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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.

ChBE student Zhiwei Zhang participated in the City Scholars program.

According to the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition, during the past five years Illinois universities have launched 942 startups, which in turn have raised a collective $878 million.

The challenge is keeping those fledgling startups from fleeing to the coasts to grow their businesses, in part because of the coasts’ large tech workforce. The State of Illinois and the City of Chicago realize the need to develop a more vibrant and robust tech workforce to keep these companies in state.

The latest effort to do just that is a program called Engineering City Scholars, which enables engineering students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to spend a semester living in Chicago, taking a full load of classes, and gaining valuable life experience through internships.

Check out this story by the College of Engineering about the program. It features Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student Zhiwei Zhang, a City Scholar.


Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student William Ballance, who has been selected to receive a TechnipFMC Fellowship for 2018-2019.

William Ballance

Ballance is a third-year PhD student and member of Dr. Hyunjoon Kong’s research group. In the Kong Lab, Ballance’s projects have centered on antibacterial soft materials, namely, using hydrogels as base materials. One project focused on a hydrogel that releases an antibacterial drug in response to external stretching. Another project involved developing a vibrating device that removes biofilms that collect on the surface of the hydrogel. For his next research project, Ballance plans to use an iodine sequestering gel that eliminates corrosive bacteria that accumulates on steel in anaerobic environments such as pipelines and oil wells.

The TechnipFMC fund was originally created by Bert A. Gayman, a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Illinois with a gift of shares of Chicago-based Link-Belt Company, later acquired by FMC Corporation. FMC recently merged with Technip to create TechnipFMC, a global leader in subsea, onshore/offshore and surface projects. The fund supports scholarships, fellowships and research.

Congratulations to Alayna Johnson, who has been named a Goldwater Scholar for the 2018-19 academic year!

Alayna is a sophomore majoring in chemistry. As a freshman, she joined the lab of Dr. David Flaherty, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, where her research with team members Daniel Bregante, Ami Patel, and Zeynep Ayla centers on the synthesis of epoxides, which are used to manufacture pharmaceuticals and plastics.

Noting the negative environmental impact of current methods of epoxide synthesis, Johnson elaborated on her team’s goals: “We’re hoping to engineer a catalyst that would allow industries to make epoxides in a new and greener manner. The project is a great combination of materials chemistry, catalysis, and environmental chemistry.”

Goldwater recipient Alayna Johnson. Photo provided.

“Alayna quickly developed skills in kinetic analysis and spectroscopy and has used these tools to show how we can tailor independently the electronic structure, porous structure, and hydrogen bonding interactions of inorganic materials to minimize the environmental impact of these oxidation reactions,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty called Alayna “a talented researcher, a brilliant student, and a truly enjoyable person to work with.”

“In my career, I have rarely seen this strong set of skills in such a young student. Alayna demonstrates her unstoppable drive and motivation in the way she approaches her classwork and research and excels in both,” he said.

Johnson’s experiences in the Flaherty lab also taught her more about herself and her research interests: “I’ve learned that while my interests certainly lie in pure science, an understanding of basic engineering and computational principles is invaluable.”

“The aspect I appreciate most about research is the intellectual freedom that comes with deciding which experiments to run, how to analyze the results, and what to do when they do not match the expected hypothesis. Within research, we get to experience the rare but incredibly rewarding feeling that comes from seeing the results of a well-designed experiment and learning something new about the world,” she said.

Johnson is one of three University of Illinois students to receive the prestigious honor. Read more from the Department of Chemistry.


Congratulations to Erfan Mohammadi, graduate student in Professor Ying Diao’s research group! The Materials Research Society awarded Mohammadi a Silver Award at the MRS meeting this spring.

The society’s MRS Graduate Student Awards honor and encourage graduate students whose academic achievements and current materials research display a high level of excellence and distinction.

Mohammadi is working on understanding and control of microstructure evolution in printed electronics. He obtained his BS in Chemical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology and began his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Illinois in Fall 2014.

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering honored its outstanding students at the Undergraduate Awards Ceremony. At the annual event, faculty presented the 2017-2018 scholarships and Omega Chi Epsilon, the national honor society for chemical engineering, announced winners of the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

This year marked the 10th year for the undergraduate research symposium. Thanks to our alumni judges who volunteered their time. Joe Drago (BS ’72) is a retired nuclear engineer from the Department of Energy who is now a consultant to the energy industry and nonprofit organizations. He also has his master’s in Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering from Illinois. Dan Hanus (BS ’86) is a section head at Procter & Gamble and has an MBA from Xavier University.

