Kaiser Permanente northern California health system, the press release said.

In the past, Kuo’s studies and results have guided doctors in prescribing time outside and in parks to their patients, the press release said.

“It turns out that if you stay awake at night, night after night, looking for flaws in your study and ways to fix them, you design pretty good studies,” Kuo said.

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