Researchers to Know 2022

Each year, the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) releases detailed metrics benchmarking Illinois’ innovation economy through our Illinois Innovation Index. This includes annual data on the volume of startups founded by students and faculty at Illinois universities, as well as research activity and output across the state’s campuses. While we view these metrics as vital for assessing Illinois’ progress in key economic development areas, taking this big-picture view of innovation can overlook the groundbreaking research being conducted by world-class researchers at our campuses across the state.

This year, to highlight university researchers who have made a significant impact in their field, ISTC is releasing its fifth annual list of “Researchers to Know” at Illinois’ universities. Though this list is far from comprehensive, it provides a more detailed look at some of the researchers that are driving innovation in the state—from those advancing new treatments in medicine, to those revolutionizing sustainability practices and shaping new technologies in the 21st century.

To create this list of distinguished researchers, ISTC reached out to university partners across the state to nominate faculty that have demonstrated excellence in their work. An emphasis was also placed on researchers that have recently achieved milestones, such as publishing an influential paper, receiving national recognition, or commercializing a new innovation. What follows is a cross-section of noteworthy faculty from all corners of the state – each possessing unique research strengths that illustrate the critical role of Illinois’ university research in the national innovation economy.



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Meet the Researchers

Environment and Sustainability

Energy Enhancement

Cybersecurity and Network Design

Complex Materials and Processes

Environment and Sustainability

Seth darling

Argonne National Laboratory

Wastewater Treatment • Molecular Engineering • Complex Materials
Research Description

Seth B. Darling is the Interim Associate Laboratory Director of the Advanced Energy Technologies Directorate at Argonne National Laboratory and also serves as the directorate’s Chief Science & Technology Officer. He also serves as Senior Scientist in the Chemical Sciences & Engineering Division and Director of the Advanced Materials for Energy-Water Systems (AMEWS) Energy Frontier Research Center. He received his PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago. His group’s research centers around molecular engineering with a current emphasis on advanced materials for cleaning water, having made previous contributions in fields ranging from self-assembly to advanced lithography to solar energy. He has published over 140 scientific articles, holds over a dozen patents, is a co-author of popular books on water and on debunking climate skeptic myths, and lectures widely on topics related to energy, water, and climate.

Darling’s research focuses on developing and studying advanced materials for applications in water treatment and other technological separations. Specifically, his group has developed coatings that offer both passive (adsorption prevention) and active (catalytic degradation) properties to mitigate membrane fouling, photothermal materials for wastewater treatment (a form of solar thermal energy), and sorbents for selective removal of contaminants.

Learn more about Seth’s research here.






Joan M. Brehm

Illinois State University

Natural Resources • Demography • Water conservation and systems
Research Description

Dr. Joan M. Brehm received her Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at Utah State University in May 2003 and she earned her M.A. from The University of Montana in 1998.  She began her work at Illinois State University in 2003.  Her publications include numerous manuscripts published in the leading society and environment journal Society and Natural Resources.  She has received numerous research grants from USDA/CSREES/ NIWQP,  Illinois EPA, the Nature Conservancy, and the Illinois Innovation Network (INN), and was the lead social scientist in an international and interdisciplinary research team examining the impacts of climate change on Lake Tanganyika and the local fisheries, funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DANIDA).  She has been recognized for her scholarship with the Outstanding Cross-Disciplinary Team Research Award at Illinois State University (2017) and the ISU Janice Witherspoon Neuleib Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement (2013).  In 2018 she co-founded the Center for a Sustainable Water Future to foster collaborative teaching, research, and civic engagement around the theme of water.  She continues to serve as the Co-Director of this center while also serving as Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Her areas of emphasis are natural resources/environment, community, and demography.  Dr. Brehm’s research interests center around the interactions between human populations and the environment in which they live. She is most intrigued by how societies function and what factors influence their various relationships and attitudes towards ‘nature’ and what those attitudes mean for both sustainable land management and broader community well-being. Her professional training has focused heavily on rural and environmental change, with formal training in natural resource and environmental sociology, community, and demography. She has published over a dozen peer-reviewed articles on various related topics including local foods and community supported agriculture, sense of place and place attachment, adoption of watershed best management practices for water quality, and the role of climate change and local knowledge in fisheries management in Tanzania.   

Water is becoming an ever-increasing area of interest in research.  Dr. Brehm leads our Center for a Sustainable Water Future and is a leader in driving water research.  She recently co-hosted an Illinois Water Issues panel on our campus.

Learn more about Dr. Brehm’s research here.