This year, judges awarded three students the top award: Qihua Chen, Marko Ivancevic, and Eli Karvelis. Chen, a member of Dr. Diwakar Shukla’s research group, presented with, “Molecular Dynamics Simulations Reveal the Conformational Heterogeneity of a Strigolactone Receptor in Parasitic Plants.” Marko Ivancevic, who worked with the Paranthaman Research Group at Oak Ridge National Lab, presented, “Novel Carbon Electrodes Derived from Waste Tires for Capacitive Deionization of Brackish Water.” Eli Karvelis, a member of Dr. Brendan Harley’s research group, presented, “Modeling Glioblastoma Invasion with Microfluidic Chips.”

Honorable mentions were awarded to Alayna Johnson and Anastasiya Lukiyanenko.

Judge Dan Hanus, Department Head Dr. Paul Kenis, symposium winners Qihua Chen, Elijah Karvelis and Marko Ivancevic, and judge Joe Drago (BS ’72)

Congratulations to all the research symposium participants.

Qihua Chen (Shukla Group), Molecular Dynamics Simulations Reveal the Conformational Heterogeneity of a Strigolactone Receptor in Parasitic Plants

Marko Ivancevic (Paranthaman Group, Oak Ridge National Lab), Novel Carbon Electrodes Derived from Waste Tires for Capacitive Deionization of Brackish Water

Alayna Johnson (Flaherty Group), Effects of Catalyst Hydrophobicity on Rates and Selectives of Alkene Epoxidation

Eli Karvelis (Harley Group), Modeling Glioblastoma Invasion with Microfluidic Chips

Anastasiya Lukiyanenko (Diao Group), Characterizing Cooperative Transitions in Organic Semiconductors

Jun Og (Murphy, Kenis Groups), Gold Nanorod-Hydrogel Composite

June Qian (Sing Group), Single-Chain Dynamics of Ring Polymers in Dilute Solution Under Mixed Flows

Channing Richter (Schroeder Group), Precise Control Over Position and Orientation of Anisotropic Colloidal Particles Using Stokes Trap

Bugra Sahin (Guironnet Group), Di-block Bottlebrush Polymer Synthesis

Yuquan Tong (Burke Group), An Iterative Approach to the Synthesis of Contiguous Polyols

Research symposium judges Dan Hanus and Joe Drago with OXE president and symposium organizer Mikaela Dressendorfer.

Scholarships awarded

Also on Friday, Department Head Dr. Paul Kenis and members of the ChBE scholarship committee handed out scholarships for the 2018-2018 year.

This is the first year the department gave out the Kirk Nass and Michael Gillespie Scholarship. Kirk Nass, an Illinois ChemE graduate from the Class of 1983, recently established a scholarship with his husband Michael Gillespie. After graduating from Illinois, Kirk Nass went on to earn a PhD from the University of Washington and is now a technical team leader at Chevron in California.

This is also the first year the department present a student with the Rebekah Schiff-Berger Scholarship. Rebekah was a James Scholar and involved in a variety of organizations, including AIChE, the Society of Women Engineers, and the department’s Undergraduate Advisory Board. The scholarship was established by her parents, Linda Schiff and Neil Berger, as well as family and friends. In the wake of Rebekah’s passing in 2015, friends and classmates organized several events to raise money for the scholarship. Rebekah was dearly loved by family and friends and touched many lives during her time here on campus. The department hopes through this scholarship she will continue to do so.

Below is the complete list of 2017-2018 scholarship winners.  More information on scholarships funded by generous alumni and friends can be found here.

