Researchers to Know 2024

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.

The 2024 Researchers to Know represent 10 institutions of higher education leading innovation in Illinois. This year’s group of researchers includes those working to advance biotechnology, improve sustainability practices through design and engineering; explore mental health challenges and improve solution equity; use advanced data, AI, and quantum computing to pioneer analytics; and push the boundaries of physics and material science.

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.


Meet the Researchers

Michelle Stuhlmacher

DePaul University

Geographic Information Systems • Satellite Imaging • Green Space Impact
Research Description

Dr. Michelle Stuhlmacher is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and GIS at DePaul University in Chicago. Her research employs satellite imagery to measure green space and its social and environmental impacts on urban systems. Satellite and aerial imagery provide a view from above on the current and historic distributions of green space—essential information for designing more equitable and sustainable cities. Learn more about this research here.

Stuhlmacher received an NSF grant for interesting and timely interdisciplinary research focusing on DEI and public spaces. She also received a NASA grant for research on an online data dashboard called ChiVes. The dashboard would provide information useful for fighting environmental injustices in Chicago’s many environmentally burdened communities.

Her ongoing projects include:

Green Space Equity & Impacts projects examine the distribution of urban green space and resulting socio-ecological impacts. Read more.

Green Gentrification research complements my urban green space equity research because an understanding of green gentrification is vital to improving green space equity in cities without displacement. Read more.

Community-Engaged Environmental Justice & Data Access. An important facet of my research is working with the local community to shape my research and ensure public access to data and results. Read more.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Stuhlmacher’s work. 

Heather Quinn

DePaul University

Design Fiction • Tech Ethics • Design Research
Research Description

Heather Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Design, the 2021-22 Wicklander Fellowship recipient from DePaul’s Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, and a 2022 OpEd Public Voice Fellow. Her work uses design fiction to empower communities to imagine possible futures and understand technology’s impact on human freedoms. The World Economic Forum, MIT Press, Yale Law School, The Washington Post, Hyperallergic, and NASA have recognized her work. Currently, she is editing Technologies of Deception, a publication bringing together art, design, technology, ethics, futurism, and policymaking. Dedicated to improving society through design, she serves as Chair & Director of Design Futures for Design Incubation, an organization dedicated to elevating research in design, and co-chair of Speculative Futures Chicago.

As a female leader in tech, Dr. Quinn seeks to elevate lesser-known voices and diversify the field and the products and experiences that are created. She specializes in interdisciplinary collaboration and imagining the innovative potential and ethical implications of emerging technologies—including AI and the metaverse.

Having spent years working in industry and teaching elsewhere, Quinn’s research and work uses design fiction to challenge the status quo and reimagine the current design landscape. She brings her expertise and enthusiasm to the class at DePaul.


Click here to learn more about Dr. Quinn’s work and recognition.

Jacob Furst

DePaul University

Medical Informatics • Machine Learning • Medical Imaging/Computer Vision
Research Description

Dr. Jacob Furst is an Professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) at DePaul University. His research interests are in medical informatics with applications of machine learning and data mining to medical image processing and computer vision. His current work concentrates on being able to generate semantically meaningful information about lung nodules in computed tomography images of the human torso. Dr. Furst also has a strong interest in computer security and is the director of the DePaul Information Assurance Center. He has helped design two majors and three courses in the CDM security curriculum. He has taught Secure Electronic Commerce, Social Aspects of Information Security, Information Systems Security, Host Based Security, and Introduction to Networking and Security. Dr. Furst earned his PhD in computer science from UNC Chapel Hill; he has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in English literature.

Dr. Furst is a recipient of a DePaul University and Rosalind Franklin University of Science and Medicine grant for studying machine learning to investigate neurons in the brainstem that impact swallowing and breathing.
He is also a recipient of 2023 Spirit of Inquiry Award at DePaul. The University Research Council bestows these awards which honor specific research, scholarly or creative achievements that exhibit commitment to that spirit of creative inquiry which we endeavor to inspire in students.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Furst’s work.

Weslynne Ashton

Illinois Institute of Technology

Socio-ecological Systems • Sustainability • Food System Equity
Research Description

Dr. Weslynne Ashton is a professor of environmental management and sustainability at Illinois Institute of Technology, with joint appointments at the Stuart School of Business and the Institute of Design. Dr. Ashton is a sustainable systems scientist, whose research, teaching and practice are oriented around transitioning our socio-ecological systems towards sustainability and equity. She studies the adoption of socially and environmentally responsible strategies in business, and the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in addressing social and environmental challenges. Her research is grounded in industrial ecology and the circular economy. Her current work focuses on increasing sustainability and equity in urban food systems, and developing regenerative economies in post-industrial regions, newly industrializing countries and small island states.

Between 2012 and 2015, she led the U.S. State Department funded Pathways to Cleaner Production in the Americas project. The project was an eight-country, interdisciplinary industry-academia partnership focused on education for cleaner production (CP) and its implementation in small and medium enterprises in Latin America. In 2018, she was awarded a Jefferson Science Fellowship through the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and spent the 2018-19 academic year at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She worked with USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia to analyze, evaluate, and lead strategic planning for increasing energy security, supply diversity, efficiency, and modernization in the region’s transition economies. She returned to Illinois Tech in fall 2019 and is continuing research on the sustainability of urban food systems and industrial networks around Chicago.