Marcelo H. Garcia

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Environmental Sustainability • Hazard Mitigation • Water Resource Engineering
Research Description

Dr. Garcia received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1989, and after a brief stint as Research Fellow at the St. Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory, University of Minnesota, joined the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1990. He is currently the  M. T. Geoffrey Yeh Endowed Chair and Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UIUC. He is also the Director of the Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory, a 11,000 square-foot hydraulic research laboratory at UIUC which has many experimental facilities, including a large wavemaker and a large oscillatory tunnel, as well as the ability to do custom computational fluid dynamics simulations and other types of numerical simulations. He is a faculty affiliate in the Department of Geology and in the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. His primary area of research is Water Resources Engineering and Science. His other research interests include Energy-Water-Environment Sustainability and Societal Risk & Hazard Mitigation. 

Dr. Garcia’s research focuses on Energy-Water-Environment Sustainability, Societal Risk and Hazard Mitigation and Water Resources Engineering and Science. Some of his notable recent work includes research on how Lake Michigan’s rising levels would influence the unique bidirectional flow of the Chicago-area waterway system to affect water quality, flood control and invasive species management within this system that connects the lake to Illinois, Indiana and the Mississippi River basin (2022). Dr. García is a leader in the field of river mechanics, sediment transport, sedimentation engineering and environmental hydraulics. He is best known for his research in sediment entrainment from riverbeds, flow and transport in vegetated channels, the mechanics of oceanic turbidity currents, and the dynamics of mudflows in mountain areas. Other notable accomplishments include his recent work on how Lake Michigan’s rising levels would influence the unique bidirectional flow of the Chicago-area waterway system to affect water quality, flood control and invasive species management, and his role as team leader of the $25 million Urban Climate Science Study funded by the Department of Energy.

Learn more about Prof. Garcia’s research here.


climate Change

Jalene LaMontagne

DePaul University

Urban Ecology • Spatial Sychrony • Climate Change
Research Description

Dr. LaMontagne is a population ecologist and has broad interests in the patterns and drivers of synchrony and variability. She received her undergraduate degree in Ecology and her Master’s degree in Conservation Ecology from the University of Calgary . She completed her PhD in Environmental Biology and Ecology at the University of Alberta where she focused on spatial and temporal variation in resource availability and impacts on consumer populations in a white spruce-red squirrel system in Yukon, Canada. In 2011, she joined the Department of Biological Sciences at DePaul University in Chicago where her lab conducts research on patterns and drivers of spatial-temporal synchrony among and within populations, macrosystems biology, and global change biology including climate change impacts and urban ecology. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2018, and Professor in 2022. Prior to DePaul, she was a founding faculty member at the Asian University for Women, the first liberal arts university for women in South Asia, located in Bangladesh.  She is a Research Affiliate with The Morton Arboretum, an Adjunct Scientist at the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo, and a collaborator on the Spruce and Peatland Response Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) project run by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  

Dr. LaMontagne’s research interests span a wide range of organisms. Her research program broadly focuses on questions related to: 1) Patterns and drivers of spatial synchrony, 2) Climate change, and 3) Urban ecology. Her lab conducts field research and uses large datasets to address their research questions. Dr. LaMontagne’s interests overlap with conservation biology, and has included research on trumpeter swan habitat selection and behavior, sage grouse population dynamics, land use of boreal caribou in relation to petroleum development, and habitat selection and nest use by red-headed woodpeckers. She have been involved in conservation-related research on a variety of species, including trumpeter swan habitat selection, spatial variation in sage grouse population dynamics, caribou responses to industrial disturbance, and red-headed woodpecker habitat selection and nest use.

Learn more about Jalene’s research here.


Mark Potosnak

DePaul University

Organic Compond Omissions • Global Change Impact • Climate Change
Research Description

Mark Potosnak, PhD is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Environmental Science and Studies at DePaul University. He studies interactions between the terrestrial biosphere and the atmosphere. For one area of focus, he studies how biogenic volatile organic compound (BVOC) emissions from plants affect atmospheric chemistry and how climate change will impact this interaction in the future. He also employs low-cost, high-altitude balloon systems to measure the carbon dioxide exchange over agricultural regions in Illinois. Another area of interest is the use of low-cost, wearable air quality sensors for citizen science.

The goal of his research is to understand the complex interactions between the terrestrial biosphere and the atmosphere that are perturbed by human activities. A core strand of his research is to design field and laboratory experiments to test hypotheses focused on how isoprene emissions are impacted by global change factors. His studies have been conducted in urban, temperate, tropical, arid and tundra ecosystems. Many of these ecosystems are understudied and also susceptible to global change factors.

Learn more about Mark’s research here.