John Martin Ankenbauer Memorial Scholarship

Ty’Nya Larry


Franklin A. Boyle Scholarship

Elijah Karvelis


CITGO Scholarship

Pacharapol Charoensuk

Elizabeth Tang

Kevin Wade


Donald E. Eisele Scholarship

Jesus Sanchez


ExxonMobil Scholarship

Pak Wing Chen

Weikun Zhu


Robert S. Frye Scholarship

Robert Schneider


Clarence G. Gerhold Memorial Scholarship

Michelle Brown

Anthony Salazar

Sanjna Shah


Dr. Joseph and Donna Glas Scholarship in Memory of Professor James Westwater

Christian Monte

Alishba Rehman


James K. Grant Scholarship

Vivek Vermani


Chester W. Hannum Scholarship

Alishba Rehman

Isaac Strain


Edmund D. and Sara J. Heerdt Scholarship

Marko Ivancevic

Jing Zhao


Earp Jennings Chemical Engineering Scholarship

Mateusz Dusza


Donald B. Keyes Award in Chemical Engineering

Kevin Wade


John W. Latchum, Jr. Scholarship

Caleb Zmuda


Dr. Ray A. Mentzer Scholarship

Jessica Rabczak


Kirk Nass and Michael Gillespie Scholarship

Royce Chen


Edward I. Onstott Scholarship

Faisal Aldukhi


Raymond M. Pasteris Scholarship

Ethan Dukovic


Pathways to Success Scholarship

Claudia Cappa

Estelle Mace

Randy Marquez

Ambar Rivera

Christopher Torres


Phillips 66 Scholarship

Mingyan Liu

Gina Partipilo

Victoria Wisniewski


Worth Huff Rodebush Scholarship

Dongkwan Lee


Rebekah Schiff-Berger Memorial Scholarship

Sanjna Shah


Thomas R. and Yolanda S. Stein Scholarship

Channing Richter

Jesus Sanchez


Glenn E. and Barbara R. Ullyot Scholarship

June Qian

Ugonna Oduocha


R.J. Van Mynen Chemical Engineering Scholarship

Ami Patel


Bruno H. Wojcik Scholarship

Huayang Liu




Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students who have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships!

Launched in 1952, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program is the nation’s oldest and largest fellowship program for graduate students. It is also one of the most prestigious.

This year Danielle Harrier, ChBE PhD student with Dr. Damien Guironnet’s research group, was awarded a fellowship. Two members of Dr. Brendan Harley’s lab—ChBE senior Elijah Karvelis and MatSE grad student Marley Dewey—were awarded fellowships. Kevin Cheng, a Biophysics graduate student and member of Dr. Diwakar Shukla’s lab, also won the fellowship.

Harrier’s research with Assistant Professor Guironnet focuses on the development of a strategy to synthesize biodegradable polymer latex by emulsion ring opening polymerization.

“The technical challenge of this approach is to perform the water sensitive polymerization in an aqueous media. Therefore, the innovative aspect of my strategy is that I will utilize microfluidics techniques to encapsulate the catalyst in a hydrophobic nanoreactor and thus protect it from water,” she said.

Harrier completed her undergraduate studies at the University of New Mexico and began the PhD program in Chemical Engineering in Fall 2017.

“The research at U of I is at the forefront of understanding and solving current global issues, and I am excited to add to the breadth and depth of research being done by my PI, Professor Guironnet, by furthering research in sustainable polymers,” she said.

Elijah Karvelis graduates this May and plans to pursue a PhD. He is currently deciding between three schools.

His project in the Harley lab has been on developing biomaterial platforms for studying brain cancer, specifically leveraging microfluidics to look at invasion of cancerous cells.

The NSF awarded honorable mentions to ChBE graduate students Isamar Pastrana-Otero (Kraft Lab), Bijal Patel (Diao Lab) and Whitney Sinclair (Kenis Group).

Practicing interviewing skills. Sharing tips on study habits. Learning to ice skate.

This academic year, students with the Illinois student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers have had the opportunity to build relationships with other Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students and sharpen their professional skills.

In the past, about 20 students in ChBE participated in Illinois AIChE’s mentor program each year. Program organizer and ChBE senior Hannah Chait, wanting to boost participation, revamped the mentor program to include more professional development components. As a result, this year the number of participants doubled.

“It’s often hard for freshmen and sophomores to get involved in AIChE or other organizations while balancing their academic demands. I felt the mentor program was an underutilized resource in previous years, so I was looking at ways to make the program more meaningful for everyone,” Chait said.

Freshman Erik Pintoy wanted to get involved with AIChE but did not have a lot of time to attend many events or serve as an officer. The mentor program appealed to him because he wanted to meet fellow Chemical Engineering majors and learn more about the degree.

