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Click here to see this online

April 2021

Head shot of Cathy Murphy, department head, on a gray background 
Greetings from the Department Head

Last year at this time, the Department of Chemistry was newly adapting to remote work, online instruction and COVID-19 safety precautions, and we are still operating under some of those same conditions as the spring semester quickly draws to an end. But I am happy to share that university leaders expect by the start of the new academic year, the campus will be safe for a return to in-person operations, provided our university safety protocols, statewide mitigation efforts and ongoing vaccinations continue the downward trajectory of COVID-19 infection rates.

We are hopeful this will eventually lead to our department again hosting in-person alumni events and look forward to the day when we can gather again. In the meantime, I hope to see all our alumni (postdoc alumni, too) virtually for a reunion event in May! More details here.

I am also excited to share that plans are progressing for the addition to Roger Adams Laboratory, which has now been officially named the Center for Applied Molecular Sciences (CAMS). The architectural firm undertaking the feasibility study is a big one: Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, a firm whose body of work includes the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the new Moynihan Train Hall in New York City, which opened in January, and campus buildings at universities across the country. Our two representatives on the feasibility study committee are professors Scott Denmark and Josh Vura-Weis.

Continuing with good news, seven UIUC chemistry students – four graduate students and three undergraduates – have been selected National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows! We congratulate them and the additional seven students who were accorded honorable mention in this tough nationwide competition. It is a tribute to our excellent students, and their faculty supporters, that they have won this national recognition.

On a solemn note – as many of you may already know – long-time faculty member Peter Beak, the James R. Eiszner Chair of Chemistry Emeritus, passed away on February 21, 2021. If you have not already, I encourage you to read the department’s In Memoriam and the collection of remarks and memories from colleagues and his students.

We all aspire to his difficult-to-emulate example of an internationally acclaimed organic chemist who was characteristically modest and dedicated to the service of his profession and to the training and education of his students.

Thank you to those who shared memories of Professor Beak, and if you have not yet submitted remarks and would like to for inclusion on the website, please e-mail your comments to tlcrane@illinois.edu.

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
 Image of Martin Gruebele, right, and graduate student Huy Nguyen, left, standing next to each other in front of a wall of bookshelves filled with books.

Cheap, nontoxic carbon nanodots poised to be quantum dots of the future

A new study led by Illinois chemistry Professor Martin Gruebele uses ultrafast nanometric imaging, which revealed good and bad emitters among populations of carbon dots.

This suggests that by selecting only super-emitters, carbon nanodots can be purified to replace toxic metal quantum dots in many applications. The ability to pick out the perfect dots could make the concept of efficient carbon-based dots a reality, Gruebele said.

 Head shot of alumna Markita Landry on a light gray background

Markita Landry research pivots to brain neurochemistry, plant engineering

The ability to obtain a PhD in chemical physics drew Markita Landry (PhD, ’12, Chemla) to the UIUC chemistry program where she completed coursework in both chemistry and physics.

Now, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, Landry's research has pivoted to neuroscience and plant genetic engineering.

 Head shot of Peter Beak in a light blue collared shirt on a white background

Remembering Peter Beak, James R. Eiszner Chair of Chemistry Emeritus

Peter Beak, who passed away on February 21, 2021, made fundamental contributions to organic chemistry that included unifying concepts and new areas of investigation in his nearly 60-year career as a UIUC professor of chemistry.

He also served as research advisor for more than 100 graduate and postdoctoral students who have made significant independent contributions in their own fields. The Department of Chemistry celebrates his legacy with an In Memoriam and a collection of memories from his colleagues and students.

 Tabitha Miller sitting on a large tricycle that's used as transportation at Argonne National Laboratory

Chemistry researchers ranked among world's most influential in new study 

Several chemistry faculty members are among the dozens of professors in the College of LAS who rank among the top 100,000 most-cited researchers since the mid-1990s, according to a new, widely hailed analysis designed to provide a clearer view of scientific and scholarly impact.

The dataset, published in PLOS Biology, includes 8 million researchers worldwide—active, retired, or deceased—who published at least five papers in their career. Six Illinois chemistry researchers are ranked in the top 10,000 on the list.


Fast-acting, color-changing molecular probe senses material failure


Engineers at UIIUC have improved their previously developed force-sensitive molecules, called mechanophores, to produce reversible, rapid and vibrant color change when a force is applied, according to a new study that includes Jeffrey Moore, Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair, Professor of Chemistry and director of the Beckman Institute.

Materials that contain the new mechanophores could be used as stress sensors to enable researchers to study the effects of stress on materials before they fail. Postdoctoral researcher Hai Qian describes the new structure that enables this color change.

 Head shot of Nicholas Ndiege

Nicholas Ndiege (PhD, '08) involved in life-saving work on Abbot heart device

A senior manufacturing engineer at Abbot, Nicholas Ndiege (PhD, ’08, Shannon, Masel) is involved in the production of the company’s HeartMate 3 LVAD (left ventricular assist device).