John C. Kostelnick

Illinois State University

Geographic Information Science • Geography • Climate Change Impact
Research Description

John Kostelnick is a Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography, Geology & the Environment, and also serves as Director of the Institute for Geospatial Analysis and Mapping (GEOMAP) at Illinois State University, Normal, IL, USA. He holds a PhD in Geography from the University of Kansas. His primary research interests include crisis and hazard/risk mapping and GIS integration in science and society. Dr. Kostelnick frequently is a member of interdisciplinary research teams and has co-published research with his colleagues in a range of scientific journals related to geography, GIScience, conservation biology, environmental science, hydrogeology, and renewable energy. His work has been supported by the funding from several federal and state agencies, including NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Illinois Department of Public Health. Dr. Kostelnick is taking a lead in ISU’s efforts with GIS and Broadband across Illinois, which has received a huge boost in interest from DCEO.

Dr. Kostelnick’s research in Geography and Geographic Information Science (GIScience) has incorporated several issues of societal concern. His work in humanitarian and crisis mapping includes design of the global standard for cartographic representation of landmines, minefields, and mine actions on maps, and he also developed the Crisis Symbology Scorecard, a map-design expert system that is used by crisis mapping personnel across the world to assist with crisis mapping. He has worked with a team that developed GIS and cartographic methods for modeling and visualizing global sea level rise due to climate change. In addition to publication in major academic journals, maps and visualizations developed from the project have appeared frequently in the popular press, including public displays created by NASA, a special disasters issue of National Geographic magazine, and a CNN documentary on climate change. He also assisted NOAA in the redesign of the coastal Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps used in coastal areas across the United States.

Learn more about John’s research here.

Energy enhancement

Sumanta Acharya

Illinois Institute of Technology

Heat Transfer • Combustion • Aerodynamics
Research Description

Dr. Sumanta Acharya is currently a Professor in the Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. From 2016 to 2022 he was also the Chair of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering, IIT Chicago. He was the Ring Companies Endowed Chair and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering at University of Memphis from 2014-2016.  From 2010-2014, he was at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as Program Director, Thermal Transport, Division of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Transport (CBET).  He was the founding Director of the Turbine Innovation and Energy Research (TIER) Center, as well as a leading member of the Clean Power and Energy Research Consortium (CPERC) while at LSU. These collaborative centers had state, industry and federal support. He was also the lead PI of the multi-disciplinary NSF IGERT program on multi-scale computational fluid dynamics. 

During his professional career, Dr. Acharya developed a strong research program focused in several energy and propulsion related areas with a primary focus on gas turbines for energy generation and propulsion. Acharya has established himself as one of the leading heat transfer researchers with nearly 500 technical articles to his credit and having received the major heat transfer awards from all three professional societies that span the field (ASME, AIAA and AIChE). At Illinois Institute of Technology, his research has focused primarily on energy generation issues including sustainability (water conservation in power plants). His most recent grants from ARPA-E and DOE at Illinois Tech have explored innovations in power plant cooling technologies that reduce water consumption and improve power plant efficiency. Lowering the cost of energy and environmental sustainability are among the major challenges facing the society today, and Acharya’s research contributes to this important goal. 

Learn more about Dr. Acharya’s research.

Shirley Meng

University of Chicago

Energy Storage • Battery Technology • Renewable Resources
Research Description

Shirley Meng received her PhD in Advanced Materials for Micro & Nano Systems from the Singapore-MIT Alliance in 2005, and her bachelor’s degree with first-class honor from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore in 2000. She worked as a postdoctoral research fellow and became a research scientist at MIT from 2005-2007. Meng was the Zable Endowed Chair Professor in Energy Technologies at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) before joining PME at the University of Chicago.

Meng’s research focuses primarily on energy storage materials and systems – including rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and trucks, power sources for Internet of Things (IOTs), as well as grid-scale storage for deep renewable energy penetration. Her work pioneers in discovering and designing better materials for energy storage by a unique combination of first-principles computation guided materials discovery and design, and advanced characterization with electron/neutron/photon sources. Meng is the principal investigator of the research group – Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion (LESC). She has received several prestigious awards, including the Faraday Medal of Royal Chemistry Society (2020), International Battery Association Battery IBA Research Award (2019), Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists Finalist (2018), C.W. Tobias Young Investigator Award of the Electrochemical Society (2016), Science Award Electrochemistry by BASF and Volkswagen (2014) and NSF CAREER Award (2011). Meng is the elected fellow of Electrochemical Society (FECS) and elected fellow of Materials Research Society (FMRS). She serves as the editor-in-chief for Materials Research Society MRS Energy & Sustainability Journal.

Learn more about Prof. Meng’s research here.