Prior to Illinois Tech, Dr. Ashton led Yale University’s Industrial Ecology in Developing Countries program, where she trained researchers and graduate students in South and Southeast Asia in industrial ecology concepts and methods, holding visiting faculty appointments at TERI University in India and the National University of Singapore. She has previously worked as a business/technical consultant, environmental engineer, and technology entrepreneur. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and master’s and doctoral degrees in environmental science from Yale University.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Ashton’s work.

Ruth Schmidt

Illinois Institute of Technology

Human-Centered Design • Systems Design • Behavioral Science
Research Description

Ruth Schmidt is an Associate Professor at the IIT’s Institute of Design, focused on behavioral design. Her teaching and research integrate humanity-centered design, systems design, and behavioral science to address behavioral challenges more systematically and equitably. Her research projects and publications focus on combining these disciplines to inform effective and equitable solutions to applied commercial, academic, and public policy challenges, and to develop new tools and conceptual models to help practitioners solve these challenges more systematically. Ruth is one of the five leading researchers worldwide in behavioral design and its applications to government policy, financial systems, and corporate strategy. Her work has been recognized by organizations such as UNESCO and the World Bank. 

Since 2009, Ruth has developed and taught courses in behavioral design, communication theory, and semiotics, including behavioral design, advanced behavioral design workshops, strategic communications, design rhetoric and metaphor, and bias and sense-making. In 2021-22, she contributed her expertise in organizational behavioral design to the first set of courses delivered through ID Academy, aimed at introducing mid-career and executive-level audiences to new and emerging areas of design outside of traditional degree programs. In May 2018, while serving as ID’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Ruth was the Executive Conference Chair for the Design Intersections: Design + Data + Behavior conference.

Before joining ID, Ruth held several design consultancy and leadership positions. From 2009 to 2017, she served as a senior leader at Doblin|Deloitte, where she developed applied behavioral design methodologies and led teams to advance innovation efforts within client organizations. Concurrently, for two years she was funded by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to apply strategic and behavioral design to interest-driven youth learning experiences, pathway “trajectories,” and badging systems. As part of this work, she served as a senior design advisor and member of the leadership team at the Chicago Learning Network (later HIVE), working with the MacArthur Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Public Library, and other Chicago-area education and cultural organizations to support youth learning outside of school contexts. She continues to consult on behavioral design for startup and established companies in the health care, financial services, education, and food sectors.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in art/semiotics from Brown University and a Master of Design (MDes), with a concentration in design strategy, from ID.

Learn more about Ruth’s work here.


Philip R. Troyk

Illinois Institutue of Technology

Implantable Electronic Devices • Muscle Stimulation • Visual Prostheses
Research Description

Dr. Philip R. Troyk is the Executive Director of the Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering; Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Affiliated Professor – Stuart School of Business at Illinois Institute of Technology. He is also CEO at Sigenics, Inc.  Dr. Troyk has a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana, and the MS and PhD degrees in bioengineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

As a science and technology researcher, his work focuses upon electronic devices implanted in the human body known as neural interfaces. These form recording and stimulation connections with the central and peripheral nervous system for the purpose of compensating for deficit of disease. In particular his work has contributed to advancements in muscle stimulation/recording, cochlear implants, spinal interfaces, and visual prostheses. He has an H-Index of 35. He currently leads an eight-institution team for clinical testing of a brain-based visual prosthesis. His engineering expertise is highly cross-disciplinary ranging from electronics, to fabrication of implantable devices, to neuroscience. He has a broad range of expertise in multiple disciplines including electronic circuit design, packaging and fabrication of implantable medical devices, accelerated stress testing, design of instrumentation for neuroscientists, protocols for animal experiments, design of magnetic links, and system design for medical devices that will serve to bring the ICVP to a successful Early Feasibility Study clinical trial. As CEO of Sigenics, he leads an organization that delivers over 250k integrated circuit devices to various industries including aerospace, commercial, and medical. He is inventor on 16 patents related to technology for implantable devices.

Dr. Troyk is a world-recognized expert in the field of design of neural prostheses. His work in electronic design, implantable device packaging, and electrode measurement and analysis have involved him in numerous team projects for the development of neural engineering and neuroscience related devices and systems. He has led the development of several seminal neural interface devices and technologies, including Intracortical Visual Prosthesis (ICVP) clinical trial using WFMA. As related to the ICVP project, Dr. Troyk is the PI on an NIH NINDS BRAIN clinical trial (UG3/UH3 – $12.6M) to investigate the implantation and testing of a brain-based visual prosthesis in a human for providing artificial vision for people with blindness. Within this clinical trial, in 2022 his team performed the first human implantation of a fully wireless, modular, intracortical system comprised of 25 WFMA modules for 400 intracortical electrodes. For the past two years, the ICVP system has shown high technical stability, reliability, and functionality. This seminal success of the WFMA brain interface is now being translated to other sites and neural applications including those in peripheral nerve and the spinal cord.

The body of research work by Dr. Troyk is highly significant and the potential to improve the life quality of people with blindness creates more than just hope. The technology pioneered by Dr. Troyk is posed to have broader impact in health care as it is expanding its application to other neural sites (including the spinal cord) that can benefit from technology-driven solutions to advance current medical treatments.

