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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

For more information about our PhD program, please join us for one of our graduate admissions information sessions:

Grad Admission Info Session 1
Friday, Nov 20, 2020 
11 AM (US Central Time)
Presenters: Prof. Ying Diao, Prof. David Flaherty
Register here to receive Zoom link
Grad Admission Info Session 2
Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020
10 AM (US Central Time)
Presenters: Prof. Charles Sing, Prof. Ying Diao
Register here to receive Zoom link

Key Dates

Online applications can be accessed through the Graduate College website.

Applications will be reviewed on a continuous basis, and applicants are strongly encouraged to submit their complete applications by December 15, 2020. The final deadline is December 31, 2020. Applications that are incomplete after that date will not be considered.

*Note: The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering does not admit students into the program with the intention of earning a terminal Master’s degree; however, students who have met the requirements may obtain a Master’s degree as a milestone on the path to completing their Ph.D. degree.

Applying to the Ph.D. Program

ChBE does not require GRE scores for admission

Students applying to the Ph.D. program in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering should have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited university, an exceptional academic record and three recommendation letters. International students are required to submit TOEFL/IELTS scores. Preferred applicants possess a grade point average of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale (4.0 is A).

Outstanding students with degrees in areas other than Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (such as Chemistry, Materials Science, Bioengineering, and Biomedical Engineering) are welcome to apply. Such students will be required to take additional courses as determined by the graduate program committee.

We seek to recruit a diverse group of highly-motivated graduate students; underrepresented students are strongly encouraged to apply. The university offers several diversity programs, including the Sloan Scholars program for doctoral students from underrepresented groups, which provides excellent mentoring and professional development opportunities.

Admission Procedure

1. Prospective graduate students apply to our program through the University of Illinois Graduate College website. On the Graduate Admissions page you will be asked to create an application account and fill out an electronic application. Please review the application instructions before contacting the department with general application questions.

2. Pay the application fee online to the Graduate College.

If eligible, request an application fee waiver through the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s FreeApp program. The program is designed to increase access to graduate education for students who possess qualities and experiences that enhance the diversity of the intellectual, cultural, and social environments at CIC universities, including the University of Illinois. International applicants are not eligible for waivers.

3. Obtain three recommendation letters. Forms and instructions for submission are on the Graduate College website.

4. Upload unofficial transcripts to the Graduate College’s online application system. Upon acceptance, students should request their official transcripts be sent to the Graduate College before they begin the program.

For International Students

5. For all applicants whose native language is not English, please request that the Educational Testing Service (ETS) send your official TOEFL score to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The institution code is 1836. Department codes are not necessary for our school; you can fill in any number or leave it blank. As long as the institution code is correct, all departments to which you apply will be provided access to your test scores.

6. After you are accepted in our program, you may need to provide a Declaration and Certification of Finances form for your visa application through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Office of the Graduate College’s Admissions Office.

7. All students will be required to teach three to four semesters as teaching assistants. If the Spoken English section of your TOEFL score is 23 or below, you are urged to retake this test prior to joining our program to meet the maximum score for teaching requirement.

Graduate Admissions FAQ’s


National Science Foundation funds collaborative effort to reimagine creation of chemicals and fuels

David Flaherty
David Flaherty of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

A $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help a team of scientists at the University of Illinois develop ways to use renewable energy to remediate carbon dioxide emissions and generate chemical building blocks and liquid fuels. 

The main idea of their proposal is to reimagine the manufacturing of chemicals and fuels as society shifts from using petroleum for these processes to renewable sources such as biomass and carbon dioxide. David Flaherty, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and Dow Chemical Faculty Scholar, said he and his colleagues have been laying the intellectual groundwork for this proposal over the past several years.

The team is comprised of five faculty members at the University of Illinois including Flaherty, Andrew Gewirth (chemistry), Paul Kenis (chemical and biomolecular engineering), Joaquín Rodríguez-López (chemistry), and Ashlynn Stillwell (civil and environmental engineering).

The team’s proposal was selected among hundreds of others in a rigorous review process for the grant through National Science Foundation’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Research Projects program. Their concept uses renewable energy that comes off the grid from solar or wind power to drive an electrochemical reactor that performs two useful reactions simultaneously.

First, they use one side of the reactor to reduce carbon dioxide to form molecules currently used to make durable goods such as plastics. This will reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. However, reducing carbon dioxide requires a large amount of energy, because these reactions are thermodynamically unfavorable, Flaherty said. The challenge here is turning a stable molecule such as carbon dioxide into a much less stable molecule, he said. 

