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July 2021

Head shot of Cathy Murphy, department head, on a gray background 

Greetings from the Department Head

The summer months seem to be passing quickly, and the Department of Chemistry is already well into the planning process for the new academic year.

We are looking forward to resuming mostly in-person instruction for the fall semester, but safety measures will remain as the university continually adjusts policies based on advances in scientific understanding of COVID-19 and guidance from public health authorities.

We anticipate hosting mostly virtual alumni events through the fall. And thank you to all those who attended the Alumni Reunion last month. As a fellow Illinois Chemistry alum, I enjoyed seeing familiar faces and making new connections.

To our newest alumni, congratulations for persevering in spite of the challenges of this past year. As with all our alumni, we wish you continued success and encourage you to keep in touch. Visit our department Facebook page for profiles of several of our amazing 2021 graduates.

Many good things are happening in the Department of Chemistry, and I hope you enjoy this sampling of news on groundbreaking research and other updates.

Thank you for your continuing support, and as always, please stay in touch and stay well. 

Catherine J. Murphy (BS, '86)

Head, Department of Chemistry
Larry R. Faulkner Endowed Chair in Chemistry

 Portrait of Yi Lu leaning against a railing that overlooks a lobby with floor to ceiling windows in a building on the UI campus.

DNAzymes could outperform protein enzymes for genetic engineering

Chemistry professor Yi Lu led a team that developed a technique that allows DNAzymes to target and cut double-stranded DNA, overcoming major limitations of the technology and enabling a wide range of genetic engineering applications.


Marinda Wu (PhD, '76) shares personal and professional journey

Head shot of Marinda Wu


In a virtual Chemistry at Illinois event celebrating Asian American Pacific Islanders heritage, Marinda Wu (PhD, '76, Drago) talked about her personal and professional experiences: from her parents coming to the United States from China to pursue their graduate studies, to her PhD in chemistry at Illinois, which led to a long career at Dow Chemical and a term as only the eighth woman and the first Asian American to become the President of the American Chemical Society.

 Photo of Enleyona Weir in the lab in a lab coat and blue gloves

First St. Elmo Brady scholar among newest class of graduate students

The Department of Chemistry welcomes its newest class of graduate students next month. It’s a historic group that includes more women than men for the first time in program history and also includes Enleyona Weir, the department's first St. Elmo Brady Scholar in summer of 2019. The Brady Scholars program provides summer research opportunities for undergraduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities whose chemistry programs were founded by alumnus St. Elmo Brady.

 Graduate student Dinumol Devasia stands to the right of chemistry professor Prashant Jain with green leafy trees in the background.

Light-harvesting nanoparticle catalysts show promise in quest for renewable carbon-based fuels 

Chemistry professor Prashant Jain and graduate student Dinumol Devasia (pictured on left) led a study using a high-resolution analytical technique that confirms the formation of valuable multi-carbon molecules and potential renewable fuels through carbon dioxide reduction reactions.


Biophysics Sonification Group turning research data into music



Working with Illinois music professor Stephen Taylor, Illinois chemistry professors Martin Gruebele and Taras Pogorelov are part of a group using data on WW proteins to map and transcribe music. Listening to this recorded music then allows the researchers to mark where interesting data points can be found that may be significant to their biophysics research. The group explained this data-driven musical research during the Art Science Festival hosted by Illinois Physics and the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe.

 Beniamin Zahiri holds a small battery between two fingers standing in a lab next to Paul Braun who is holding a diagram on a white sheet of paper that illustrates their design.

New study shows how to improve performance of solid state batteries  

A new study, led by Paul Braun, professor of chemistry, and postdoctoral research associate Beniamin Zahiri, are putting solid electrolytes in touch with electrodes made of strategically arranged materials – at the atomic level – and the results are helping drive better solid-state battery technologies.

