Three from UI elected to sciences academy

Three from UI elected to sciences academy

URBANA - Three University of Illinois scientists have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

They are chemistry Professor Peter Beak; Karl Hess, a professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dale Van Harlingen, a physics professor.

The new members were announced this morning. The three UI professors are among 72 new members and 18 foreign associates who are recognized for their original research.

Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors for a U.S. scientist or engineer.

"For someone doing scientific research in academia, there probably is no greater honor than to get into the National Academy of Sciences, other than winning a Nobel prize," said Jennifer Quirk, an associate director at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. "It really is the pinnacle of someone's career to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences."

"No one can recall a time when we got three members in one year," said Provost Richard Herman. "This is an all-time high for the university and speaks to the research excellence we have here. It raises the level of visibility of the institution. That, in and of itself, helps us continue to bring great faculty to our doors, especially in science and engineering. It's a sign of the institution continuing to be at the forefront of what is taking place in science and engineering."

Beak is the Roger Adams Professor of Chemistry. His research involves synthetic, structural and mechanistic organic chemistry, and new reaction processes. He received a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from Iowa State University.

"Peter Beak has really been a leader in the field of organic chemistry and has major contributions throughout his long career in physical organic chemistry and organic synthesis," said John Katzenellenbogen, who holds a Swanlund endowed chair in chemistry and is a longtime colleague of Beak. "(His research) is important not just for what it showed but for his approach. That has really characterized what Peter has done."

Katzenellenbogen said Beak found a fundamentally new way to study reaction mechanisms, particularly those that are very difficult to study, and he broadened enormously the range of systems synthetic chemists can work with in certain areas of organic synthesis that are important in pharmaceuticals.

Beak has also been an enormous influence in the classroom.

"He's one of the most effective teachers and unassuming persons one could meet," Katzenellenbogen said. "Despite his preeminence as a researcher, I think he would consider his greatest contribution the students he has trained. He has a way to get the very best out of a student."

Hess holds a Swanlund endowed chair in electrical and computer engineering. He is a full-time faculty member with the Beckman Institute in its Computational Electronics Group. He is also a research scientist with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and a professor with the Center for Advanced Study at the UI.

His research interests are semiconductor physics, computational electronics, and supercomputing applications. Hess is internationally recognized for pioneering contributions to high field transport in semiconductors. He received his doctorate in physics and math from the University of Vienna.

Hess was one of the people who wrote the original proposal to found Beckman Institute. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering a few years ago.

"It's extremely unusual and extremely prestigious for an engineer to be elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences," Quirk said.

Van Harlingen is a research professor in the Materials Research Laboratory, and he does work with the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab. His research is in the area of experimental low temperature physics, superconductivity, and microfabrication of superconductor devices. He received his bachelor's degree and his Ph.D from Ohio State University.

"He's made fundamental contributions to understanding the behavior of materials which are superconducting," said Jeremiah Sullivan, head of the physics department. "One of the most important experiments he did was identifying the fundamental mechanism of high-temperature superconductivity.

"Dale is very versatile and has many research areas in which he has established an enviable reputation. Some of his work now is quantum information, learning what are the fundamental limits set at an atomic level to the communication of information. Someday that may lead to things like quantum computers."

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers, established in 1863 to act as an official adviser to the federal government in matters of science and technology.

You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or by e-mail at

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