Star-studded celebration: MatSE invests four faculty
URBANA, Ill. — MatSE invested four faculty, including Paul Braun, David Cahill, Charles Schroeder and Dallas Trinkle, at last week’s Engineering Investiture Ceremony held at the Beckman Institute.
Honoring these top-notch faculty for their academic achievements were Rashid Bashir, The Grainger College of Engineering dean; Lisa Monda-Amaya, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s interim vice provost for undergraduate education; and Nancy Sottos, MatSE’s department head, Swanlund Endowed Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor.
For Bashir, this investiture was all the more special as it was the first Engineering Investiture Ceremony held in two years given the pandemic.
“Coming back and celebrating the accomplishments of our colleagues is just so wonderful,” Bashir said. “This is certainly one of the best parts of all of our jobs.”
Monda-Amaya couldn’t agree more, acknowledging scholarship is among the “most important things” she does in her role.
“Endowed professorships are one of the highest honors the university confers,” Monda-Amaya said. “Our faculty are the intellectual heart of our institution and through the investitures, we recognize their innovation, their contributions and express our gratitude for their impact.”
The generosity of the Grainger Foundation, the James Economy family and the Ivan Racheff Foundation’s endowments made this year’s investitures possible.
“Their contributions are an enduring tribute to families, to their own families, to the institution and to our faculty,” Monda-Amaya said. “It is an honor that we don’t take lightly.”
Monda-Amaya considers the endowed professorships to be the university’s capacity to play a “transformational role” in society.
“These gifts are direct investments in people, in ideas and in human potential. They open new avenues of exploration and debate, and they serve as strategic tools for attracting and retaining top scholars,” Monda-Amaya said. “It is outstanding individuals, like Paul Braun, David Cahill, Charles Schroeder and Dallas Trinkle, who are leading us forward.”
Bashir bestowed each of the invested faculty medallions recognizing their innumerable academic achievements.
Colleagues of each of the invested faculty also spoke on behalf of their academic achievements. Following the congratulatory speeches and receipt of their medallions, each invested faculty member also spoke thanking those who helped them reach this milestone.
Let’s hear from the invested faculty and their colleagues.
Paul Braun has been invested as the Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering. He is a professor at MatSE and the director of the Materials Research Laboratory.
Braun’s colleague Cahill, who was also invested as the Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering, highlighted Braun’s achievements and coined him as the department’s “franchise player.”
“A franchise player is the person on the team who’s exceptionally skilled, really the best player on the team, someone that a team can build on to be even more successful in the future, and a person who represents the team’s greatness in the eyes of the public,” Cahill said.
Cahill compared Braun to LeBron James, a Los Angeles professional basketball player.
“Paul checks all the boxes of the franchise player in his many contributions as a world-class scholar, an inspiring leader from the Materials Research Laboratory,” Cahill said. “His tireless contributions as a generous collaborator (have impacted) many of us who are gathered here in this room.”
For Braun, the evening was an “exceptional honor” as he thanked his colleagues, family, and university donors and administrators, but he especially wanted to give gratitude to MatSE’s students.
“We are here because of the students and the postdocs — they’re why we exist as a university. (It’s) both an honor to work with them and see their spark and enthusiasm,” Braun said. “So hopefully, in some way, I’m able to use this award to continue to train the next generation — hopefully do some great things, too — but remembering the reason that we exist as an institution of higher learning.”
David Cahill was also invested as the Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering. He is a professor at MatSE and the co-director of the IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator Institute.
Braun and Cahill tag-teamed one another with Braun highlighting his peer’s academic career. Braun shared that Cahill is the “example” of the professor, scholar and teacher that all academics aspire.
For Braun, Cahill is a wealth of knowledge. Braun even admits having to jot lots of notes and Google numerous terms following their meetings.
“You just realize that you’re talking with someone who knows everything. If he doesn’t know everything he knows almost everything,” Braun said. “There are even physical phenomena that include his name with (Albert) Einstein.”
It’s that standard of excellence that Braun truly admires about Cahill as he considers him his role model.