“Another way to think about this is that we are trying to reverse the combustion process that is used to generate energy to move cars or produce electricity in power plants,” Flaherty said.

Second, the other side of the reactor partially oxidizes (or burns) renewable and abundant materials that are locally available. The energy captured from this process helps drive the reduction of carbon dioxide while the oxidation reaction produces useful chemicals. 

“We have to change our approach for making building block chemicals,” Flaherty said. “How do we manufacture chemicals and create fuels and energy that will support all the things we enjoy doing but doing it in a distributed manner that aligns with the location of emerging resources? We need to move away from these hundred-acre petroleum refineries and find solutions that work at smaller scales.”

Paul Kenis
Paul Kenis of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Kenis, the Elio E.Tarika Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering, found a way to reduce carbon dioxide that would decrease the amount of renewable energy necessary for the process by up to 50 percent. He found that by coupling the carbon dioxide reduction with a more favorable type of chemistry on the other side of the reactor, the amount of energy necessary will greatly decrease.

“Electrolysis is seen as an option for industry to change over from the present plants to electrolysis processes,” Kenis said.

He added that, as part of the Paris Accord, the chemical industry is in an energy transition from 2020 to 2050 in which the dependency on fossil fuels and the associated carbon dioxide production must be decreased.

This is a win-win-win scenario, Flaherty said. If successful, they will efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, produce renewable chemicals and fuels, and create new job opportunities for operators and engineers in an emerging distributive chemical manufacturing economy.

“We are going to learn so much from each other along the way,” Flaherty said. “We all have our own perspectives, our own expertise, and this is an awesome opportunity for us to tackle a critical challenge. In addition, this will be an excellent way for us to teach students a diverse set of skills they need to solve important societal problems.”

News Source

Samantha Boyle



Illinois engineers Kwiyong Kim, left, Professor Xiao Su, Johannes Elbert and Paola Baldaguez Medina are part of a team that developed a new polymer electrode device that can capture and destroy PFAS contaminants present in water. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Researchers have demonstrated that they can attract, capture and destroy PFAS – a group of federally regulated substances found in everything from nonstick coatings to shampoo and nicknamed “the forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the natural environment.

Using a tunable copolymer electrode, engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign captured and destroyed perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances present in water using electrochemical reactions. The proof-of-concept study is the first to show that copolymers can drive electrochemical environmental applications, the researchers said.

The results of the study are published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

“Exposure to PFAS has gained intense attention recently due to their widespread occurrence in natural bodies of water, contaminated soil and drinking water,” said Xiao Su, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who led the study in collaboration with civil and environmental engineering professors Yujie Men and Roland Cusick.

PFAS are typically present in low concentrations, and devices or methods designed to remove them must be highly selective toward them over other compounds found in natural waters, the researchers said. PFAS are electrically charged, held together by highly stable bonds, and are water-resistant, making them difficult to destroy using traditional waste-disposal methods.

“We have found a way to tune a copolymer electrode to attract and adsorb – or capture – PFAS from water,” Su said. “The process not only removes these dangerous contaminants, but also destroys them simultaneously using electrochemical reactions at the opposite electrode, making the overall system highly energy-efficient.”

To evaluate the method, the team used various water samples that included municipal wastewater, all spiked with either a low or moderate concentration of PFAS.

 “Within three hours of starting the electrochemical adsorption process in the lab, we saw a 93% reduction of PFAS concentration in the low concentration spiked samples and an 82.5% reduction with a moderate concentration spiked samples, which shows the system can be efficient for different contamination contexts – such as in drinking water or even chemical spills,” Su said.

Based on concepts first proposed in Su’s previous work with arsenic removal, the process combines the separation and reaction steps in one device. “This is an example of what we call processes intensification, which we believe is an important approach for addressing environmental concerns related to energy and water,” Su said.

The team plans to continue to work with various emerging contaminants, including endocrine disruptors. “We are also very interested in seeing how these basic copolymer concepts might work outside of environmental systems and help perform challenging chemical separations, such as drug purification in the pharmaceutical industry,” Su said.

Postdoctoral researcher Kwiyong Kim and graduate student Paola Baldaguez Medina are the lead authors of the study. Postdoctoral researchers Johannes Elbert and Emmanuel Kayiwa also contributed to the study.

The U. of I., the National Science Foundation and the Illinois Water Resources Center supported this study.