Tao Li

Northern Illinois University

Chemical Engineering • Fuel Chemistry • Energy Storage
Research Description

Dr. Tao Li holds a joint appointment between NIU and Argonne National Laboratory. He earned his bachelor’s degree in material science from East China University of Science and Technology located in Shanghai, China and his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of South Carolina. He currently is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at NIU. Since arriving at NIU in 2018, Li has attracted more than $2 million in external funding for his research from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy and has authored or co-authored more than 150 papers. Dr. Li also provides tremendous outreach efforts by incorporating his battery research into teaching curricula for undergraduate and graduate students and regularly involves underrepresented groups in STEM to participate. His research group currently has one post-doctoral staff member, six graduate students, and five former Research Rookies, an NIU program for undergraduate students to explore their research interests while gaining the skills and knowledge needed to effectively conduct professional research. He broadens the impact of his work through outreach activities by providing workshops with local school teachers on K-12 science education.

Dr. Li’s long‐term research objective is to develop a highly fundable bio‐inspired interdisciplinary program to design and synthesize novel hierarchically structured functional nanomaterials with wide‐range applications in nanomedicine and energy‐related fields. In the latter, Li aims to help pave the way for the development of next-generation batteries by characterizing the transport property and microstructure of battery electrolytes for improvements in electronic devices, electric vehicles, and grid energy storage. Crucial to battery performance, electrolytes are chemicals that allow an electrical charge to pass between two terminals, but these liquid electrolytes are flammable. Li seeks to develop solid-state electrolytes for improved safety and storage. Dr. Li’s long‐term research objective is to develop a highly fundable bio‐inspired interdisciplinary program to design and synthesize novel hierarchically structured functional nanomaterials with wide‐range applications in nanomedicine and energy‐related fields. His research plan is rationally and progressively prioritized into three phases.

Learn more about Dr. Li’s research.

Cybersecurity and Network design

Dr. Sonja Petrovic

Illinois Institute of Technology

Algebraic statistics • Socially Responsible Network Modeling • Computation
Research Description

Dr. Petrović received her PhD in mathematics from the University of Kentucky in 2008.  After a postdoctoral position at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she joined the Pennsylvania State University Department of Statistics as a tenure track assistant professor.  Dr. Petrović joined the Illinois Institute of Technology Department of Applied Mathematics as an assistant professor in 2013 and was promoted to associate professor in 2017.  Dr. Petrović’s research straddles discrete mathematics and statistics.  She founded and heads the Socially Responsible Modeling, Computation, and Design (SoReMo) initiative at Illinois Tech.  Since 2011, Dr. Petrović has been Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Algebraic Statistics, and its successor journal, Algebraic Statistics.  Dr. Petrović has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, the Simons Foundation, and just recently, the Department of Energy, for High‐Performance Algorithms Research for Complex Energy Systems and Processes. Dr. Petrović is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.

Algebraic statistics research has been a mostly theoretical exercise in the early years. Dr. Petrović’s work on network models, along with two more lines of research (phylogenetics and causal inference) have focused on the applied side of the field, solving problems that no traditional statistical methods can. Dr. Petrović’s work spans theory and application.  She mentors students to solve problems with social impact through SoReMo.  Her efforts have attracted funding from various agencies.  Her prominence in her field through her scholarship and professional service makes her an expert who others seek out.

Learn more about Dr. Petrović’s research here.

Filipo Sharevski

DePaul University

Cybersecurity • Social Engineering • Secure Design
Research Description

Filipo Sharevski, PhD is a cybersecurity researcher and tactician who constructs and manipulates reality as it unfolds across the cyber-physical spaces and within power structures, particularly focused on social engineering, reality interventions, resistances, and cyberwarfare.Dr. Sharevski holds a PhD in Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity from Purdue University, West Lafayette. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, where he co-founded, and co-Directs Divergent Design Lab. He also leads the 5G De-Mobile Lab focused on behavioral security and forensics research in future cellular networks.

His academic work has been published internationally, including a book on cellular network forensics, cybersecurity curriculum under the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP), and academic articles in renewed cybersecurity journals and conferences. HIs research areas include: Ambient Tactical Deception; Malicious User Experience Design; secure design, divergence and deception in human communication and interaction; psychological operations; cyberwarfare; behavioral security in cellular and cyber-physical systems

Learn more about Filipo’s research here.

Complex Materials and Processes

Carlo U. Segre

Illinois Institute of Technology

Material Syntheses • Physics • X-ray Spectroscopy
Research Description

Dr. Segre is the Duchossois Leadership Professor of Physics at IIT and has led the Materials Research Collaborative Access Team at the Argonne Advanced Photon Source for a number of years. He is an active participant in the IIT Center for Synchrotron Radiation Research and Instrumentation (CSRRI); serving as Center Director and as Deputy Director of the Materials Research Collaborative Access Team (MRCAT) which operates an experimental facility for materials research at the Advanced Photon Source (APS). He has been involved in the development of crystal optic devices for delivery and detection of x-rays at synchrotron beamlines.Since 1992, he has been involved with the International Bridge Building Committee, which organizes the Chicago Regional Bridge Building Contest each winter and the International Bridge Building Contest in odd years. This contest has grown, over the past 37 years, to be an integral part of many High School Physical Science curricula.

