As a young middle school student in Taiyuan, China, Hong Yang fell in love with chemical sciences when his teacher demonstrated the carbonization of sugar with sulfuric acid. As the black column of carbon foam emerged, he was hooked.
Today Professor Yang is recognized around the world for his work in the field of nanotechnology, particularly in the synthesis of nanomaterials of well-defined structure and composition. He is a leader in the synthesis of bi- and multi-metallic Pt-based nanostructures, which are being evaluated for a range of catalytic applications including fuel cells.
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, the University of Illinois celebrated the investiture of Dr. Hong Yang as the Richard C. Alkire Professor in Chemical Engineering. Investiture as a named chair or professor is one of the highest honors a faculty member can receive.
Dr. Yang’s accomplishments “help realize the land grant mission of the university, translating knowledge into action and impact on the world,” said Interim Provost Edward Feser.
Hong Yang thanked his family, wife Xinhong Liu; daughter, Chloe J. Yang; and son, Dan Z. Yang, for their support as well as his current and former students, colleagues and department leaders. Professor Yang also said he owed a great deal of his success to his grandmother, who lived with his family when he was a young boy.
“She passed on to me not only her confidence and love, but also her strong belief in the power of knowledge,” Yang said.
Professor Yang received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from Tsinghua University, and his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the University of Toronto. After a postdoc at Harvard University, he was on the faculty at the University of Rochester until 2011. In 2012, he joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois.
“I am also very grateful to the anonymous donor whose generosity makes this professorship possible,” he said.
Given recent budget challenges on the state and federal level, such gifts have become especially critical to building a strong faculty at Illinois, Yang said.
The Richard C. Alkire Professorship was established in honor of Professor Alkire, who joined the department in 1969. Alkire, a member of the National Academy of Engineering since 1988, is the Charles and Dorothy Prizer Chair Emeritus.
“Spanning from scholarship to administration to music, you’re a great asset to our community,” Dr. Jonathan Sweedler, director of the School of Chemical Sciences, told Alkire.
In his remarks, Professor Alkire expressed gratitude for the support alumni have given the department throughout the years.
“The support they contribute today carries with it a DNA that goes back many decades, to a time when a great faculty member did something very important. Regardless of what they say in the movies, education is personal, not business,” he said.
The department’s activities today continue to be “at the edge,” Alkire said. “Research is focused on transforming a small gold-mine of scientific understanding at the atomic scale into a big gold-mine of well-engineered products that work. The educational challenge is to re-invent a curriculum that provides routine engineering methodologies for design and quality control at the molecular scale. This task will take a few decades, and is in its infancy. I can envision today’s students returning, 50 years hence, and citing words and experiences—perhaps ones that happen tomorrow morning—that inspired them to do what we think today is impossible.”
“The research of Professor Yang represents a superb example of this next-generation of engineering—the manipulation of atomic-scale distributions of elements on catalytic surfaces to optimize their catalytic activity and stability for reducing oxygen—one of the most important chemical reactions of them all,” Alkire said.