“We are all exceptionally fortunate to have the chance to interactive with David and learn and hopefully have a little bit of his brilliance rub off on the rest of us,” Braun said.
Cahill was truly honored to receive such recognition from the university he’s called home for more than 30 years.
“(I’m) really grateful for the culture of this institution, The Grainger College of Engineering,” Cahill said. “I’m grateful for the support of all the academic leaders, the deans, directors, department heads.”
He added that those leaders, combined with the generous donation from the Grainger Foundation to fund his distinguished chair position, “enable” his successful academic career.
“Those funds enable researchers to do something special,” Cahill said. “I want to be able to use those funds to do something sort of extra creative, you know, a little bit outside the box.”
He also thanked the more than 100 students he’s advised.
“(They’re) really an extraordinary group of people,” Cahill said. “(They) have really taken a leap into the unknown and made things happen.”
Charles Schroeder has been invested as the James Economy Professor in Materials Science and Engineering. He is a professor at MatSE and the Ray and Beverly Mentzer Faculty Scholar at ChBE.
Sottos proudly recognized Schroeder’s academic achievements. When it comes to collaboration, Sottos said Schroeder is a “trailblazer” as he also holds appointments in the university’s bioengineering, chemistry, and chemical and biomolecular engineering departments.
“Charles’ work in the area of soft materials truly embodies the interdisciplinary spirit of material science,” Sottos said. “Our friend and colleague Jeff Moore (director of the Beckman Institute) would certainly call Charles a power collaborator.”
For Sottos, Schroeder’s efforts at Illinois are nothing short of extraordinary, and she considers him to be an “impactful” teacher, mentor and colleague.
Schroeder was truly honored to be recognized and in return, he thanked his family and all who have helped him along his academic journey.
“Science is not done in a vacuum, and accomplishments such as these are really only due to the incredible amount of support that has been given to me by so many people in my life,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder paid tribute to his father who was an engineer at Bell Labs for many years and a huge source of inspiration for him.
“He worked on optical fiber coatings and developed new materials and new processes to optimize total internal reflection in fiber coatings,” Schroeder said. “He had a three-story furnace in his lab, so I used to go and visit that during open house visits at Bell Labs. I would just be fascinated — that you could go to work and this was your job. You could go in and do these experiments on a daily basis.”
He also gave a tip of the hat to his research group.
“Without you none of this would be possible,” Schroeder said. “Every day your creativity, your enthusiasm, your hard work and your brilliance (are) really pushing forward our work to new and fascinating directions. (You) really make all the difference for me.”
Dallas Trinkle has been invested as the Ivan Racheff Professor in Materials Science and Engineering. He is the associate head and a professor at MatSE.
Pascal Bellon, MatSE’s Donald W. Hamer Professor, spoke on behalf of Trinkle’s academic success. He spoke of not only his peer relationship with Dallas but also of his friendship with him, sharing that the two enjoy going on long bike rides together.
“He has developed a vibrant and highly collaborative theoretical and computational research program on metallic alloys at Illinois,” Bellon said. “He’s regarded in high esteem from his community for his rigorous and very creative works.”
Bellon shared that Trinkle is a “multifaceted scientist and individual” and as such, he wanted to illustrate his friend’s creativity by borrowing from the powers of 10.
“Let’s start with one. Well, one is Dallas because Dallas is so unique,” Bellon joked.
He shared how Dallas convinced 10 MatSE faculty to use computational modules in their courses. One hundred is the number of his invited speaking topics. One thousand is the number of citations he’s had at the U of I.
Jumping to 100,000 — that’s the number of miles that Dallas will have ridden on his bike by that time that he retires. One million is the median CPU cycles that it typically takes Dallas to complete one calculation.
Jokes aside, Bellon shared how much he enjoys having someone as vibrant as Trinkle in the department.
“Dallas is a wonderful, fun and engaging friend and colleague to many,” Bellon said. “And to quote Dallas’ wife, Devon, I heard you say one time that there is not a dull moment with Dallas.”