His research centers around the structure and electronic properties of complex materials including superconducting, magnetic, catalytic, and energy storage materials. Experimental techniques used in his research include: material synthesis through arc-melting, powder metallurgy, and advanced chemical methods; structural characterization of the samples performed by x-ray powder diffraction and xray absorption fine structure; and measurement of electronic properties by resistivity, magnetic susceptibility, and x-ray absorption spectroscopy. 

His recent accomplishments of note are the milestones reached by his company, Influit, which is developing a nanotechnology enabled battery.  

Learn more about Dr. Segre’s research here.

Jian Cao

Northwestern University

Manufacturing innovation • Laser Processes • Design Methodology
Research Description

Professor Jian Cao joined Northwestern University shortly after receiving her Ph.D. degree from M.I.T. in 1995. She received her M.S. from M.I.T. and B.S. from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Currently, she is the Cardiss Collins Professor and Director of Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation at Northwestern University. Professor Cao is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), ASME, SME, and of the International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP).  Prof. Cao is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Materials Processing Technology and the founding Technical Editor of the ASME Journal of Micro- and Nano-manufacturing. 

Prof. Cao’s major research interests include innovative manufacturing processes and systems, particularly in the areas of deformation-based processes and laser processes. Her research has integrated analytical and numerical simulation methods, control and sensors, design methodologies to advance manufacturing processes. Prof. Cao’s innovations, which include a pioneering flexible sheet-forming system, are transforming the way the world makes things. For her work, Cao has received numerous accolades, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Milton C. Shaw Manufacturing Research Medal and her recent election to the National Academy of Engineering, among the highest honors in the field. Prof. Cao has published over 400 technical articles, including over 230 journal articles, 10 book chapters, about 20 patents. She has given nearly 160 invited talks and published op-ed articles.

Learn more about Jian’s research here.

Omar K. Farha

Northwestern University

Chemistry • Material Science • Energy Applications
Research Description

Born and raised in Westbank Palestine and having immigrated to the United States following high school while seeking a better education and life, Professor Omar Farha began his post-secondary education at Fullerton College, earning his associate degree in chemistry.  He earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry at UCLA. He continued his educational journey at UCLA, ultimately earning his Ph.D. in chemistry and followed on with his postdoctoral work at Northwestern University. His journey to Evanston has led to his current position as a tenured member of the faculty. At Northwestern, he works with a group of cutting-edge nanomaterials called MOFs (metal-organic frameworks) – essentially programmable, smart sponges having the potential to make cleaner fuels and to save lives through chemical abatement, as well as other applications. An entrepreneur, Professor Farha has founded NuMAT Technologies to commercialize MOFs to help solve some of society’s most complex chemical challenges.

Professor Farha’s research seeks to solve exciting problems in chemistry and materials science ranging from energy and environment related applications to challenges in national defense by employing atomically precise functional materials.  By exploiting the modular nature of metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) and porous organic polymers (POPs), we work to fundamentally understand the role of three-dimensional architecture in modifying a material’s function for applications in gas storage and separation, catalysis, water remediation and detoxification of chemical warfare agent simulants.

Learn more about Omar’s research.

Nadya Mason

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

Nanotechnology • Superconductors • Electronic Transport
Research Description

Dr. Mason received her PhD from Stanford University in 2001, was a MRSEC Postdoctoral Fellow and a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, and thereafter joined the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2005. She is currently the Rosalyn Sussman Yalow Professor in Physics and Director, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at UIUC. She is the Founding Director of the NSF-funded Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (I-MRSEC), and is affiliated with the Materials Research Lab and the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab at the university. Dr. Mason is an experimental physicist working at the intersection of complex materials, superconductivity, and nanotechnology. She was recently appointed as Director of Beckman Institute, one of the first large-scale interdisciplinary research centers in the world with researchers from more than 40 departments and 13 colleges at UIUC who together explore major scientific and technological challenges. She is also the director of the $16 Million NSF funded I-MRSEC. She has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious honor for a scientist. She and her team conduct groundbreaking research in the field of condensed matter physics. She is also known for her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in STEM.

Dr. Mason is a condensed matter experimentalist working on electron transport in low-dimensional materials such as nanowires, graphene, topological surfaces, and nano-structured superconductors. Her research is relevant to the fundamental physics of small systems and has applications to a variety of technologies, including quantum communication, information storage, and qubit control in quantum computers. Her recent work includes discovering a novel way to read antiferromagnets electrically and breakthroughs in understanding electronic transport in nanoscale and mesoscopic systems – graphene, nanostructured superconductors, and topological insulators. An improved understanding of the nature of electronic transport in such systems has profound implications and impacts for topics ranging from high-temperature superconductivity to quantum computing.