The paper “Molecular tuning of redox-copolymers for selective electrochemical remediation” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.202004635.

Byungsoo Kim, left, and professor Hyunjoon Kong stand outdoors, socially distanced.
Postdoctoral researcher Byoungsoo Kim and professor Hyunjoon Kong led a team that developed an octopus-inspired device for transferring fragile, thin sheets of tissue or flexible electronics. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Thin tissue grafts and flexible electronics have a host of applications for wound healing, regenerative medicine and biosensing. A new device inspired by an octopus’s sucker rapidly transfers delicate tissue or electronic sheets to the patient, overcoming a key barrier to clinical application, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and collaborators.

“For the last few decades, cell or tissue sheets have been increasingly used to treat injured or diseased tissues. A crucial aspect of tissue transplantation surgery, such as corneal tissue transplantation surgery, is surgical gripping and safe transplantation of soft tissues. However, handling these living substances remains a grand challenge because they are fragile and easily crumple when picking them up from the culture media,” said study leader Hyunjoon Kong, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois.

Kong’s group, along with collaborators at Purdue University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chung-Ang University in South Korea, and the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, published their work in the journal Science Advances.

Current methods of transferring the sheets involve growing them on a temperature-sensitive soft polymer that, once transferred, shrinks and releases the thin film. However, this process takes 30-60 minutes to transfer a single sheet, requires skilled technicians and runs the risk of tearing or wrinkling, Kong said.

“During surgery, surgeons must minimize the risk of damage to soft tissues and transplant quickly, without contamination. Also, transfer of ultrathin materials without wrinkle or damage is another crucial aspect,” Kong said.

Seeking a way to quickly pick up and release the thin, delicate sheets of cells or electronics without damaging them, the researchers turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration. Seeing the way an octopus or squid can pick up both wet and dry objects of all shapes with small pressure changes in their muscle-powered suction cups, rather than a sticky chemical adhesive, gave the researchers an idea.

They designed a manipulator made of a temperature-responsive layer of soft hydrogel attached to an electric heater. To pick up a thin sheet, the researchers gently heat the hydrogel to shrink it, then press it to the sheet and turn off the heat. The hydrogel expands slightly, creating suction with the soft tissue or flexible electronic film so it can be lifted and transferred. Then they gently place the thin film on the target and turn the heater back on, shrinking the hydrogel and releasing the sheet. 

The entire process takes about 10 seconds. See a video on YouTube.

Next, the researchers hope to integrate sensors into the manipulator, to further take advantage of their soft, bio-inspired design.

“For example, by integrating pressure sensors with the manipulator, it would be possible to monitor the deformation of target objects during contact and, in turn, adjust the suction force to a level at which materials retain their structural integrity and functionality,” Kong said. “By doing so, we can improve the safety and accuracy of handling these materials. In addition, we aim to examine therapeutic efficacy of cells and tissues transferred by the soft manipulator.”

The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense Vision Research Program and the  Jump Applied Research in Community Health through Engineering and Simulation endowment supported this work.

Editor’s notes: To reach Hyunjoon Kong, call (217) 333-1178; email: 

The paper “Electrothermal soft manipulator enabling safe transport and handling of thin cell/tissue sheets and bioelectronic devices” is available online.

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc5630

Dinesh Kumar, Graduate of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Charles Schroeder, advisor

“My Ph.D. research focuses on understanding the dynamic properties of vesicles and fluid-filled capsules using optical microscopy, automated flow control, and modeling. Such vesicle suspensions are encountered in several applications in our everyday lives, ranging from food products to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Moreover, capsules and vesicles are increasingly being used for advanced triggered release and reagent delivery applications in functional materials. To this end, my research has specifically focused on understanding the shape dynamics and phase behavior of single vesicles, as well as transient stretching and relaxation dynamics of membranes in steady and time-dependent extensional flows. Our experiments show that vesicles undergo a wide array of non-equilibrium shape transitions in flow, including symmetric dumbbell shapes with pearling, asymmetric dumbbell, buckling and wrinkling conformations,” said Kumar. 

“Under the PPG MRL Fellowship, I will investigate the collision and adhesion dynamics between two freely suspended vesicles using automated flow control, which will directly inform the stability and long-term viability of concentrated vesicle suspensions. These experiments will be performed on freely suspended vesicles without physically constraining the vesicles using micropipettes or solid surfaces. Overall, my experiments will shed new light on the design, synthesis, and processing of vesicle and capsule suspensions for the development of an exciting new class of materials with unique functional properties.”

