Illinois I-mark

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Congratulations to Professors Bill Hammack and Baron Peters, both recently invested as William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professors in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Professor Peters at his investiture in December 2019.

Baron Peters joined the Illinois faculty in January 2019. His research includes developing fundamental new methods in rare events modeling to understand catalytic and chemical reaction pathways. He studies reactions between charged species in solution, which is an open and fertile area of research with key applications to energy and the food/water nexus. He specifically aims to understand whether a single universal solvent reaction coordinate (e.g., a unifying theme) can be applied to reactions involving charge transfer with atoms in fixed positions, atom migration with fixed charges, and coupled charge transfer and atom migration. In a second area, he studies nucleation and growth using simulations that accurately capture multiple species including solutes, solvents, surfactants, and nucleants.

Professor Peters and his research group.

Professor Peters graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 1999, with a BS in Mathematics and Chemical Engineering. In 2004, he earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

Bill Hammack

For decades, the EngineerGuy, a.k.a. Professor William S. Hammack, has been enlightening people with his videos, radio commentaries, books, and courses. He is a pioneer of new and novel approaches to engineering outreach. He received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1984 and his MS and PhD from the University of Illinois in 1986 and 1988, studying intramolecular electron transfer under the late Professor Harry Drickamer. Prof. Hammack taught at Carnegie Mellon for a decade before returning to Illinois and joining the chemical engineering faculty in 1998.

From 1999 to 2006, Hammack created a groundbreaking series of over 200 pieces for public radio that described what engineers do, why they do it, and how. He also created and is host of the popular YouTube channel “engineerguyvideo.” His YouTube videos and pieces for public radio have been seen or heard millions of times around the world.

SCS Director Jonathan Sweedler, College of LAS Dean Feng Sheng Hu, Lycan Professor Bill Hammack, ChBE Department Head Paul Kenis, Vice Provost Paul Ellinger

Congratulations to Professor Baron Peters, winner of the 2019 Impact Award from the Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers!

The CoMSEF Impact Award recognizes outstanding research in computational molecular science and engineering, encompassing both methods and applications. He will receive the award at the AIChE annual meeting this month in Orlando.

Baron Peters

Peters joined the Illinois faculty in January 2019 and is a William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor. Dr. Peters’ research includes developing fundamental new methods in rare events modeling to understand catalytic and chemical reaction pathways. He studies reactions between charged species in solution, which is an open and fertile area of research with key applications to energy and the food/water nexus.

He specifically aims to understand whether a single universal solvent reaction coordinate (e.g., a unifying theme) can be applied to reactions involving charge transfer with atoms in fixed positions, atom migration with fixed charges, and coupled charge transfer and atom migration. In a second area, he studies nucleation and growth using simulations that accurately capture multiple species including solutes, solvents, surfactants, and nucleants. This is a general platform that can be broadly applied to a wide array of value-added products in the chemical industry.

Peters graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia with a BS in Mathematics and Chemical Engineering. He earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and completed postdoctoral research at MIT and Ecole Normale Superieure.

Baron Peters, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois, arrived on campus in January 2019 with plans to organize a summer course on reaction rate theory and rare events.

He requested startup funds to support the course, and things worked out. This July, 40 doctoral students and seven professors from around the world will travel to the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, for a week-long course focused on “rare events.” The summer school has been organized by Peters and Sudeep Punnathanam, professor at the Indian Institute of Science.

Baron Peters

Peters, a William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor, described rare events as a common theoretical foundation for the rate processes that are encountered in physics, chemistry, and engineering. Examples include chemical reactions, nucleation of phase transitions, electron transfer reactions, and protein folding processes.

Peters said some big challenges in these areas include understanding which rate expressions and computational methods are appropriate for which rate processes. Rare events research brings many disparate rate processes together, like variations on one overarching theme.

However, he noted that formulation of broader rare events theories began only in the last 10 to 20 years. To make these developments more accessible, Peters wrote the first book on the subject, Reaction Rate Theory and Rare Events, published by Elsevier in 2017.

The summer school will run from July 7-13. Students will be housed on campus at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Each professor involved with the course is responsible for lecturing on one day throughout the week, as well as assigning homework assignments and creating hands-on exercises.

“The professors have all agreed to come and give a very pedagogical introduction to the area where they work,” Peters said. “It’s supposed to be about teaching the students, not a forum for promoting their latest research.” Almost all the professors are bringing along graduate students who will serve as teaching assistants to help with their exercises.

A view of Bangalore, India. India is an emerging market in rare events research. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Having attended meetings about rare events theory in the past, Peters already knew all the professors involved prior to recruiting them for the course.

“We have (professors) from South Africa, India, Iceland, and the United States,” Peters said. “The students are equally from all parts of the world as well. So, it’s going to be fun.”

Peters and Punnathanam accepted 40 of 60 applicants to the summer school.

“We also wanted to ensure a cozy atmosphere where the students can interact with the professors, and that we have enough TA support to help everyone with hands-on exercises,” Peters said.