Learn more about Prof. Mason’s research here.


Future of Food

Kaiyu Guan

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Ecohydrology • Crop Remote Sensing • Ecosystem Functionality
Research Description

Dr. Guan received his PhD from Princeton University in 2013; he completed a postdoc at Stanford University and was a researcher at The Climate Corporation before joining the University of Illinois as an Assistant Professor. Currently, Dr. Guan is a Blue Waters Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He is also the Director of the  Agroecology Sustainability Center at the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE, UIUC) and a Office of Research Fellow in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. In addition, he is faculty affiliate in the Departments of Computer Science and Geography and Geographic Information Science, and in the Center for Digital Agriculture, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).  He is a faculty fellow of the Environmental Sustainability, National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (2021), and a faculty fellow in the Center for Advanced Study (2020). He is the founder of Habiterre, a startup which helps financial institutes, public agencies, and individual producers to quantify, manage, and reduce financial risks in the farming-related business.

Dr. Guan’s research interests include ecohydrology and crop remote sensing and providing solutions for real-life problems, such as large-scale crop monitoring and forecasting, water management and sustainability, and global food security. Dr. Guan and his team focus on using satellite data, computational models, fieldwork, and machine learning approaches to address how climate and human practices affect crop productivity, water resource availability, and ecosystem functioning. His lab works closely with scientists in computer science (deep learning, high performance computing), plant physiologists, agronomists, and economists to address real-world challenges such as the above. He is the currently lead investigator on 17 grants awarded by various agencies including ARPA-E, DoE, NASA, NSF, USDA, USDA-NIFA, and FFAR, by university partners, and by the state of Illinois. Dr. Guan and his team have developed novel sensing and modeling technologies that are revolutionizing how agricultural productivity and sustainability are monitored. The research he and his team conducts will help to inform how to maintain sustainability of ecosystem services, food security and water resources under conditions of climate change and anthropogenic factors such as land use change, and increasing population and food demands. This work has the potential to provide valuable information  on various factors that directly or indirectly impact the livelihood and well-being of billions of people. He is the lead PI on two SMARTFARM Projects funded by ARPA-E (amounting to about $8 million), which aim to develop a precise system for measuring greenhouse gas emissions from commercial bioenergy crops — essentially new technology for managing bioenergy crops, improving yield, reducing over fertilization, and designing new tools for ‘Smart Farms.’

Learn more about Prof. Guan’s research here.


Melani Duffrin

Northern Illinois University

Food Science •Nutrition • Health Outcomes
Research Description

Dr. Duffrin has been a Registered Dietitian for 19 years with early career experience as a Clinical-Consultant Dietitian and Weight Loss Counselor. She is also the creator and principal investigator of the FoodMASTER Initiative, a learning environment design and research project that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Science Education Partnership Award for 18 years. For the past 15 years she has worked in higher education with 10 years of funded school and community-based nutrition education research experience. Her primary teaching responsibilities are food science, community nutrition, nutrition counseling, as well as directing graduate student projects. 

Dr. Duffrin’s successful completion of NIH and USDA funded projects totaling $2.5 million dollars has afforded over 20 graduate and 40 undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in scholarly projects. Three of the students are currently employed as university assistant professors, one is a family medicine physician, five are working towards or have completed PhDs, and the others are practicing healthcare professionals. The currently funded NIH SEPA FoodMASTER Initiative is an approach that uses food as a tool to teach mathematics and science. The approach has been described as the “Trojan Horse” of nutrition education as it gains access to formal and informal education learning environment by focusing on mathematics and science academic achievement. Academic success in the subject areas of mathematics and science is a foundational component of accurate understanding nutrition science in the context of healthy living. Educating children in formal and informal learning environments is also a gateway to impacting families, communities, and future generations. 

Learn more about Dr. Duffrin’s research.

Biotech and Life Science

Joanna Dabrowska

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Neuromodulation • Defensive Behavior • Peptide Reactivity
Research Description

Dr. Joanna Dabrowska earned a PharmD in 2000 from Wroclaw Medical University and a PhD in Neuropharmacology in 2006 from the Medical University of Silesia. She continued her postdoctoral training at Emory University and in 2012 she was awarded a ‘Pathway to Independence’ K99/R00 grant from NIMH. In 2014, she joined the faculty of the Chicago Medical School as an assistant professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and neuroscience. The Dabrowska Lab is currently supported by the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and an R01 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH113007).

The goal of research in the Dabrowska Lab is to understand how repeated stress exposure can lead to neuroplasticity of selective neuronal circuits and long-term changes in stress-coping behavior, which ultimately leads to the development of psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and/or addiction. Since chronic stress is a potential risk factor for the development of these diseases we seek to understand how stress interacts with affect at the molecular, cellular, physiological, and behavioral level, and what are their respective roles in the etiology of the mental disorders. To understand the complex endpoint of psychiatric disorders, we study innate stress-coping mechanisms using animal models of stress, depression, anxiety, and addiction to examine how disruption of these mechanisms could lead to the development of disease.