Charles Schroeder, Kumar’s advisor, states: “Dinesh has demonstrated a high degree of intellectual insight and enthusiasm for his work, all of which makes him an impressive and productive graduate student. Importantly, Dinesh works in a largely independent fashion in the lab, and he is able to think creatively on both experimental and computational problems. His strong analytical skills have enabled him to study vesicle dynamics in an extremely rigorous and quantitative manner, which has brought new insight to the field. He is always interested to explore new directions or ideas that emerge from our regular discussions and meetings, and he has been a great mentor to several undergraduate students in the lab.”

A team led by Steven L. Miller Chair professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Huimin Zhao (BSD leader/CABBI/MMG) was awarded a five-year $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the NSF Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institute for Molecular Discovery, Synthetic Strategy and Manufacturing (Molecule Maker Lab Institute or MMLI). The multi-institutional team also consists of researchers and collaborators from the Grainger College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and from University Laboratory High School, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Northwestern University, Penn State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Professor Huimin Zhao, Steven L. Miller Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will lead the Molecule Maker Lab Institute with a multi-institutional team.

The MMLI focuses on development of new AI-enabled tools, such as AlphaSynthesis, to accelerate automated chemical synthesis and advance the discovery and manufacture of novel materials and bioactive compounds. Researchers use the data generated from the analysis of these molecules to guide further development of synthesis planning and catalyst design tools using AI and machine learning. The institute also serves as a training ground for the next generation of scientists with combined expertise in AI, chemistry, and bioengineering.

“The MMLI is a first-of-its-kind research infrastructure that will have a powerful impact on the U.S. research community,” said Zhao. “This proposed infrastructure will respond to high-priority needs of communities seeking to 1) discover and optimize a wide range of molecular functions (Molecules), 2) harness the power of data to advance the science of molecular synthesis (Data), and 3) inspire a broad audience of scientists, teachers, students, and citizen scientists to participate in the process of molecular innovation (Open Door). The MMLI will revolutionize the way chemistry is taught and capture the imagination of a new generation of molecule makers.”

The NSF is establishing five new AI institutes to accelerate research, expand America’s workforce, and transform society in the decades to come. Enabled by sustained federal investment and channeled toward issues of national importance, continued advancement in AI research holds the potential for further economic impact and improvements in quality of life.

With an investment of over $100 million over the next five years, NSF’s AI Institutes represent the nation’s most significant federal investment in AI research and workforce development to date. The $20 million investment in each of five NSF AI institutes is just the beginning, with more institute announcements anticipated in the coming years.

“Recognizing the critical role of AI, NSF is investing in collaborative research and education hubs, such as the NSF MMLI anchored at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which will bring together academia, industry, and government to unearth profound discoveries and develop new capabilities advancing American competitiveness for decades to come,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Just as prior NSF investments enabled the breakthroughs that have given rise to today’s AI revolution, the awards being announced today will drive discovery and innovation that will sustain American leadership and competitiveness in AI for decades to come.”
“Over the past decade there have been major advances in both AI and automated chemical and biochemical synthesis, making the timing for the launch of the MMLI both judicious and urgent,” said Zhao. “Synergistically integrating these powerful disciplines now has the potential to dramatically accelerate and advance the manufacturing and discovery of molecules with important functions that address major unsolved problems in society. Not doing so would result in a major missed opportunity for the U.S. research community.”

To learn more about the MMLI visit

ChBE majors should explore the SCS advising and SCS Career office web sites for academic advising, as well as a host of other resources:

ChBE also offers a tutoring program associated with several of the core, required ChBE courses:

Study space for undergraduates is provided by campus. See the list here: ).  ChBE majors can also make use of the following rooms (I-card access): -1-  Noyes 211 – CHBE computer lab (Max occupancy =8); and -2- Noyes 308 – ChBE learning center (Max occupancy = 16).

William Hammock “the engineer guy” professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering

Professor Hammack has been awarded the Hoover Medal.

The award is named for its first recipient, U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who was an engineer by profession. Established in 1929 to honor “great, unselfish, nontechnical services by engineers to humanity,” the award is administered by a board representing five engineering organizations: the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the American Society of Civil Engineers; the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Previous winners include presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter; industrialist David Packard, the founder of Hewlett-Packard; Arnold O. Beckman, an Illinois alumnus and a scientist, businessman and philanthropist whose support spurred the development of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology on the Illinois campus; and inventor Dean Kamen.