He the recipient of numerous awards earlier and recently in his career including: IEE (London) V.K. Zworkin Premium, Sigma Xi Chicago Area Regional Award, Alfred Mann Foundation Award for Scientific Achievement, The Spencer Block Lecturer, University of Chicago, Sigma Xi (IIT chapter) Outstanding Research Award, Bartimaeus Award from World Congress for Visual Prostheses, Chicago Council on Science and Technology’s (C2ST) Innovative Research Award. He is a member of National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, Fellow – Institute of Physics, and Fellow of AIMBE.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Troyk’s work.

Igor Cialenco

Illinois Institute of Technology

Mathematical Finance • Statistical Inference • Stochastic Processes and Stochastic Control
Research Description

Dr. Cialenco is a Full Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics at Illinois Institute of Technology. He currently serves as Associate Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies supervising the graduate programs in the Department of Applied Mathematics at Illinois Tech. He is a Managing Editor for the International Journal of Theoretical and Applied Finance (IJTAF), and on Editorial Boards of Applied Mathematical Finance, SIAM Journal on Financial Mathematics (SIFIN), Statistical Inference for Stochastic Processes (SISP), and International Journal of Financial Engineering (JFE). During his academic career, he has taught and developed courses in Mathematical Finance, Stochastic Analysis and Stochastic Processes, Real Analysis, Statistics, at both graduate and undergraduate levels. 

His current research interests span across several areas of applied probability and statistics, including Mathematical Finance, Statistical Inference for Stochastic PDEs and Stochastic Control. 

One of the main research topics that Igor works on is statistical inference for stochastic partial differential equations (SPDEs). He is one of the leading experts in this field with numerous publications and significant results. Most recently (citations below), he proved that the parameters of a large class of SPDEs can be estimated just by observing the solution continuously in time just at one special point. The results were extended to SPDEs driven by smooth noise – an open problem for which new mathematical methods and techniques were developed. Earlier methods and techniques that he developed, especially those dedicated to nonlinear SPDEs are considered now classical, and have been used and studied extensively in the past decade.

Igor is a leading expert and innovator in the area of dynamic risk measures and dynamic performance measures, and time consistency in decision making. In particular, Igor and his co-authors provided a nearly complete theory of robust representation of dynamic assessment indices in discrete time, as well as time consistency of such assessment indices.

Igor is also a leading expert and innovator in the area of stochastic control subject to Knigthian uncertainty, that is the uncertainty about the model underlying a control problem in question. Such problems arise notoriously in economics, finance, medical applications and engineering, to name just a few areas of applications. One of the transformative methodologies used to tackle such problems, developed by Igor and his co-authors was the methodology of adaptive robust stochastic control.

He has recieved numerous recognitions including College of Computing Dean’s Excellence Award for Research, Illinois Tech, 2024;  College of Science Dean’s Excellence Award for Teaching, Illinois Tech, Fall 2015; College of Science and Letters Dean’s Excellence Award for Research and Scholarship, Illinois Tech 2011; Dissertation Fellowship from College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC; The First Prize of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova,  2000. 

Click here to learn more about Dr. Cialenco’s work.



Pranshoo Solanki

Illinois State University

Construction Materials • Sustainable Infrastructure • New Material Research
Research Description

Dr. Pranshoo Solanki is a full professor in the Construction Management program of Department of Technology. He received his doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Oklahoma in May, 2010.  Dr. Solanki worked on a number of transportation and construction projects funded by agencies such as Illinois Transportation Center, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Dr. Solanki is a registered Professional Engineer in the United States and serving as a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and American Concrete Institute (ACI). He also served as a National Science Foundation (NSF) panel member, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) panel member, and session chairman for a number of national/international conferences.

Dr. Solanki’s career research efforts have an overall theme of development and evaluation of innovative construction materials and methodologies that can be used for building a sustainable heavy-civil infrastructure that generate minimal carbon footprint. This includes sustainable modification of existing materials like Portland cement concrete, soils, aggregate, asphalt concrete and development of new materials like geopolymers and composites. Dr. Solanki’s research takes a critical look at practical solutions to climate issues involving building materials. By examining was to minimize waste, reduce use of highly-environmental-impacting materials, and examining alternative materials, he is making a difference in our region and beyond. He also studies permeable concretes. His support from EPA, IDOT, and EPA is a testament to the quality and impact of his work. With the increase in climate impact in the future, his research helps set a practical course forward and is an example of the great work being done in our state.

Overall, Dr. Solanki’s research efforts have resulted in approximately $ 1 million in combined external and internal funding (from agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Transportation, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), 3 book chapters, 37 published peer-reviewed journal articles, 46 national and international peer-reviewed conference proceeding articles, 1 co-edited book, 18 technical reports, 71 presentations at local, state, national and international conferences/symposium, and 9 research awards/honors. Dr. Solanki also received the 2021 – 2022 CAST (College of Applied Science and Technology) Outstanding Researcher Award at ISU.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Solanki’s work.

Wolfgang Stein

Illinois State University

Sensory Processing • Motor Network Plasticity • Neuron Network Behavior
Research Description

Dr. Wolfgang Stein is a Professor of Neurophysiology at Illinois State University. He earned his Dr. Rer. Nat. From University of Kaiserslautern in Germany and did post-doctoral work at Bielefeld and Pennsylvania. He has served as a mentor for numerous graduate and undergraduate students.