Learn more about Joanna’s research here.

Noah Rosenblatt

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Mobility • Prostheses • Neuromechanics
Research Description

Dr. Rosenblatt currently serves as an Associate Professor in the Department of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery within the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine.  His efforts for the department primarily align with the Center for Lower Extremity Ambulatory Research (CLEAR), where, for two years he served as the interim director before assuming the role of Associate Dean of Research for the college. Dr. Rosenblatt received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University, completing his work in the Cellular and Tissue Mechanics Laboratory under the mentorship of  Dr. Dimitrije Stamenovic.  During  his  postdoctoral training under Dr. Mark Grabiner in the Clinical Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Lab at the University of Illinois Chicago, he gained a passion for studying the effect of age on neuromechanics of reactive balance response, stemming from his efforts on a three-year prospective clinical trial aimed at preventing community-based falls by improving reactive stepping responses.

The overarching goal of the work is to integrate information into development of novel, patient-specific, interventions to promote mobility and reduce falls. His current research remains broadly focused on preventing falls and maintaining mobility and function in older adults and users of lower limb prostheses, but the scope of work has expanded to also consider the effects of obesity and of diabetes on reactive balance. An emerging interest is on the role of fear of falling on neuromechanics of reactive balance and on developing interventions to address fear of falling in users of lower limb prostheses as a means of promoting community participation. Dr. Rosenblatt remains committed to applying his strong biomechanics background to address mobility and fall-related issues for a wide variety populations as evidence by his currently funded projects, which seek to: 1) better understand how offloading footwear for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers impacts locomotor stability and its relationship to adherence and ulcer healing; and 2) the extent to which prosthetic socket design interferes with hip muscle function in transfemoral amputees and the relationship to impaired mediolateral reactive balance. With these projects, Dr. Rosenblatt has been awarded over $2.7 million in grant funding since joining the RFUMS faculty in 2015 (reflecting total costs of grants on which he served as PI and total costs on subcontracts where he served as subcontract PI).

Learn more about Dr. Rosenblatt’s research here.

Bryan Dickinson

University of Chicago

Applied Biology • Functional Molecules • Disease Treatment
Research Description

Professor Dickinson earned his B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2005, where he pursued research with Professor David Fushman. He then obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2010 for work performed with Professor Christopher Chang. His graduate work focused on the synthesis and application of small molecule fluorescent probes for the detection of hydrogen peroxide in living systems. Then, as a Jane Coffin Childs Memorial postdoctoral fellow with Professor David Liu at Harvard University, he developed new methods to rapidly evolve proteins to perform novel functions. Bryan joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in the Department of Chemistry in the Summer of 2014 and is a member of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2019.

Dickinson works in complementary areas of basic and applied biology with the overarching theme being the creation of functional molecules that lead to biological breakthroughs. The functional molecules we are creating vary in terms of size (small molecules to proteins to engineered organisms) and discovery method (rational design to unbiased evolution). In all cases, our ultimate goal is to leverage new chemical and molecular technologies to better understand and treat human disease. Currently, we are pursuing three primary research areas including chemical biology of protein lipidation, Harnessing evolution to reprogram biomolecular interactions, and synthetic biology approaches to interrogate and control RNA regulation.  In 2020, Dickinson received the Arthur L. Kelly Faculty Prize for Exceptional Service in the Physical Sciences Division, University of Chicago.  He also received the 40 Under 40 Chicago Scientist- HaloCures.

Learn more about Prof. Dickinson’s research here.


Lahiru Jayakody

Southern Illinois University – Carbondale

Metabolic Engineering • Micro-organisms • Gene Manipulation
Research Description

Dr. Jayakody is a synthetic microbiologist who works with the metabolic engineering of the model and non-model microorganisms with more than ten years of professional research experience.  He is an expert in molecular biology, synthetic and systems biology, fermentation, functional food, lipid chemistry, stress biology, microbiology, biochemistry, metabolic engineering, protein post-translational modfications, and bioinformatics.  Dr. Jayakody uses scientific techniques that include gene manipulation, CRISPR/Cas9 based genome editing, genome-wide analysis, gene sequencing and protein analysis, cloning, protein expression and purification, multi-omics, sphingolips isolation and cheracterization, microscopic and image analysis, and several others.  

