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College of Engineering honors 12 for outstanding teaching, research

Mare Payne, News Bureau
(217) 333-0567;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Eleven faculty members and one academic professional in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were honored April 19 at the 38th annual Engineering Awards Convocation for their excellence in research and teaching.

The winner of the Tau Beta Pi Daniel C. Drucker Eminent Faculty Award, which recognizes faculty members who have received national or international acclaim for dedication to academic excellence through teaching and research and have made exemplary contributions to the understanding of their fields:
Gert Ehrlich, a professor of materials science and engineering, was one of the founders of the field of surface science in the 1950s. The results of his work have changed forever the thinking and direction of everyone who deals with thin-film physics on the atomic scale. Essentially everything scientists know regarding how adatoms move on surfaces to interact with steps and islands – including the famous Ehrlich-Schwoebel barrier – derives from his work. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Ehrlich also is a University Scholar and a fellow of the American Physical Society, American Vacuum Society and the New York Academy of Sciences.

The winner of the Stanley H. Pierce Award for developing student-faculty cooperation:

orange dot Angus Rockett, a professor of materials science and engineering, is the chief undergraduate adviser in his department. His open and honest manner make it easy for students to connect with him, and he encourages students to stay well balanced and to pursue interests and hobbies outside of engineering. He has taken the initiative to run individual "graduation checks" on every undergraduate every semester to make sure that each student is enrolled in the correct sequence of courses. Rockett often serves as a summer adviser to incoming freshmen in the College of Engineering, allowing Rockett to advise students and assure that they begin their program with the right courses and at the right level of difficulty.

The winner of the College of Engineering Teaching Excellence Award, chosen by departmental nomination:
orange dot Jason Zych, a lecturer in computer science, teaches two computer science courses that form the bedrock of the upper-level software course work for majors in computer science and computer engineering. He has the rare ability to explain often complicated and abstruse concepts in language his students can understand, and to do so with a zeal that is infectious without being gimmicky. Simultaneously teaching these two large, complex classes requires the ability to organize the content and form of the class, give scintillating lectures, and engender sufficient esprit de corps among the teaching assistants to meld them into a single, focused unit. Zych’s grasp of the material, his passion for teaching and his accessibility make him uniquely qualified. Zych won one of seven campuswide instructional awards this year.

The winner of the Everitt Award for Teaching Excellence, chosen by undergraduates:
orange dot Kenneth S. Schweizer, a professor of materials science and engineering, of chemistry, and of chemical engineering, excels at taking difficult interdisciplinary topics and explaining them in a clear and straightforward way so that everyone can understand. In addition, he reveals the scientific process behind the theories discussed in class. This approach give students not just an understanding of the material but also a sense that science is an ongoing process and that theories are constantly being developed and refined.

The winners of the Xerox Awards for Faculty Research (associate professors):
orange dot Lutgarde Raskin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, is a leader in the application of molecular biology techniques to solve environmental engineering problems. She has earned an international reputation for her research on water quality control process, focusing on biological treatment of municipal, agricultural and
food-processing waste streams and drinking water.

orange dot Physics professor Mats Selen is a highly respected high-energy physics experimentalist – a leader in designing and implementing the ultra-fast electronics required to distinguish and extract, in real time, the interesting physics events produced by the huge particle detectors used in the field. Selen has mastery of the full range of experimental techniques used in high-energy particle experiments to measure the properties of quarks and leptons – in particular, the charmed and bottom quarks of the tau lepton.

orange dot Andrew Webb, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, is a leading magnetic resonance imaging scientist whose work already is having enormous impact. The major focus of his research has been the design of miniature receivers for magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy. This innovation allows high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance measurement of far smaller quantities of material than was previously possible. Using these miniature microcoil detectors, biochemical information has been acquired for the first time from intact single neurons. In addition, these microcoil detectors have major applications in drug discovery within the pharmaceutical industry.

The winners of the Xerox Awards for Faculty Research (assistant professors):

orange dot Narayana Aluru, a professor of general engineering, has made major contributions to the fields of MEMS, microfluidics and nanosystems since joining the faculty in 1998. He received an NSF CAREER award in 1999, an NCSA faculty fellowship and a 2001 distinguished young author award from the international journal Computer Modeling in Engineering and Sciences.

orange dot Stephen Boppart, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and resident physician in the College of Medicine, has established a highly interdisciplinary career in research and teaching of engineering, medicine and biology. While conducting predoctoral and postdoctoral research, he completed his medical training. The current focus of his research is creating optical technologies with such high resolution that removing tissue for a diagnosis would no longer be necessary, resulting in an "optical biopsy." Boppart also is the first to use a new optical imaging technology called optical coherence tomography for microscopy in developmental biology and for image-guided surgery on human tissue.

orange dot Ali Yazdani, a professor of physics, already has made seminal contributions to our understanding of important, long-standing problems in condensed matter physics, including the first controllable measurements of electrical resistance of chains as short as one or two atoms. His atomic-scale studies of superconductivity and magnetism were singled out by the American Physical Society as one of the 12 most exciting developments in condensed matter physics in 1997.

The winner of the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence, which recognizes teachers who excel at motivating undergraduates to learn and appreciate engineering:
orange dot Ricardo Uribe, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, has acquired a reputation for inspiring students in laboratories to be exceptionally creative and innovative. In ECE 249, students learn how to design, build and debug digital systems that may include microcomputers as controllers. In ECE 110, first-year students build an autonomous robot that navigates a track, and in ECE 246, the advanced digital project laboratory, students invent their own projects, reflecting Uribe’s philosophy that "experimentation in self-expression is worthwhile and necessary in preparing an engineer for the future." ECE 246 has become legendary for winning Engineering Open House awards and nationally for preparing students to be engineers with good design sense.

The winner of the Collins Award for Innovative Teaching:
orange dot Albert J. Valocchi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been at the forefront of innovative Web-based teaching. His research focuses on groundwater modeling, so he always has used mathematical simulation models as instructional tools for understanding the behavior of groundwater systems. Early on, Valocchi recognized the potential of the Web as a teaching tool and was committed to developing Web-based, interactive simulation models that could help students learn both the math and key concepts of groundwater systems.