The Stein lab studies the mechanisms that allow neurons to generate activity that is robust against perturbations. They are particularly interested in how neurons deal with changing body conditions and environmental influences. Climate-change-driven temperature changes, for example, affect the nervous systems of billions of animals, and hyperthermia and fever can severely damage the human brain. Surprisingly, we know very little about how the nervous system can respond to detrimental temperature changes and how it may remain functional when it heats up.

One focus of their research is on neuromodulators that are released in the nervous system, like neuropeptides or monoamines, and how they allow neurons to continue to function during temperature perturbations. A second focus is on how sensory signals are processed in the nervous system, and how they affect neuronal activity.

They take advantage of the well-studied central pattern generators of different crab and crayfish species to achieve an evolutionary perspective of these questions and to extract general mechanisms that help us understand neuronal responses to environmental stimuli. Because crustacean neurons are comparatively large, are exposed to many environmental influences, and have a known connectome, the same neurons and circuits can also be identified in many different species, which allows evolutionary comparisons. Importantly, neurons, networks, and their modulatory systems continue to function outside of the animal, and can be kept alive for many days ex-vivo. This allows us to study the cellular and network effects of varying environmental and paracrine conditions in great detail.

Dr. Stein’s work has been supported by The Kavli Foundation and the National Science Foundation, with over $2M in awards. This international collaboration and recognition shows the impact of the work he and his students are doing. His lab’s work is widely cited (over 1500 times) and well received. He has over 65 peer-reviewed publications. He has received several campus research awards, most recently the Outstanding University Researcher.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Stein’s work.

Isaac Chang

Illinois State University

Human Spatial Cognition • Spatiotemporal Perception • Tech Integration for Cognitive Performance
Research Description

Dr. Isaac Chang, PhD, is an Associate Professor of the Department of Technology at Illinois State University. He is affiliated with XR@ISU and serves as a co-chair for the AR/VR area in the campus-wide Research Computing Advisory Board.

Dr. Chang studies human spatial cognition, including spatial exploration and path planning, spatiotemporal perception, and multi-sensory spatial interactions, aiming to utilize technology to improve human cognitive performance and user experiences. He has collaborated with researchers of diverse backgrounds and industry partners to investigate XR-based industrial robot programming, spatial information extraction from manual assembly instructions, VR-assisted cognitive rehabilitation for elderly adults, and assistive technology for visually impaired individuals to navigate unfamiliar environments. Dr. Chang’s long-term objective is to develop computing platforms to support research in intelligent transportation and infrastructure, smart healthcare systems, and innovative workforce development.

He has received external and internal grants to support his research endeavors. Recently, Dr. Chang received a two-year grant from State Farm to develop a VR-assisted, scenario-based learning environment for teen drivers to improve their driving performance and confidence without exposing to physical dangers. The same platform, once validated, can be used to study drivers’ engagement with vulnerable road users, drivers’ performance in the autonomous driving takeover, and drivers’ cognitive workloads with modern automotive technologies.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Chang’s work.

Jennifer Koop

Northern Illinois University

Global Biodiversity • Biology • Invasive Species Research
Research Description

Professor Jennifer Koop is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and an affiliate with the Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy at Northern Illinois University. She received her Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Utah as well as a Postdoc from the University of Arizona.

Professor Koop is a dedicated educator, but in her time not spent teaching, she researches the threat that invasive species pose to our global biodiversity. She does this by studying parasitic nest flies affecting Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands and the invasion of a freshwater snail and its trematode parasites in the Upper Mississippi River Region. Under Dr. Koop’s mentorship, she has led four graduate students and seventeen undergraduate students to obtain degrees in the biological sciences field. In addition to her mentorship, she has collaborated with other biological science professionals on over twenty publications.

As an early career faculty member who recently received tenure at NIU and an NSF CAREER award last year, Dr. Koop is a rising star at the institution. Her research on invasive species such as parasites, pathogens, and trematodes (worms), which are major threats to today’s biodiversity, will help us understand why they have invaded new habitats. Finding answers could be crucial in developing management practices aimed at reducing the negative impact of those invasive species on the environment. Her graduate students have worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to examine the impact of trematode disease on the decline of the lesser scaup, a diving duck, through a $250,000 IDNR grant with colleagues at the Forbes Biological Station, a part of the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her CAREER grant also has a large outreach component that involves NIU graduate students, undergraduate students and 7th grade STEM students at a local middle school in DeKalb who are mentored by NIU students. The middle-school students are collaborating to design and implement their own experiments that seek to understand how various environmental factors affect animal dispersal. This outreach effort for students to partake in scientific inquiry including ecological and evolutionary research methods, teaching methods and science communication will give these students an early outlook into entering a scientific field and has the potential to have a major influence on these future scientists.

Click here to learn more about Professor Koop’s work.

Andreas Glatz

Northern Illinois University

Theoretical and Computational Condensed Matter Physics • Dynamical Processes in Quantum and Nano-materials
Research Description

Dr. Andreas Glatz is a professor at the Department of Physics of Northern Illinois University and a physicist in the Materials Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Department of Theoretical Physics at the University of Cologne in Germany. His works focuses on theoretical and computational condensed matter physics. He also researches material sciences focused on dynamical processes in quantum and nano-materials. Professor Glatz was a lead in the SciDAC partnership at Argonne on Optimizing superconductor transport properties through large-scale simulations.