In 2017, the HeartMate 3 received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for short-term use in patients awaiting heart transplants.

“Solving problems is the most exciting part of what I do,” said Ndiege.

 Head shot of John Katzenellenbogen

Imaging agent identifies cancer patients unlikely to benefit from hormone therapy

A clinical study demonstrated with high degree of accuracy that PET scans can be used to distinguish between breast cancer patients who are likely, and those unlikely, to benefit from hormone therapy.

The key: an imaging agent that attaches to progesterone receptors on cancer cells, making them identifiable in PET scans. Professor John Katzenellenbogen, a research professor of chemistry at Illinois, explains how he began work on design of the imaging agent, fluorofuranylnorprogesterone (FFNP), nearly two decades ago in collaboration with the late Michael Welch, a professor of radiology at Washington University in St. Louis.

 A green and red image showing how individual cells invade away from a central tumor spheroid and into the surrounding vascularized microenvironment. Tumor cells are shown in red and vasculature is shown in green.

CCIL Scientist's Advances in Brain Cancer Research Leads to $3M Grant

Several Cancer Center at Illinois members, including Paul Hergenrother, Kenneth L. Rinehart Jr. Endowed Chair in Natural Products Chemistry and Professor of Chemistry, are joining forces with scientists from the Mayo Clinic and Georgetown University on an expansive project targeting improved treatment for glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

The team recently received a $3M grant from the National Cancer Institute for their research which will unite the cell biology, bioengineering, and chemistry behind cancer drug development.

 Head shot of Anna Bertelloni with a light tan covered wall as the background

Decades later, natural products research leads to possible SARS-CoV-2 drug

In 1989, Anna Bertelloni was a postdoctoral researcher working on natural products from marine organisms, looking for bioactive compounds, in the lab of UIUC chemistry professor Kenneth L. Rinehart, who died in 2005. Bertelloni said they discovered what was then called dehydrodidemnin B (DDB), now known as plitidepsin, and commercially known as Aplidin®.

More than 30 years later, their work has garnered new attention, because research has shown the drug plitidepsin (aplidin) possesses antiviral activity with potent preclinical efficacy against SARS-CoV-2.


LAS alumni panel features two Illinois chemistry alums


The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Office of Advancement and LAS Leaders (student alumni ambassadors) have hosted Spring 2021 Alumni Career Panels, including a Science & Medicine Careers panel on April 7 that featured two Illinois chemistry alumni.

  • Michael Fleck (BS, '87, chemistry; JD, '95, Chicago-Kent College of Law) - Executive Vice President, Pidge Industries; Attorney, Law Office of Michael Fleck
  • Ted Schevey (BS, '10, chemistry; MS, '12, food science and human nutrition) - Associate Principal Scientist, Tate & Lyle

Department Awards and Honors


Rohit Bhargava was selected as the 2021 recipient of The Optical Society (OSA) Ellis R. Lippincott Award. Martin Burke has been elected a member of The American Society for Clinical Investigation. Nancy Makri received the 2021 ACS division award in theoretical chemistry. And Mei Shen received the 2021 ACS division award in analytical chemistry. The list of chemistry faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants who were ranked excellent by their students has been announced from results of the Fall 2020 and Winter 2020-2021 course evaluation processes.    


An image by graduate student Reshmi Dani was a Graduate College 2021 Image of Research Exhibition finalist. Junior Evan Dray has been selected as a Barry M. Goldwater scholar. Seven chemistry students – Susanna Barrett, Mandira Banik, Annika Holm, Andrew Rice, Peng-Jui Chen, Sriyankari Chitti, and William Lyon – have been selected as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows. The American Chemical Society UIUC Student Chapter was selected as an “Outstanding Chapter” for the 2019-2020 Academic Year.


Serenity Desmond, teaching laboratory coordinator in the Department of Chemistry, was recognized by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences with an Academic Professional Award. And Sarah Sheeley (PhD, '04, Sweedler) received the 2021 LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising.


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



  • Peter Andrew Beak (Professor, 1970-2008, James R. Eiszner Chair of Chemistry Emeritus), Feb. 21, 2021



Why I Give

“During my time at UIUC I never had the opportunity for undergrad research. I hope my contribution helps provide an opportunity for a deserving undergraduate student.” —  Chad Herrman (BS, ’00)

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

Upcoming Events

How Pets are Accelerating Cancer Treatment in Humans
Wednesday, April 28, 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. CDT
Join Paul J. Hergenrother, Kenneth L. Rinehart Jr. Endowed Chair in Natural Products Chemistry, for this virtual event featuring an exclusive conversation about how pets are helping treat cancer in humans, including new breakthrough treatments in phase 1 of human trials.

Chemistry Virtual Alumni Reunion
Wednesday, May 26, 5:00 - 6:30 PM CDT
Catch up with your fellow Illini Chemists at this virtual event. Open to undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc alumni of all classes/years. Register at link above.

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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