April 20, 2016
Huimin Zhao, a leader in synthetic biology, has been named the inaugural Steven L. Miller Chair in Chemical Engineering. On April 13, 2016, University of Illinois Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson presided over an investiture ceremony attended by donors Steven and Sheila Miller, colleagues, administrators, students, friends, and family.
A member of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering faculty since 2000, Zhao harnesses the power of synthetic biology, developing and applying tools to address global challenges in human health and energy, and investigates the fundamental aspects of enzyme catalysis, cell metabolism, and gene regulation. He directs research labs in Urbana and Singapore, consults often with industry, and teaches Illinois students about biotechnology and bioengineering. He has published more than 230 research articles and delivered more than 260 plenary, keynote, or invited lectures around the world. He has over 20 patents that have been issued or are pending, some of them licensed by industry. Fourteen of his former graduate students and postdocs have become professors while the rest (more than 40) are pursuing industrial careers. His Ph.D. is from CalTech and his B.S. is from the University of Science & Technology of China.
“From the bottom of my heart, I’m truly grateful to the university,” said Zhao, who thanked his mentors, collaborators, students, friends, and family. His parents, he said, instilled in him the value of education and hard work. “I also feel honored to be associated with Steven Miller. Thank you, Steven and Sheila, for your generous and longtime support to our department. This investment is not only a celebration of my accomplishments, but also of their accomplishments,” Zhao said.
In his speech at the investiture, Miller reflected on what has made it possible for him to endow a named chair. He expressed several thank yous: to the department, for providing quality education and support; to the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, for providing education in areas outside of engineering, such as poetry and rhetoric; to the university, for providing him with the opportunity to learn about leadership in a safe environment; and for the opportunity to meet Sheila, his future wife, while a student on campus. Sheila Miller is a graduate of the College of Education.
Miller also stressed the importance of the university’s upcoming fundraising campaign, which is planned to coincide with the university’s 150th anniversary.
“The reason it’s important is because the University of Illinois is one of the premiere land grant, research-based universities in this country. … The reason this country is where it is, is because in the latter part of 20th century we had the most, the best educated folks in the world. The challenge is we’re slipping. And we can’t make it up with just the graduates from the privates. The publics, like the University of Illinois, must not only survive, but they have to prosper. And that is the challenge in this new campaign.”
“Sheila and I would hope that by lighting this one point of light with this endowment and chair for Professor Zhao, so richly earned, that maybe that is a way to light a thousand lights in this campaign,” Miller said.