Glatz, who holds a joint appointment with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is internationally renowned for his work in superconductivity, computational physics and condensed-matter physics—all areas that involve keen knowledge of the quantum realm. Glatz applies a unique combination of skills acquired in his training in the most advanced methods of modern theoretical physics. As both a theorist and computational scientist, he develops pioneering high-performance-computing methodologies and models requiring complex algorithms to simulate the subatomic-level interactions and phases of matter, such as liquid to solid, or superconductivity. As a result, he expands our understanding of the fundamental properties of matter, paving the way for development of new materials, devices and areas of research. Glatz has directed five Ph.D. dissertations and frequently involves post-doctoral and graduate students from NIU and other universities in his research. He has authored nearly 100 scientific papers, published in prestigious scientific journals. He also has been a principal or co-principal investigator on grants totaling nearly $20 million.

As a 2023 NIU Presidential Research, Scholarship and Artistry Professor, NIU’s top recognition for outstanding research, Glatz’s expertise in quantum poises him to become one of the leaders in field. We’re in the midst of a second quantum revolution that will allow scientists to control the quantum state of matter which will further enable the development of novel technologies such as quantum computing devices. As a local example of the investment in quantum, Governor Pritzker and Innovate Illinois recently announced a multi-year plan for the Bloch Quantum Tech Hub to develop quantum technology solutions for pressing issues. Using his expertise in modelling and simulation, Glatz is actively using quantum computers to solve problems in quantum physics. Colleagues at both NIU and Argonne express high praise in his efforts, noting that his research has already led to new approaches and concepts that will make impactful enhancements to the field of quantum.


Jonathan Rivnay

Northwestern University

Biohybrid Bioelectronic Materials • Optoelectronics • Organic Material Research
Research Description

Dr. Jonathan Rivnay is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University. He earned his B.Sc. in 2006 from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). He then moved to Stanford University (Stanford, CA) where he earned a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering studying structure and electronic transport properties of organic electronics materials. In 2012, he joined the Dept. of Bioelectronics at the Ecole des Mines de Saint-Etienne in France as a Marie Curie post-doctoral fellow, working on conducting polymer based devices for bioelectronic recording and stimulation. Jonathan spent 2015-2016 as a member of the research staff at the Palo Alto Research Center (Palo Alto, CA) before joining the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University in 2017.

The Rivnay group engineers organic and biohybrid bioelectronic materials, devices and systems for interfacing between the complex world of biology and traditional optoelectronics. The group’s interests involve understanding the unique active properties of organic (small molecule and polymeric) materials, including mixed ionic-electronic conduction and actuation and utilizing their strengths for sensing/stimulation in biomedical settings. Recent efforts include biohybrid devices that combine strengths of synthetic biology with those of bioelectronics, resulting in systems that extend what is possible in sensing and actuation/therapy. Group interests range from fundamentals of materials and interfaces to devices and systems, with applications targets in diagnostics, therapeutics, rehabilitation and regeneration of tissues.

Professor Rivnay is at the forefront of exciting new research blurring the lines between biology and electronics. His work is enabling new ways to think about treating a wide range of diseases, including metabolic diseases (like diabetes), cancer and sleep disorders. The devices he is creating will make it possible to monitor and treat diseases via a single implantable device, which will function as a “pharmacy on a chip,” reacting to biological signals to dispense therapies on demand, all done via a battery-free process. He has recently demonstrated the ability to create oxygen from water on-site in implanted devices, ensuring that cells inside of implants can stay alive in otherwise low oxygen environments while continuing to secrete therapies as needed. Through this and related work, Professor Rivnay is advancing the fields of synthetic biology and bioelectronics into new frontiers that will undoubtedly have a profound impact on human health.

He has been recognized for excellence in his work throughout his career, most recently, as a Highly Cited Researchers List (top 1 percent) by Clarivate Analytics in 2023 and Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Young Innovator of Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering (CMBE), 2021.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Rivnay’s work.

Jaehyuk Choi

Northwestern University

Skin Cancer • Immunology • Molecular/Cellular Defects
Research Description

Dr. Jaehyuk Choi, MD, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Dermatology, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at Northwestern University. He is a physician scientist with a clinical and scientific interest in skin cancer and skin immunology. Choi’s primary focus is to utilize cutting-edge techniques to elucidate the molecular and cellular defects of the diseases afflicting my patients. The ultimate goal is to improve the way we diagnose, stage, and treat these diseases. 

His research has three broad areas of focus: computational clinical oncology and dermatology, with the goal of constructing a framework by which we can provide treatments individualized for each patient; mechanistic dissection of skin cancer, using human and mouse models to elucidate the mechanisms by which genetic and epigenetic changes in skin cancer affect the tumor cell itself and the microenvironment; and technology development. In the course of their studies, they encounter scientific problems for which there is no perfect off-the-shelf solution. In these cases, they develop the technology they need.

