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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Each year, the School of Chemical Sciences invites researchers from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Chemistry to submit a scientific image that informs, educates, and inspires. Two ChBE graduate students are finalists in the 2020 SCS Science Image Challenge.

The winning entries will be displayed on the school’s VizLab, electronic screens, and at Williard Airport. Prizes include a modest monetary award and a certificate. For more information, and to see submissions from past challenges, visit the SCS SIC webpage.

Listed below are the 2020 challenge winners and finalists.

Main Category Winner

Fatal Coronavirus Spike Forest
Tianle Chen, Tajkhorshid Lab graduate student

Department of Chemistry and Center for Biophysics & Quantitative Biology
SARS-COV 2 fuses to and enters human cells upon binding of its spike proteins to human receptors. Our simulation model captures a realistic representation of spike proteins and their dynamics on the surface of the coronavirus (rendered with VMD).

Main Category Finalists

The Colors of Fall
Azzaya Khasbaatar, Diao Lab graduate student

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Presented is a cross-polarized microscopy image of a crystallized polymeric material that is used to fabricate organic solar cells using solution printing. With increasing concentration of polymer solution, molecules start to aggregate and eventually form these crystalline aggregates that look like branches of a tree upon solvent evaporation.

Molecular Machinery II
Matthew Chan, Shukla Lab graduate student
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Proteins are nature’s machines and are responsible for all biological processes. Shown here, the translocation of serotonin into the neuron is facilitated by the membrane protein, the serotonin transporter. The use of molecular dynamics simulations provides an atomistic resolution to uncover how these elusive molecular machines can be regulated.

Apocalypse within serenity
Aastha Sharma, Vura-Weis Lab graduate student
Department of Chemistry
Presented here is a color-corrected scanning electron micrograph of a multilayered semiconductor thin film with carbon tape used to minimize charging effects. The layered film looks like a peaceful ocean surface reflecting a serene sky, juxtaposed against the explosion of rugged carbon tape structure. 

Resilience in the Darkness 
Huei-Huei Chang, Murphy Lab graduate student

Department of Chemistry 
Processed, confocal fluorescence image showing human lung differentiation. Epithelial cells recovered from aerosol exposure and differentiated into goblet (green), ciliated (orange), and club (red) cells. Nuclei stained in blue. I hope this image encourages everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our cells bounce back. So do we!  

Yiming Wang, Lu Group
graduate student
Department of Chemistry 
A false-colored SEM image of gold nanoparticles in a bipyramidal shape. The gold nanostructures exhibit five-fold symmetry along the longitudinal axis. The nanoparticles have 10 facets and sharp tips, resembling the shape of diamonds. The longitudinal diameter of the nanoparticles is around 100 nm, and the transversal diameter is around 30 nm.

Cover Art Category Winner

Star strategy shows sense
Credit: Xing Wang (Department of Chemistry) and Tulsi Voralia (Senior Art Editor-Nature Research)

The cover image depicts an artistic representation of star-shaped DNA nanostructures binding to the surface of dengue virus particles in a polyvalent, pattern-matching fashion for rapid/sensitive diagnosis and potent inhibition of viral infections.

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign seeks energetic and student-oriented individuals for a Specialized Teaching Faculty position – Teaching Professor (all ranks – Assistant/Associate/Full Professor) and Lecturer/Senior Lecturer. Teaching Faculty positions are 9-month (Aug 16- May 15; paid over 12 months), full-time academic appointments (non-tenure track). The Department has approximately 600 total undergraduate students. The department resides in the School of Chemical Sciences, within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Aerial view of the entrance to the Roger Adams Laboratory.
The ChBE department is located in the Roger Adams Laboratory at Illinois.

The University of Illinois is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action employer that recruits and hires qualified candidates without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, national origin, disability or veteran status. For more information, visit

Responsibilities: The principal duties are to (i) effectively teach required Chemical Engineering undergraduate courses, and (ii) develop, implement and evaluate programs that improve the engagement and education of the students within the program. Teaching Faculty of all ranks are responsible for preparing and presenting lectures, organizing and supervising laboratory sections, supervising design projects, writing and grading examinations and laboratory reports, holding office hours to meet with students outside of class time, monitoring teaching assistants, and assigning grades. Teaching Faculty duties also include involvement in course and program assessment, curriculum development, advising, K-12 outreach and recruitment, and other education-related committee work. Finally, applicants for the Teaching Professor position (all ranks- Asst/Assoc/Full) will be expected to engage in scholarly research and service to the university, especially through the development of innovative teaching methods and educational enrichment activities.   