“I recommend the mentor program to a lot of students,” Pintoy said. “There are so many students like me who do not have a lot of time, but they still want to be involved. The mentoring group is definitely my favorite part of college right now,” he said.

Junior Jennifer Behrens, who’s been a mentee and a mentor, said Chait gave mentors the freedom and responsibility this year to lead their own monthly meetings with their mentee group while still supplying mentors with resources and training from School of Chemical Sciences Career Services. Her favorite part of the program was the addition of professional development.

Working with Patricia Simpson, director of the school’s career services, Chait organized three different training sessions. During those sessions, mentors received training in a variety of topics in which they could offer guidance to mentees. One topic focused on career fairs and included tips for preparing resumes and “elevator” pitches. Another centered on developing interview skills among their peers in a safe environment. During the third session, participants received tips on time management and study habits. This spring, organizers added technical workshops. During those sessions, mentors helped mentees with presentation skills and data analysis tools.

Participants have still found time to build relationships and have fun. This year they visited Curtis Orchard and Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, they’ve gone ice skating at the U of I Ice Arena, and participated in an Easter egg hunt in Noyes Laboratory. This spring mentors made care packages for freshmen for when they wrote their longest lab report of freshman year.

“I know what it’s like to feel lost in the major (I transferred into ChBE), so I wanted to prevent underclassmen from feeling that way by striving to be a helpful, proactive mentor, especially my mentees who were planning on transferring into ChBE,” Behrens said.

Like Pintoy, she wanted to be a mentee to make friends in the major and learn the “ins and outs” of Chemical Engineering, such as when to take certain classes and how to secure an internship. This year she was a mentor, something she wanted to do because she loves helping and inspiring others to be their best.

“I think [the mentor program] can help students have the confidence and inside knowledge they need to jumpstart their academics and career,” Behrens said.


A select group of high school students have been invited to spend two days on campus this March shadowing current students in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering for a sample of what life is like as a ChBE student.

The Illinois AIChE Host Program will take place Sunday, March 11 to Monday, March 12, 2018. During those two days, prospective students will stay overnight in a dorm, attend lectures and tour labs, and participate in activities such as bowling in the Illini Union. Students will also attend a question-and-answer panel discussion with current students from the department.

“The host program helps admitted student get a better picture of what life will look like for them,” said current ChBE student and host program organizer Hannah Chait.

The department invited a select group of admitted students to attend the two-day program. All costs, excluding travel, are provided by the department. Ready to accept your invitation? Email your registration to Hannah Chait at today!

The program is organized by the Illinois Chapter of American Institute of Chemical Engineers and sponsored by the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Jackie Letzter named 2018 Knight of St. Patrick

Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering senior Jackie Letzter for being named a 2018 Knight of St. Patrick! The annual award is given to students who represent leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contributions to the College of Engineering. It’s one of the highest honors received by a student from the college and presented to about 8 to 15 students annually.

“It’s really exciting that I’m being recognized in such a big way for the time and effort I’ve put into the programs I’m involved in. However, I wouldn’t do it any other way because I love that what I do here is positively impacting other students, especially underclassmen,” Letzter said.

The West Chicago native credits her father for developing her interest in engineering. He encouraged her to think about how things were made and how they could be improved upon. She remembers fondly the time she spent with him as a child, such as watching him design plastic injection molds on Saturdays.

Like many Chemical Engineering students, Letzter enjoyed and excelled in chemistry and math in high school. Her chemistry teacher worked in industry prior to teaching in high school and introduced her to chemical engineering. Letzter participated in a “Little Sisters” weekend recruiting event as a high school senior and ever since then, she’s been a member of the Society of Women Engineers student group at Illinois. For the last two years she has served on its officer board and is currently its recruitment chair.

“It’s such a great, friendly group. I had a blast during the recruitment weekend. I felt like part of the community even before I got here. And when I walked into my first class, there was a friendly face.”

For two years, Letzter worked as an Engineering Learning Assistant (ELA) for Engineering 100, the introduction to engineering course for freshmen. As an ELA, she served as a mentor, instructor and resource for new students. During the summer, she worked a teaching associate and advisor for the Summer Scholars program of Illinois Engineering First Year Experience (IFEX), an eight-week program for incoming freshmen that involves students taking courses, attending workshops, building leadership skills, and more.

Letzter plans to work in industry after she graduates in Fall 2018 and is currently seeking employment in process engineering.

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