Meet our faculty
This profile originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Mass Transfer, the magazine for alumni and friends of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois.
Assistant Professor Simon Rogers
Simon Rogers joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2015, bringing the total number of faculty in the department to 19, the highest it’s ever been. Professor Rogers comes to the University of Illinois from New Zealand—by way of Delaware, Germany, and Greece.
A native New Zealander, Rogers hails from Upper Hutt, a city just north of the capital city of Wellington, and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Victoria University of Wellington.
“I have always been interested in big picture-type problems, such as the nature of time. … What is time, where does it go, and how is it another dimension, like space?” Rogers said.
Early on in college, Rogers considered focusing on astronomy and astrophysics, but as he continued his studies, his interests shifted from the largest scale to the smallest scale and how time is manifested in that realm.
Rogers investigates how soft materials respond to deformation. In other words, what happens when you poke something, he said.
“The mathematics we use to describe how things respond to being poked hasn’t really changed since we started poking things. I’m interested in bringing in a new way of thinking about these things and a new way of describing these responses,” he said.
With a Ph.D. in physics, Rogers admits he may not have “a traditional chemical engineering background,” but he views that as a positive.
“I bring a different way of looking at traditional problems,” he said.
Rogers, who describes himself as a visual person, said his drive to visualize things has pushed his mathematical curiosity. By using insights from ‘visual’ fields such as geometry, he says his research has provided new ways to look at old problems.
In addition to rheology, Rogers’s research has used neutron scattering, which involves firing beams of neutrons at soft materials, resulting in beautiful, brightly-colored pictures. The results show pulses, flares, and shapes which can inform researchers about how the materials respond on their smallest length scale.
In the above image: By applying a novel analysis based on differential geometry concepts (left), the nonlinear oscillatory rheological response of a soft colloidal gas (center) can be understood in terms of time and amplitude-dependent material parameters (right).
After receiving his Ph.D. in 2011, Rogers held three different postdoctoral research positions. First, he joined the Foundation for Research and Technology in Crete, where he was part of the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser, followed by the Jülich Research Center in Germany, where he was with the Institute of Complex Systems’ Soft Condensed Matter group.
Prior to joining the Illinois faculty, he worked with Professor Norman Wagner at the University of Delaware and the Center for Neutron Research.
His motivation for working at different locations around the world was prompted by his interest in seeing the world and gaining a broader understanding of the human condition, “and I feel I am a much more well-rounded person because of those experiences,” Rogers said.
His appointments in Germany and Greece were in research-intensive environments, but it wasn’t until he was at the University of Delaware that Rogers was able to interact closely with students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. That solidified his decision to become an academic faculty member.
“I really enjoy research, but I love the opportunity to teach young people,” he said.
Rogers comes from a family of educators. His mother, now retired, was a longtime teacher and principal in the Upper Hutt community. His brother is a high school science teacher.
What drew Rogers to Illinois, he said, was the strength of soft matter research here and the number of excellent researchers at different stages in their careers—young researchers, mid-career researchers, and well-established, world-renowned experts.
“It shows that not only can you be successful here, but you can become successful here and have a great career in one place,” Rogers said.
In Fall 2015 he team-taught ChBE 221 (“Principles of Chemical Engineering”) with Professor Jonathan Higdon.
Rogers is also passionate about the importance of disseminating information, including research about some of the most complex problems we face, to the general population in order to build a more scientifically literate community. Back in New Zealand he visited a number of primary schools showing how much fun can be had when working in STEM.
“A scientist doesn’t have to be the nerd like someone you see on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or Albert Einstein, an old white guy with crazy hair in a lab coat. Anybody can do science. You just have to be interested enough to ask the questions,” Rogers said.
As for his life outside the lab, Rogers can often be found on a softball field, which is how he and his wife Krista met. They have a daughter who will turn 3 this Christmas, and enjoy spending time outdoors and cheering on teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks.
During the summers, Rogers catches and plays in the outfield for elite men’s fastpitch softball teams. His team this season had quite the international lineup, with players coming from the United States, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, and Argentina. The team competed in the ASA Men’s Major Championship in Ashland, Ohio, and the ISC World Tournament, in South Bend, Indiana in August 2015.