 Still shot from a CNN television interview of chemistry professor Martin Burke, on left side of television screen, and CNN interviewer on the right side of the screen
Marty Burke interview: Most popular Facebook post of the year  
A CNN interview of Illinois chemistry professor Marty Burke discussing the University of Illinois' saliva-based COVID-19 test was the top Facebook post shared by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the 2020-21 academic year. Chemistry also made the list on National Whipped Cream Day. Check out all the LAS top social media posts for the year.
The university recently won an award for its COVID-19 testing program, which chemistry professors Burke and Paul Hergenrother were instrumental in creating as members of the SHIELD team. 
Watch: The CNN interview with Burke.
Watch: A series of videos with Burke discussing the university's COVID-19 response and saliva test.
 Head shots of Ralph Nuzzo and Wilfred van der Donk

Chemistry professors elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Ralph Nuzzo, G.L. Clark Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Professor of Chemistry, and Wilfred van der Donk, Richard E. Heckert Endowed Chair in Chemistry, Director of Graduate Studies, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, are among 120 newly elected U.S. members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest professional honors a scientist can receive.

 Portrait of Phil Kocheril playing a trumpet at a concert

Survey: Most chemistry graduates land preferred job or graduate school

Before Philip Kocheril graduated in the UIUC Class of 2021 in May, the chemistry major had already been offered a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The annual Illini Success survey shows that most students graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Chemistry land their first destination after graduation despite workforce challenges that have arisen since the pandemic began.
 Head shots of Nancy Makri and Kenneth Schweizer

Chemistry professors elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Nancy Makri, Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Chair and Professor of Chemistry, and Kenneth Schweizer, Morris Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Professor of Chemistry, were among 252 new members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest honor societies in the nation.


Department Awards and Honors


Jefferson Chan and Joaquín Rodríguez-López received named scholar positions from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Rodríguez-López was also awarded the Zhaowu Tian Prize for Energy Electrochemistry. Greg Girolami was recognized with an SCS Teaching Award. Prashant Jain was named a Blavatnik National Awards Finalist. Nancy Makri and Kenneth Schweizer were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Ralph Nuzzo and Wilfred van der Donk were elected members of the National Academy of Sciences. Lisa Olshansky was recognized as a Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professors (LEAP) Scholars. Mei Shen is part of a research team that won a Scialog Collaborative Innovation Award. The Royal Society of Chemistry awarded Kenneth Suslick the Theophilus Redwood Award.


Graduating senior Sriyankari Chitti was selected a Knight-Hennessy Scholar. Graduating senior Grace Maloney won a Fulbright grant. Graduate students Devon Fontaine, David Friday, Selena Hernandez, and Wesley Wang received SCS Teaching Awards. Graduate students Charlie Dixon, Noah Haskin, and Kim Kelly received Department of Chemistry Teaching Excellence Awards.


Alumni News and Updates

We—and other alumni—would love to know what you’ve been up to! Please share your career updates, awards, and other news here.


In Memoriam

Duane Thomas Bogner (BS, '69), May 11, 2021
Arlen James Hagen (BS, '56), May 2, 2021
Virgil Edison Matthews (BS, '51), May 1, 2021
Edward Paul Merica (PhD, '56, Snyder), April 25, 2021
Susan Anne Odom (Postdoc, 2008-11), April 18, 2021
Roland Russell Stephens (MS, '52), April 14, 2021
Samuel Zeman Jr. (BS, ’49), May 5, 2021


Why I Give

"I am a student of Prof. Zumdahl. He is one of the best teachers I know. I pursued a career in chemical research due in large part to the teaching support and mentorship of Dr. Z. I hope this supports others to learn from the best at UI chemistry."
Mark Tracy (BS, ’86, chemical engineering)

Share why you give to be featured in a future issue.

Upcoming Events

Illinois Homecoming 2021: Close or Apart, We’re Illini at Heart
October 3–9, 2021
Mark your calendars and stay tuned for more details to be announced on plans and events.

University of Illinois Alumni Book Club
Connect with fellow University of Illinois alumni, faculty and staff as we read and discuss various book genres such as lifelong learning, personal growth, novels and other topics.

Chemistry Events Calendar
Since departmental events will be virtual for the time being, we are delighted to invite our alumni and friends to attend the department's various lectures and seminars. We encourage you to check out our full calendar of events at the link above.


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