Jae’s work on T cell mutations is the basis of the startup company Moonlight Bio, backed by the venture capital firm Venrock and the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. The work has been widely covered in the press and recognized as a novel and powerful strategy to address the serious shortcomings of current immunotherapies. The work could have huge impact, enabling therapies for solid tumor cancers, a particularly difficult cancer to treat.

Jae has won numerous awards including the Emerging Leader Award, Mark Foundation (2022), Research Scholar , American Cancer Society (2020), Scholar Award, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (2020), Young Investigator Award, National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2019), Young Leadership Award, American Dermatology Association (2018), Compassionate Care Award, Melanoma Research Foundation (2018), and New Innovator Award, National Institutes of Health (NIH) (2018). 

Learn more about Dr. Choi’s work here.

Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy

Northwestern University

Neuromodulation • Neural Circuits • Therapeutic applications
Research Description

Dr. Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, PhD is the Irving M. Klotz Professor, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Soretta and Henry Shapiro Research Professor of Molecular Biology at Northwestern University. Her research focuses seek to accelerate the understanding of neuromodulation and plasticity in the brain. Her work aims to facilitate the development of therapeutic applications, harnessing the power of neuromodulators to functionally reconfigure, and sometimes even literally rewire, neural circuits.

Yevgenia’s recent work illuminate how mood states transition naturally. The Kozorovitskiy lab focuses on two broad, inter-related themes: decoding neuromodulation and neural circuit design principles, seeking to address the following questions:

  • What activity-dependent rules govern the design of neural circuits and synapses in early life?
  • How are these rules updated by experience and broken in disease?
  • What is the function of neuromodulation during development and in behavior?
  • How do multiplexed neuromodulatory systems operate?

This work could lead to a more complete understanding of how fast-acting antidepressants (like ketamine) work and help researchers identify previously unknown targets for new antidepressant medications. Her group’s work in synaptic plasticity could have large impact in the areas of mental health and wellnes.

Yevgenia has received an NSF CAREER Award, Searle Scholar Award from the Kinship Foundation, Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Cornew Innovation Award from the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.

Click here to learn more about Kozorovitskiy’s work.

Mercouri Kanatzidis

Northwestern University

New Materials • Exploratory Synthesis • Energy Conversion
Research Description

Mercouri Kanatzidis is a Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of chemistry and professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University and Senior Scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. He specializes in the design of new materials, exploratory synthesis, thermoelectric materials, nanostructured materials, intermetallics, and applications of the new materials to solar energy conversion, radiation detection, heat-to-electrical conversion, nuclear and environmental remediation.

Mercouri is one of the preeminent researchers in the area of perovskite and thermoelectric materials. Perovskites have a wide range of applications in areas such as solar cells and imaging materials while his work in thermoelectrics is marked by numerous milestones including creating the most efficient thermoelectric system on record. He has spun out the company, Actinia, which is developing cutting-edge radiation detector materials that allow for a halving of the dose, or doubling of the resolution, of common imaging techniques used in medicine and security.

The International Mineralogical Society recently named a new mineral discovered in Hungary Kanatzidisite, in recognition of the contributions Kanatzidis has made in the field of chalcogenide chemistry. This mineral has the formula (BiSbS3)2Te2. Kanatzidis was given the 2023 Centerary Prize for pioneering contributions to the synthesis and development of novel semiconducting halide perovskites for application in solar energy conversion. He was recently elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Click here to learn more about Kanatzidis’ work.

Neelam Sharma-Walia

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Cancer Research • Treatment Approaches • Anti-inflammatory Lipoxins
Research Description

Dr. Sharma-Walia is an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Imunology at Rosalind Franklin University. She received her PhD in Experimental Medicine and Biotechnology from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, India in 1998. She was appointed as Senior Demonstrator in the Department of Experimental Medicine and Biotechnology, PGIMER, Chandigarh, India from 1998-2000. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago in 2001 and the Department of Microbiology, Molecular Genetics and Immunology at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) from 2002-2005. She joined the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science faculty in July 2005 as a Research Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and was promoted to Assistant Professor in July 2011, and subsequently to Associate Professor in July 2017.

Dr. Sharma Walia’s research has principally focused on oncolytic viruses and cancer. Her lab also focuses on understanding the role of Arachidonic acid metabolism and the complexity of the tumor microenvironment in the biology of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Inflammatory breast cancer is the most aggressive, highly metastatic form of breast cancer. Systemic chemotherapy, adjuvant therapy, surgery, and radiation have not improved disease-free or overall survival of IBC patients. Inflammation, angiogenesis, metastasis, tumor-initiating cells, and circulating cancer stem cells are the signatures of IBC. The tumor microenvironment can suppress antitumor immunity, aggravate pro-inflammatory pro-tumorigenic factors, and eventually overcome the beneficial effects of the anti-cancer drugs and promote drug resistance. Therefore, it is very important to fully comprehend the role of the tumor microenvironment in breast cancer tumorigenesis to develop effective cancer therapies. She has 44 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 17 book chapters and reviews, with 4,153 citations according to Google Scholar. Additionally, she has more than 70 published abstracts and poster presentations. 