Punnathanam, the co-organizer, was a tremendous help in planning student accommodations and securing lecture halls for the course, Peters said. Punnathanam will teach free energy calculations on the fourth day of the summer school. Peters will give his lectures on the third day, when he will provide an overview of the theoretical framework. Another professor from chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois, Blue Waters Assistant Professor Diwakar Shukla, will lecture on the second day about Markov state modeling.

Peters chose India for a couple of reasons. India is an emerging market in rare events research, he said, and many excellent groups are doing simulations there. India has hosted a handful of rare events conferences over the past couple of years, and now several groups there are beginning to use rare events methods.

Hosting the students in Bangalore is relatively inexpensive—the total cost of running the course will be roughly $12,000 to $16,000. Importantly, Peters hopes that the exposure will help to recruit top PhD students and post-doctoral researchers to Illinois.

“I also hope that students from around the world, India included, will come to see Illinois as a place with a really exceptional expertise in (rare events),” Peters said.

Written by Samantha Boyle



The School of Chemical Sciences has announced the appointment of three new William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professors: William Hammack and Baron Peters in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Liviu Mirica in the Department of Chemistry.

“Bill, Liviu, and Baron join a superlative group of dedicated colleagues that we honor with named positions, including Gregory Girolami, our other current Lycan Professor,” said Dr. Jonathan Sweedler, director of the School of Chemical Sciences, in the announcement. The named appointments recognize the school’s collective commitment to excellence in scholarly pursuits.

Investitures are being planned for later this year.

Bill Hammack

Professor Hammack
William (Bill) Hammack

Professor Hammack graduated from Michigan Technological University with a BS in Chemical Engineering in 1984. He earned his MS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1986 and 1988. He joined the Illinois faculty in 1997.

Dr. Hammack’s scholarly efforts are in the areas of teaching and public outreach. He has excelled over the years, especially in the area of outreach to the general public. He continues to be one of the most listened to and most watched engineering educators in history. From the moment he arrived on campus in 1998, he has pioneered new areas of communicating science and engineering to the general public, and expanded the role of an engineering professor. In 1999, he plowed new ground by creating a unique radio series that shares the hows and whys of engineering to the public. He next pioneered the use of new media, specifically videos accompanied by books, to communicate engineering directly to the public. He created a YouTube channel that currently has over 700K subscribers and nearly 40 million views. The book associated with the YouTube channel, Eight Amazing Engineering Stories, was a bestselling technology book on Amazon. In the classroom he has had an equally pioneering career. His course, CHBE 101: The Hidden World of Engineering, is taught to a diverse mix of students majoring in commerce, architecture, photography, history, and graphic arts. He has also contributed deeply to the engineering profession. His book, Why Engineers Need to Grow a Long Tail, laid out for the engineering profession how to chart a path through the world of “new” or “social” media. In it he shows how the engineers can use new media to reach larger audiences, but also how to aim the message straight at the next generation of potential engineers.

Baron Peters

Baron Peters

Professor Peters graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, in 1999, with a BS in Mathematics and Chemical Engineering. He earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2004. He completed postdoctoral research at MIT from 2004 to 2006 and was a postdoctoral fellow at Ecole Normale Superieure from 2006 to 2007. He joined the Illinois faculty in January 2019.

Dr. Peters’ research includes developing fundamental new methods in rare events modeling to understand catalytic and chemical reaction pathways. He studies reactions between charged species in solution, which is an open and fertile area of research with key applications to energy and the food/water nexus. He specifically aims to understand whether a single universal solvent reaction coordinate (e.g., a unifying theme) can be applied to reactions involving charge transfer with atoms in fixed positions, atom migration with fixed charges, and coupled charge transfer and atom migration. In a second area, he studies nucleation and growth using simulations that accurately capture multiple species including solutes, solvents, surfactants, and nucleants. This is a general platform that can be broadly applied to a wide array of value-added products in the chemical industry.

Liviu Mirica

Professor Mirica graduated from California Institute of Technology with a BS in Chemistry in 1999. He earned a PhD in Chemistry from Stanford University in 2005. He held an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2005 to 2008, and joined the Illinois faculty in January 2019.

Liviu is a leader at the junction of inorganic, organic, and biological chemistry.  Trained at top chemistry peer institutions, he has a world-class pedigree with emphasis on the activation of oxygen by metals to bond to carbon, a topic relevant to fuel cells, where activated oxygen burns methanol to create electrical energy.  He is a leader in renewable energy projects. Mirica has developed new biology-inspired ligands that bind metal ions (nickel, palladium, copper), forcing upon them unusual structures with therapeutic properties against amyloid diseases. He is a leader in the field of understanding how metal ions interact with amyloids, aggregates of misfolded proteins that form plaques in neurodegenerative diseases. He launched a vibrant program at Washington University at St. Louis, as manifested by external funding from NSF, DOE, and NIH, and shares our vision that chemical synthesis has the most impact if implemented without regard to traditional boundaries that have previously separated inorganic and organic chemistry. 

Cookie Settings