Trinkle shared that he was truly humbled by such recognition. He considers himself very “lucky” to work with his MatSE peers.
“I’ve had fantastic colleagues and collaborators throughout the department, to work with great friends and postdocs, and (to) have made so many new friends,” Trinkle said.
His journey to academic success began with his parents who encouraged Trinkle’s interest in math, science and computers.
That interest only grew when he went to college. When it came to grad school, Trinkle admits he was unsure what his next steps would be and he wanted to continue figuring that out on the university trek. He went on to earn his doctoral degree in physics from The Ohio State University.
Trinkle’s physics doctoral advisor John Wilkins, who was a U of I alumnus, was a huge source of inspiration for him.
“He taught me so much about science and life, and I still hear his voice a lot in the back of my head from time to time,” Trinkle said.
In fact, Bellon acknowledged Wilkins’ mentorship to Trinkle in his tribute to the invested professor.
“When asked about his main accomplishments in physics, professor Wilkins responded (by saying) ‘my students and my postdocs,’” Bellon said. “I hope that you will see in these short remarks why the late professor Wilkins would be even more proud of Dallas today.”
Like Wilkins, Trinkle followed suit, positioning the spotlight’s beam from him to his students.
“The students and postdocs have been absolutely instrumental for so much of my group’s work — not just doing it but also even guiding the direction,” Trinkle said. “I’m absolutely proud of everything that they’ve done, what they’ve done and what they’re doing now. And of course, (they’re) basically why I can say it’s why I’m here today.”
Congratulations to each of the invested faculty and all of those who continue attributing to their success with great support.
Leaving a Legacy
The generosity of the Grainger Foundation, the James Economy family and the Ivan Racheff Foundation's endowments made this year's MatSE investitures possible. Learn more about the societal impact of these donors' gifts.
Grainger Distinguished Chairs in Engineering are madepossible by the Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative (GEBI), the result of a $100 million investment in The Grainger College of Engineering by The Grainger Foundation.
The GEBI supports multi and inter-disciplinary study and provides a springboard for groundbreaking projects by allowing the college to invest in strategic priorities including, faculty chairs and named professorships, undergraduate scholarships, facilities and infrastructure, and research support.
Grainger Distinguished Chair appointments have helped the college to recruit and retain world-class faculty and contribute to our elite science and engineering program.
The James Economy Professorship in Materials Science and Engineering was established in honor of James Economy and was created to support the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) recruitment efforts. It aims to support established researchers dedicated to the development of new materials for societal purposes.
For nearly 25 years, Economy inspired generations of University of Illinois materials scientists and engineers with his teaching and leadership. He developed and taught curriculum on materials and polymer synthesis for undergraduate and graduate students, respectively.
In 1989, he became MatSE’s first department head, leading faculty and staff following a merger of the Ceramic Engineering and the Metallurgical and Mining Engineering departments. Under his leadership, the MatSE department became one of the top three materials science and engineering programs in the nation.
Economy also helped found two companies, ATSP (Aromatic Thermosetting coPolyesters) Innovations in 2010 and Serionix in 2011— both born out of the U of I’s Research Park. ATSP Innovations develops, produces and commercializes new resins, and Serionix produces high-performance filtration materials.
The Ivan Racheff Professorship in Environmental Engineering was established through an estate gift. Racheff left $5.5 million — more than 70% of his estate — to the University of Illinois.
Racheff earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1917 and maintained a lifelong interest in the environment and in study and research of the effect of pollution and pollutant on the environment. After graduation Racheff became a metallurgist apprentice at Illinois Steel Company of Chicago.
He later founded the Racheff Metallurgical Laboratory as well as a consulting practice for the steel industry. He purchased Knoxville Iron works in 1946 and remained the president until 1968 when the company was sold.
Leave Your Mark
Your gift to the Materials Science and Engineering Priority Fund provides vital, unrestricted support that allows MatSE at Illinois to strategically invest in critical initiatives that will transform the student experience, drive world-changing research, and address social justice in engineering education and research.