Jayakody’s research studies primarily aim to dissect the complex molecular mechanisms of microbes stress-responses through the systems biology approaches, and exclusively targeted to identify the novel Post Translational Protein Modifications events (PTMs) such as ubiquitination, sumoylation, and chaperone-cascade in stress resistance of microbes (model and industrial microbial hosts). His novel findings contribute to understanding cellular processes of both fundamental and industrial interests to tailor biocatalysts via metabolic engineering approaches for biorefinery and production of high-value bio-materials from waste including plastic.

Learn more about Lahiru’s research here.

Medical Technology

Jun-Hyun Kim

Illinois State University

Surface Chemistry • Chemical Engineering • Medical Technology
Research Description

Jun-Hyun Kim is currently a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Illinois State University (ISU). Dr. Kim earned his B.S. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Keimyung University and his Ph.D. in Organic and Materials Chemistry from Houston.  After a post-doctoral stint at Northwestern University, he joined the faculty ranks at Illinois State.  He has progressed through the ranks and is now a Professor. 

His research interests focus on regulating structurally diverse nanoscale metal and polymer as well as their composite materials for the development of highly reactive quasi-homogeneous catalytic systems, sensitive signaling devices, and novel drug-delivery vehicles.  Through his research, Prof. Kim has actively collaborated with chemistry and engineering groups across several countries. Prof. Kim’s research has been funded by American Chemical Society, National Institute of Justice, National Science Foundation, and private companies. Prof. Kim received the Janice Witherspoon Neuleib Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement of the Year and the Illinois State University College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding College Researcher Award.

Learn more about Jun-Hyun’s research here.

Guillermo A. Ameer

Northwestern University

Regenerative Engineering • Biomaterials • Medical device development
Research Description

Dr. Ameer is the Daniel Hale Williams Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Surgery in the Biomedical Engineering Department at the McCormick School of Engineering and the Department of Surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. He is the founding director of the Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering (CARE). Dr. Ameer received his Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and his doctoral degree in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Ameer is a Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), a Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), and a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Dr. Ameer is an Associate Editor of the Regenerative Engineering and Translational Medicine Journal, member of the Boards of Directors of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), the Regenerative Engineering Society, and the American institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, co-chair of the BMES Diversity Committee, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Acuitive Technologies, Inc. a company that is bringing one of his technologies to the musculoskeletal surgery market. Dr. Ameer is also a co-founder of several medical device companies.

Dr. Ameer is a leader in regenerative engineering, biomaterials, additive manufacturing for biomedical devices, controlled drug delivery, and bio/nanotechnology for therapeutics and diagnostics. His research interests include biomaterials, tissue engineering, regenerative engineering, on demand patient-specific medical devices, additive manufacturing for biomedical devices, controlled drug delivery and bio/nanotechnology for improved therapeutics and diagnostics. Dr. Ameer’s laboratory pioneered the development and medical applications of citrate-based biomaterials. These materials have been adopted for various bioengineering applications by hundreds of researchers around the world. He has actively worked with industrial partners, started companies of his own, and was most recently honored with the 2022 Innovation/Commercialization Award by the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society-Americas (TERMIS-AM), in recognition of recent FDA clearance and market launch of innovative bioresorbable orthopedic tissue products he developed which were commercialized by Stryker Corporation. He has co-authored over 250 peer-reviewed journal publications and conference abstracts, several book chapters, and over 50 patents issued and pending in 9 countries. Several of his patents have been licensed to companies to develop medical products. 

Learn more about Dr. Ameer’s research here.

Aaron Esser-Kahn

University of Chicago

Biology • Chemistry • Material Science
Research Description

Prof. Esser-Kahn grew up in suburban Detroit. He studied at the California Institute of Technology and The University of California at Berkeley. He worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He launched his career at the University of Irvine in the Chemistry Department where he worked from 2011 until 2017. Joining the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) in the same year, he has pursued many areas of research.Dr. Esser-Kahn continues to be a prolific inventor completing translational work in immunotherapy and adaptive materials.  In recognition of the potential value of intellectual property surrounding the adjuvant platforms for the development of next-generation vaccine, cancer immunotherapies and autoimmune treatments., the technology transfer office at the University of Chicago has developed an extensive IP portfolio, filing 18 patents in the past 12 months in the United States and in foreign countries.  The most recent patent application further covers compositions and methods of use relating to lead for vaccine adjuvant development, therefore ensuring the University and potential commercial partner a robust IP position for commercialization

His research interests lie at the intersection of biology, chemistry and materials science. He believes in using the tools from each discipline for the task at hand. His group’s current research focuses on three projects that function as extensions of this philosophy. First, they are currently working toward microvascular thermal and gaseous exchange units. We are using knowledge derived from biology to replicate structures adapted for gas capture. Second, they are creating materials for reprogramming the immune system. Using tools from materials chemistry, they are creating polymer facades designed to rewire the immune system toward desired targets. Third, they are working towards creating synthetic tissue scaffolds.

Learn more about Prof. Esser-Kahn’ research.