Qualifications: These positions require a PhD in chemical engineering, engineering education, or closely related field. Applicants must have strong chemical engineering teaching skills. Preference will be given for three years’ experience in a university teaching and/or work experience as an engineering professional. Preference will be given for familiarity and use of computer-based learning tools including ChemCAD, Python, Matlab or other languages. Senior Lecturer and Teaching Professorial applicants will have demonstrated excellence in university-level teaching. Teaching Assistant/Associate/Full Professor level applicants must demonstrate instructional and curricular impact both within the department and beyond, either through scholarly publications, invited talks, or other related activities involving their discipline, pedagogy, and student interactions.

Salary is competitive and based on experience. The actual start date is negotiable, beginning as early as July 2021.

Create your University of Illinois application through selecting the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: Open Rank Specialized Teaching Faculty Positions-Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and upload PDF files as follows:

*Lecturer/Senior Lecturer are required to submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and statement of teaching philosophy. The online application will require names and contact information for three references.

*Teaching Assistant/Associate/Full Professor applicants are required to submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, as well as a teaching statement that summarizes their teaching philosophy and teaching accomplishments, including contributions to the curriculum beyond one’s own classroom (no more than 3 pages, single-spaced), research narrative that describes their current research agenda and plan for contributing scholarship that enhances the department and university and makes an impact beyond the Campus. The online application will require names and contact information for three references.

Please contact the unit at if you have questions.  In order to ensure full consideration, application materials (in PDF format only) must be received by February 8, 2021. No hiring decision will be made until after that date.

The University of Illinois conducts criminal background checks on all job candidates upon acceptance of a contingent offer.  As a qualifying federal contractor, the University of Illinois System uses E-Verify to verify employment eligibility. The University of Illinois System requires candidates selected for hire to disclose any documented finding of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment and to authorize inquiries to current and former employers regarding findings of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. For more information, visit Policy on Consideration of Sexual Misconduct in Prior Employment.

This application closes on February 8, 2021.

Today the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign held a virtual winter convocation ceremony to celebrate 54 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral graduates via Zoom. 

Marchoe Northern (‘BS 97)

Remarks were given by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Associate Dean Matthew Ando and Marchoe Dill Northern (BS ’97), senior vice president – global home care brand franchise leader at Procter & Gamble. After graduation, Dill Northern began her chemical engineering career at P&G and later transitioned to marketing, holding positions such as senior brand director for Oral Care, including top brands like Crest, Oral B, and Fixodent. While working full time at P&G, she earned her Masters of Business Administration from the University of Chicago.  

Her message to the graduating class: to access your destiny, you must affirm your gifts, build relationships, and impact the world in an area of personal passion. 

“It’s 2020, certainly not the year, or graduation, you envisioned at the start of your time at U of I,” Dill Northern said in her remarks. She described how the COVID-19 crisis has changed life as we know it, stalled industries, and exposed racial, educational, socioeconomic, urban/rural, and age inequities. 

“But the question for today is what does it mean for you? How will this experience shape your narrative?” Dill Northern asked the 2020 graduates. “Will you describe it as a complication, clouding your view of your college experience and your capabilities. Will you be filled with uncertainty and skepticism regarding the job market prospects, or conditions that may require you to start a career remotely or continue your education virtually? 

“Or will you flip this into the opportunity it affords to reset, reimagine, and activate the workplace, education, government, and industries of now? Will you take the protests that so many of us participated in over the summer, and the passion that led to a record turn out at the ballot box in the fall, to create a world that we are all counting on you to lead?” 

Dill Northern said her time at Illinois was a controlled experiment designed to help her build the skills that have propelled her into the future. She told students to remember that complications are indeed the rocket fuel for their future. “I believe in you, I am inspired by you, and most of all, I am connected to you. This day and for the ages, we are alumni of the greatest proving ground on the planet—the University of Illinois.” 

A picture of the Alma Mater compiled from pictures of ChBE graduates.
A picture of Alma Mater compiled from pictures of ChBE’s December 2020 graduates.

As the ceremony concluded, ChBE Department Head Paul Kenis asked graduates to move their tassels—real or imaginary—to the left. He also reminded them that they have joined an elite rank of 5,000 departmental alumni who have graduated since 1901. 

“Many have gone on to remarkable careers, for example, in the energy, food, pharma, or chemical industries,” Kenis said. “Many alumni also have applied their Illinois problem-solving education in unexpected directions: in the banking world, for example on Wall Street, or as VP of the Bank of America.”