Her research has recieved significant funidng grants, principally the NIH and, in particular, the National Cancer Institute, have totaled more than $2.8 million. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the following publications: BioMolecules, PLoS One, Journal of Virology and Mycology, Frontiers Review (virology, infectious diseases).  She is a member of the following Associations: American Society of Microbiology, American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), American Society of Virology, American Association for The Advancement of Science (AAAS), among others – Standing Member of the NIH Study Section:AIDS-Associated Opportunistic Infections and Cancer (AOIC) Study Section, now called HIV Coinfections and Associated Cancers (HCAC) at NIH/CSR, Center for Scientific Review, for the term beginning July 1st, 2018, and ending June 30th, 2022. –

She was awarded the the RFU Board of Trustees Research Award in 2021, which is presented to a junior faculty member for excellence in research.

Click here to learn more Dr. Sharma Walia’s work here.

Robert A. Marr

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Dementia • Alzheimer’s • Traumatic Brain Injury
Research Description

Dr. Robert Marr is an Associate Professor & Assistant Dean for Research at Rosalind Franklin University. Dr. Marr received his undergraduate degree in applied biochemistry from the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Afterward, he did his graduate work in the laboratory of Dr. Frank Graham at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he worked on gene therapy for cancer. After receiving his PhD in Molecular Biology Genetics and Cancer from McMaster he moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla California. There his work in the laboratory of Dr. Inder Verma was primarily on the application of gene transfer technology to the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

The overlying area of Dr. Marr’s interests lay in the study of neurodegenerative diseases. More specifically his focus is on Alzheimer’s disease and the use of gene transfer vectors as a tool to investigate specific gene function(s) in the brain as it relates to Alzheimer’s. The derivation of potentially new therapeutic approaches to Alzheimer’s disease is also an area of focus for Dr. Marr, as well as the role of Alzheimer’s related genes in the process of traumatic brain injury. Finally, his laboratory has been working on the use in induced human neurons to model aspects of dementia and for their application to regenerative medicine.

Dr. Marr has built up an impressive body of research in dementia, Alzheimer’s and dementia blending in additional expertise in his interest in stem cell research. His collaboration with other key RFU researchers has led to a number of successful NIH grant fundings over the last few years. His leadership in this area has been recognized by his promotion to Asst. Dean of Research in the Chicago Medical School.

He has been awarded the Lee Nielson Roth Award for Cancer Research from McMaster University (1997), and received awards from the Medical Research Council of Canada (1998), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (2000). He also received an Excellence in Research Award from the American Society for Gene Therapy (2003).

Click here to learn more about Dr. Marr’s work.

Brian A. Feinstein

Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Health • Stigma-Related Stress and Coping • Mental Health in SGM Populations
Research Description

Dr. Brian Feinstein (he/him) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rosalind Franklin University. He obtained his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Stony Brook University in 2015 after completing an APA-accredited internship at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Then, he completed an NIH-funded postdoctoral fellowship (F32) at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University from 2015-2018. Following the completion of his postdoctoral fellowship, he served as a Research Assistant Professor at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University from 2018-2020. He joined the Department of Psychology at RFUMS in 2020. Dr. Feinstein is also involved in a number of professional activities including serving as an Associate Editor at Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. He is also a licensed clinical psychologist in Illinois.

His research interests include:

  • Sexual and gender minority (SGM) health
  • Bisexuality and pansexuality
  • Stigma-related stress and coping
  • Mental health, substance use, sexual health, and relationship functioning in SGM populations
  • Developing and testing interventions to improve SGM health

Dr. Feinstein directs the Sexuality, Health, and Gender (SHAG) Lab at RFUMS. Dr. Feinstein was awarded a five-year, $3.6 million grant by the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the effects of sexual orientation-related rejection sensitivity — the expectation of rejection and accompanying feelings of anxiety — on the mental health of sexual minority adolescents.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Feinstein’s work.

Scott Hamilton-Brehm

Southern Illinois University – Carbondale

Microbiology • Geomicrobiology • Novel Microorganisms
Research Description

Dr. Scott D. Hamilton-Brehm is an associate professor of Microbiology at Southern Illinois University (SIU), where he teaches elementary microbiology and geomicrobiology. He grew up in Mojave, California, the high desert where the sound barrier was broken in 1947. He received his bachelor’s of biochemistry in 1997 from San Louis Obispo Polytechnic where he revived bacteria from the abdomens of prehistoric bees entombed in amber for a million years. He worked for a short time in biotech but determined that he would need an advanced degree to participate in world changing research. He received his biochemistry and molecular biology Ph.D. in 2008 from the University of Georgia. His graduate studies involved studying the hyperthermophilic archaeon Pyrococcus furiosus, a microbe that comes from the bottom of the Mediterranean and lives in boiling water. Afterwards he completed two post-doctorate appointments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. There he learned about carbon cycles, biofuels, and deep subsurface microorganisms.

Dr. Hamilton-Brehm joined SIU in 2016, where his research laboratory focuses on environmental microbiology. During the COVID19 pandemic, Dr. Hamilton-Brehm led the efforts by SIU to produce more than 100,000 vials of Viral Transport Medium (VTM) for the State of Illinois during the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic, allowing the Illinois Department of Health to continue testing during the first chaotic months of the outbreak. His lab continues research with strange microorganisms and looks to find solutions to the world’s most challenging problems.