Hammack is a member of AICHE and a William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor at Illinois. He is the creator and host of the popular YouTube channel “engineerguy” and has recorded more than 200 public radio segments that describe what, why and how engineers do what they do. He wrote the books “Michael Faraday’s Chemical History of a Candle, ” “Why Engineers Need to Grow a Long Tail, ” “How Engineers Create the World, ” “Eight Amazing Engineering Stories” and “Albert Michelson’s Harmonic Analyzer. ”

“I am thrilled with the recognition by this award of the importance of reaching out to the public – to explain to them science and engineering,” Hammack said. “With this understanding, the public can better exercise the civic responsibility of shaping the technological forces that shape our lives.”

The National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Physics all have recognized Hammack for his outreach efforts through numerous awards.

“Bill’s wonderful stories make every engineer proud and watching them immediately converts you into an engineering zealot,” said AICHE Foundation member Eduardo Glandt, the dean emeritus of engineering and applied science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Effective immediately, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will no longer require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission to the graduate program. 

CHBE has joined myriad institutions of higher learning across the United States who, over the past several years, have deemed the examination unreliable in predicting the future success of students, based on a number of scientific studies by experts.

Main Quad facing Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with fall leaves on the trees and people walking

Graduate student category

Marley Dewey, the Harley Research Lab

dewey research image-webThis is a mineral and polymer galaxy. This specific polymer contains calcium phosphate mineral and was 3D printed in order to repair damaged bone. Dewey’s role involves taking these 3D-printed polymers and combining them with collagen-based biomaterials in order to regenerate large missing portions of bone from the skull and jaw.

Research images from a recent Beckman contest are being featured in the director’s conference room. The images highlight the beauty of science and showcase the range of research conducted at the institute. By Beckman Institute Published on July 30, 2020

Scientists at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology recently showed off their research through Beckman Research Image Contest.

This year, the contest features four winners in the following categories: undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral researcher, and faculty. The four framed images are being featured in the Beckman director’s conference room. Last year’s winning images will be hung throughout the Beckman’s halls.

“Researchers at the Beckman Institute use our state-of-the-art tools to work together across disciplines and break new barriers,” said Jeff Moore, the director of the Beckman Institute and an Ikenberry Endowed Chair in the Department of Chemistry. “These images show that research is not only important, but also visually beautiful. I continue to be amazed and inspired by the entries in the Beckman Research Image Contest.”

The winners are:

Undergraduate student category

Rachel Tham, the Minjoo Larry Lee Group

tham research image-webMultijunction solar cells could significantly increase the efficiency of solar power. However, lattice mismatch between the device layers can lead to defects called threading dislocations that decrease their efficiency. Tham’s research, conducted with graduate student Ryan Hool, works to better understand why and how these dislocations occur to make multijunction solar cells more efficient. This image is a Nomarski (also called differential interference contrast) image of a beryllium-doped gallium phosphide (GaP) on GaP sample, after defect selective etching, and it was imaged with the Beckman Institute’s inspection microscope at 50 times magnification. DSE reveals the location of threading dislocations as etch pits in the sample, and the number of etch pits present can then be used to calculate the sample’s threading dislocation density.

Postdoctoral and staff researcher category

Mark Levenstein, the Wagoner Johnson Applied Biomaterials and Biomechanics Lab levenstein research image-web

Optical micrograph of a baby Acropora palmata coral polyp inverted and modified for enhanced contrast of the newly formed tentacles. The polyp is shown growing on a novel carbonate reef restoration substrate, which hopefully will increase the settlement and survival of juvenile corals into adulthood.

Faculty member category

Brad Sutton, Magnetic Resonance Functional Imaging Lab

sutton research image-webTwo techniques in magnetic resonance imaging enable researchers to see highly sensitive information about the structure of brain tissue: diffusion tensor imaging and magnetic resonance elastography. DTI looks at the cabling in the brain. These white matter fiber pathways transmit information from one part of the brain to another. MRE looks at the mechanical properties of the brain tissue, including stiffness. It provides information about the interconnections and complexity of cells in the brain. In order to make a clinically feasible protocol and save time, the Sutton Group and Carle Foundation Hospital-Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Aaron Anderson, in collaboration with professors Dieter Klatt and Richard Magin at the University of Illinois at Chicago, developed and implemented a DTI-MRE sequence that acquires both DTI and MRE data at the same time. This data was collected on the Biomedical Imaging Center 3 Tesla Prisma MRI system. Grant funding: NIH/NIBIB 5R21EB026238-02.

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