“In years to come, we hope to see many of you back on campus to share your achievements with us, just as Marchoe Dill Northern did today,” he said, encouraging the graduates to stay in touch. 

The ceremony was recorded and is available for download


Claire Benjamin

When in space, astronauts typically eat dehydrated, nutrient-dense food, but when it comes to longer space missions, that can become a problem as they’ll eventually lack nutrients from fresh vegetables. However, one chemical and biomolecular engineering professor will be researching ways astronauts can grow their own fresh vegetables more efficiently while they are on missions.

Picture of Ying Diao in a lab.
Ying Diao receives NASA Early Career Faculty Award to improve the growth of vegetables in space.

Ying Diao was recently awarded the NASA Early Career Faculty Award for her proposal: Remote Autonomous Plant Sensing for Space Exploration Enabled by Wearable Printed Electronics.

Diao’s goal for this research is to develop wearable sensors for plants so that their health and stress levels are detected autonomously, with no need for humans to do the testing. Then, a “smart” plant chamber will be developed that can identify the best conditions for a plant to grow in to reduce its stress. Diao also wants to develop another sensor that will continuously monitor a plant’s growth over its lifetime.

“We’re helping the astronauts to be more healthy during space missions by improving the health of the plants they grow,” Diao said. “So the bigger impact could also be that it helps future human colonization on Mars or on other possible habitats.”

Diao said when writing her proposal for the award, she almost gave up hope that she would win as she was working on it during the lockdown, when COVID-19 first hit the United States. Throughout this time, Diao was also a full-time mom to her son and had to work while he was sleeping.

“That’s why I didn’t anticipate success at the beginning, so I’m really excited that I can be part of this effort,” Diao said, adding that since she was little, she always wanted to be an astronaut. “So it feels really exciting that our research can be connected to NASA and that we can work with them on solving problems to better advance space missions.”

Although the ultimate goal for this project and research is to help people in space, it could also be utilized back on Earth in addressing climate change.

“During climate change, a plant experiences a lot of stress, but on the other hand, we need a plant to be more productive without increasing the footprint of the agricultural land to feed the growing population of our planet,” Diao said. “To address this conflict, we could potentially help decipher how climate change and microenvironments are impacting plant stress, and then we are better equipped to help plants adapt to a changing environment.”

This project will have a three-year time limit and will include a team of two graduate students, Siqing Wang and Kavin Ella Elangovan, and one undergraduate student, Bindu Edupulapati, who will all have different roles in developing these sensors. Eventually, Diao hopes to be able to test the devices in the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) unit in the International Space Station, but said “that’s a challenging goal to strive for.”

“I think most of the technology in my field is developed for human health, but we’ve been ignoring plants for too long,” Diao said. “I think it’s a new frontier that I want to go into and it was just part of a smart agriculture movement.”

ennsylvania State University, who chaired the 2020 Graduate Award Session in Inorganic Chemistry Area within the Materials Engineering & Sciences Division (MESD) in the award letter.

Vikram’s faculty advisor is Paul Kenis, the ChBE Department Head and Elio Eliakim Tarika Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering. Vikram develops flow reactor platforms for the synthesis of heavy-metal-free quantum dots used in next-generation display technologies.

“I am honored to receive this award, which represents the culmination of my education in ChBE and many collaborations within and outside of the department,” Vikram said.

News Source

Samantha Boyle

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AlChE) recognized ChBE’s Ajit Vikram with the first place award at the 2020 AIChE Graduate Student Award Competition in the Inorganic Chemistry Area.

The Inorganic Chemistry Graduate Student Award Session at the AIChE Annual Conference recognizes graduate students whose research achievements, in the broad area of inorganic materials, demonstrate a high level of excellence. Winning the award is a great recognition of their accomplishments because awardees must demonstrate a leading role in advancing their research field.

“It was truly our honor to learn about your research achievements! We look forward to seeing more wonderful research from you in the future!” said Xueyi Zhang, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, who chaired the 2020 Graduate Award Session in Inorganic Chemistry Area within the Materials Engineering & Sciences Division (MESD) in the award letter.

Vikram’s faculty advisor is Paul Kenis, the ChBE Department Head and Elio Eliakim Tarika Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering. Vikram develops flow reactor platforms for the synthesis of heavy-metal-free quantum dots used in next-generation display technologies.

“I am honored to receive this award, which represents the culmination of my education in ChBE and many collaborations within and outside of the department,” Vikram said.

News Source

Claire Benjamin

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