Seven new researchers added in effort to 'reimagine' UI

Seven new researchers added in effort to 'reimagine' UI

URBANA — Seven professors with more than $28 million worth of research power will join the University of Illinois faculty this year under a new program designed to recruit some of the world's best and brightest to the Urbana campus.

They include experts in artificial intelligence, biomedical imaging, business management, magnetics, neuroscience, chemical biology and cellular decision-making, from Harvard, Washington University and the University of Texas, among other schools.

They were hired under the President's Distinguished Faculty Recruitment Program, coordinated by Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson, which has now added 14 professors across the UI system — 10 in Urbana, three in Chicago and one in Springfield.

The three-year, $60 million initiative was created in 2017 to fund startup packages to recruit faculty of national and international stature — and counteract attempts by other schools to lure away top UI scholars.

The UI system is providing $10 million a year for the program, matched by the three campuses. The initial group of seven hires was announced in June.

"We are seeking the best minds worldwide to reimagine how we teach and learn new skills and how to innovate in a world where change is coming faster than ever," President Tim Killeen said in a prepared statement. "The investment we are making will pay dividends for years to come, shaping the lives of students and the breakthrough research discovery that drives progress."

One of the seven is Nancy Amato, announced last fall as the new head of the highly ranked Department of Computer Science. The award-winning researcher is widely recognized for her work in motion planning in robotics, used in such applications as autonomous driving and manufacturing.

She joined the UI in January from Texas A&M, where her research interests also include computational biology, computational geometry, and parallel and distributed computing. She has landed more than $114 million in research support.

The others are:

— Mark Anastasio, a professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, who will start in March as the new head of the Department of Bioengineering. He's an internationally recognized expert on tomographic image reconstruction, imaging physics and the development of computed biomedical imaging systems.

At Washington, he has conducted pioneering research in photoacoustic computed tomography, diffraction tomography and X-ray phase-contrast imaging. He received a Career Award in 2006 from the National Science Foundation, its most prestigious award for early career faculty. He has received more than $18 million in past and current research support.

— Ido Golding, a physics professor who will return this year to the College of Engineering from Baylor College of Medicine. A biophysicist and expert in single-molecule and single-cell measurements of transcription, his research focuses on the diverse phenotypes exhibited by genetically identical cells.

His lab has made multiple contributions to understanding the processes of transcribing DNA to RNA, and of viral infection at the single-cell level. He also won an NSF Career Award in 2013 and has received more than $5.2 million in research funding. He was a founding member of the NSF Center for the Physics of Living Cells at the UI, where worked from 2007 to 2009.

— Melissa Graebner, a professor of management at the University of Texas, who will start this fall in the Gies College of Business. Her areas of expertise are entrepreneurial strategy, mergers and acquisitions, and qualitative research methods.

Her work has been recognized by the Academy of Management and featured in The Economist, The New York Times DealBook and Forbes. She is co-editor of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.

She previously worked for McKinsey & Co. in Chicago and San Francisco, where she consulted with Fortune 500 clients on merger and acquisition implementation as well as growth strategies.

— Axel Hoffmann, a senior group leader in magnetic films at Argonne National Laboratory, who will start next fall in the College of Engineering. An award-winning researcher in magnetism-related topics, he was part of a research team that discovered a new method for creating nanoscale magnetic "bubbles" at room temperature, which could advance future methods for creating faster and more efficient computer memory systems.

He holds three magnetism-related U.S. patents.

— Liviu Mirica, a professor of chemistry at Washington University, who started this semester in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He is an expert in the design of chemical agents that contain metal ions, and has studied the role of transition metal ions in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, which may lead to better imaging and diagnoses of the mind-robbing disease.

He has received more than $3.4 million in research support.

— Uwe Rudolph, a professor of comparative biosciences who started last fall in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Previously at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., he is an internationally recognized scholar in neuroscience and pharmacology.

His research has helped lead to new strategies for the development of drugs controlling anxiety without sedation.

He also is at the forefront of identifying a compound that suppresses itching in mice and dogs.

He holds an honorary degree from Harvard and has received more than $8 million in research support.