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Swanlund Chairs named

Matt Hanley, News Bureau
(217) 244-0470;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Five University of Illinois professors have been chosen as Swanlund Chairs, the highest endowed title that can be awarded to a UI professor.

The endowed appointments, made possible by a gift from alumna Maybelle Leland Swanlund, are given to people who have made outstanding contributions in their fields. 

Selected as the newest Swanlund Chairs are Leon Dash, professor of journalism and of Afro-American studies; Laura Greene, professor of physics; Ian Hobson, professor of music; Benita Katzenellenbogen, professor of physiology and of cell and structural biology; and Larry Smarr, professor of astronomy and of physics and the director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Dash, who began his 34-year career at the Washington Post, working first as a copy boy and then as a general assignment reporter, joined the UI faculty in 1998.  In 1995, he won the Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism for his series on living in poverty in Washington, D.C.  Dash is the pioneer of “immersion journalism,” which involves the reporter living among the subjects of the story and conducting interviews over a number of years.  A panel of professional journalists named his series one of the top 100 examples of reporting in the 20th century.  Dash earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Howard University.

Ron Yates, the head of the journalism department, said Dash’s appointment recognizes not only his excellence in serving the journalism and Afro-American studies departments, but also the revolutionary journalism he did while with the Post.

“The incredible and excellent work he’s done before he got to the university, and continues to do at the university, make him an excellent choice,” Yates said.

Greene, who joined the UI faculty in 1992, has made “profound and lasting contributions to condensed matter physics and the physics of novel materials, particularly superconductors,” according to David Campbell, the head of the UI physics department.

“That she will continue her meteoric rise is indicated by her recent discovery of broken time-reversal symmetry in superconducting tunnel junctions – her most notable single research contribution to date,” Campbell said.  This discovery challenged the Nobel Prize-winning theory that there is a left-right symmetry to particle motion. 

Greene is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a fellow of the American Physical Society.  She received the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award from the APS and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award.

Greene received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s, both in physics, from Ohio State University.  She also received a master’s in experimental physics and a doctorate in physics, both from Cornell University.

Katzenellenbogen, a UI faculty member since 1971, has done award-winning research on how certain hormones and chemical signaling agents in cells affect the growth of cancerous tissues.  While her work is directed at revealing fundamental biological mechanisms, she is equally interested in applying research discoveries to practical problems.  Her laboratory is heavily involved in researching the development of anti-estrogen and tissue-specific estrogens for breast-cancer treatment and menopausal hormone replacement.  She has received a MERIT Award from the National Cancer Institute, which provides long-term funding to select scientists whose research is considered of exceptional quality and importance.

“She is truly an outstanding scientist who has, over many years, established a reputation for international prestige,” said Philip Best, the head of the department of molecular and integrative physiology.  “[She has a] very long history of very significant contributions not only to science, but to the scientific community.”

Katzenellenbogen, a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, received a bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York, and a master’s and a doctorate, both from Harvard University.  She did postdoctoral work at the UI.

Hobson, a UI professor of music since 1975, was the youngest person to receive recital diplomas in piano and organ from the Royal Academy of Music, at the ages of 18 and 19 respectively.  Since then, he has built an international reputation for his ability to master a wide repertoire and memorize complete cycles of obscure works that he has brought or restored to the attention of the musical public, according to nominator James C. Scott, the director of the UI School of Music.

Hobson also has extended his musical domain by developing an international reputation as a conductor.  With his own Sinfonia da Camera and with orchestras around the world, he has brought his two “instruments” together for important appearances as pianist and conductor, Scott said.

“It is as a pianist, though, that Ian Hobson has made his greater mark on the profession. His ability to play virtually anything written for piano has given him an edge in Rachmaninov’s works and the notoriously difficult transcriptions of Godowsky, which very few pianists ever attempt,” Scott said.

Hobson received a bachelor’s degree from Cambridge University, and two master’s degrees and a doctorate from Yale University.

Smarr, a member of the UI faculty since 1979 and also the director of the National Computational Science Alliance, has been a leader in the creation of a national information infrastructure to support academic research, governmental functions and industrial competitiveness.

With the help of Professor Ken Wilson of Cornell University, Smarr lobbied the National Science Foundation to make a massive investment in supercomputing.  According to William Schowalter, dean of the UI College of Engineering, Smarr is one of the few people who had the foresight to understand the important role computers would play in people’s lives.

“Would this revolution have occurred without Larry Smarr?” Schowalter wrote in his nominating letter.  “The answer is probably yes, but it would have happened in a less organized and slower way, and it might not have happened with its center so convincingly fixed in the United States.”

Smarr earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri, a master’s at Stanford University and a doctorate from the University of Texas, and conducted postdoctoral work at Princeton, Yale and Cambridge universities. 

The first recipient of a Swanlund Chair was English professor Richard Powers, an award-winning novelist who was selected in 1996.  Other faculty members who hold Swanlund Chairs are Nina Baym, English; May Berenbaum, entomology; William T. Greenough, psychology, psychiatry and cell and structural biology; Karl Hess, electrical and computer engineering; Frederick E. Hoxie, history; John Katzenellenbogen, chemistry; Anand Pillay, mathematics; Klaus Shulten, physics; and Daniel J. Sullivan, theater.

Swanlund, who died in 1993, provided the $12 million dollar endowment for at least 10 Swanlund chairs to attract leaders in the arts and sciences to the university or recognize current faculty members who have made outstanding contributions in their field.   The awards are for five years and then they are up for renewal by the university.  Swanlund, who received a degree in library studies in 1932 from the UI, donated $2.5 million for the construction of the Lester H. Swanlund Administration Building, named after her late husband, and $3.5 million for the renovation of Harker Hall, which houses the UI Foundation.