He is an innovator in the discovery and utilization of geothermal / subsurface microbial biomes to produce value added materials / food and to perform “green” remediation / recovery of organic waste to produce new materials. Hamilton-Brehm holds two patents, led the student team that received funding as one of the finalists in the Carbon Removal XPRIZE competition. The Carbon Removal XPRIZE award focused on the innovative use of Oxidative Hydrothermal Dissolution, or OHD, to convert captured carbon, in the form of almost any plant-based waste biomass, into a water-soluble liquid. The resulting liquid can then be pumped into natural or man-made geologic recesses where microbes will eat the waste thereby sequestering the carbon contained within the waste. The innovative nature, relative simplicity, and broad applicability of this approach to carbon capture led to Hamilton-Brehm and his team being selected as one of the finalists for the XPRIZE and, while their proposal was not selected in the final round, they were in the top 60 teams worldwide. The research in this area continues in collaboration with Dr. Anderson at Thermaquatica, Inc. 

More recently Dr. Hamilton-Brehm and his team played a crucial role in obtaining funding from NASA through the Deep Space Food Challenge program. He and other SIU researchers are developing a novel microbial-based next-generation food production system, called µBites, which will utilize plastic and biomass waste as the carbon source for food generation. Following oxidative hydrothermal dissolution (OHD) of waste carbon-containing material to produce a carbon-rich liquid stream, synthetically engineered yeast, developed by Hamilton-Brehm’s team will be used to make vitamin-rich food slurries in a bioreactor.

In addition to recognition of the impactful nature of his current research activities through the XPRIZE Carbon Challenge and the NASA Food Prize, Hamilton-Brehm received the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Biosciences Division Distinguished Achievement Award earlier in his career. In total, he has published 30 papers in peer-reviewed publications and received 14 invitations to make presentations of his work in various venues. He has also been recognized for his discovery and characterization of a new atribacterium named Caldiatribacteria inferamans, strain SIUC1 (scientific paper in preparation for submission to Nature Communications). 

Click here to learn more about Dr. Hamilton-Brehm’s work.

Jie Dong

Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville

Fermentation • Biofuels • Metabolic Engineering
Research Description

Dr. Jie Dong is Assistant Professor, Biochemistry and Fermentation Chemistry at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. His research is in the field of bioprocessing and biomanufacturing. As a fermentation scientist at NCERC (National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center), he also works on multiple projects with private companies to promote bioprocess and biomanufacturer research at SIUE. Since 2021, he has received over $1.2 million federal grants and has helped secure research contracts from the industry.

He has established ongoing collaborations with multiple universities and national labs, including The Ohio State University (Dr. Shang-Tian Yang), Washington University in St. Louis (Dr. Chong Zu), University of Cincinnati (Dr. Maobing Tu), Berkeley National Lab (Dr. Chang Dou), etc. He has received awards as a PI or co-PI from various granting agencies, including the DOE, NSF, USDA, various private industry partners, and internal research funding opportunities. Dr. Dong has also authored or co-authored publications found in 14 peer-reviewed journal articles and actively participates in national organizations such as AIChE and ACS, giving presentations at conferences across the country.

In 2021, his first awarded external grant was from DOE ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy). He secured $150,000 for SIUE (50% Chemistry/50% NCERC). The project is using “A Novel Integrated Fermentation Process with Engineered Microbial Consortia for Butanol Production from Lignocellulose Sugars without CO2 Emission”. In 2022, he was awarded two more external grants. One is from USDA AFRI (The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative). The title is “Production of Butyrate, Butanol, And Butyl Butyrate from Lignocellulosic Biomass”. He secured $300,000 for SIUE (50% Chemistry/50% NCERC). The second one is from DOE BETO (Bioenergy Technologies Office). The title is “Metabolic and process engineering of solventogenic clostridia for stable, continuous n-butanol production from lignocellulosic biomass hydrolysate”. He secured $200,000 for SIUE (50% Chemistry/50% NCERC). In 2023, he received two more grants from NSF. One is from the NSF FMSG program. The title is “FMSG: Bio: Integrated bioprocess and synthetic biology for future biomanufacturing of industrial products”. He secured $85,000 for SIUE (50% Chemistry/50% NCERC). The second one is the NSF proposal “ExpandQISE: Track 1: Investigating biomass pretreatment with nanodiamond quantum sensors”, in which he is the leading PI and was recently funded with $500,000 coming to SIUE.

Dr. Dong is relatively new to SIUE; however, in his short tenure, he was been aggressive in securing research funding and pushing new research opportunities in the fermentation space. Despite his teaching load, he works tirelessly to build new relationships with new industry and academic partners. He has truly elevated the research prowess at SIUE.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Dong’s work.

Fred Chong

University of Chicago

Computer Science • Quantum Software • Sustainable Computing
Research Description

Fred Chong is the Seymour Goodman Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chicago and the Chief Scientist for Quantum Software at ColdQuanta. He is also Lead Principal Investigator for the EPiQC Project (Enabling Practical-scale Quantum Computing), an NSF Expedition in Computing. Chong is a member of the National Quantum Advisory Committee (NQIAC) which provides advice to the President and Secretary of Energy on the National Quantum Initiative Program. In 2020, he co-founded, a quantum software company, which was acquired by ColdQuanta in 2022. Chong received his Ph.D. from MIT in 1996 and was a faculty member and Chancellor’s fellow at UC Davis from 1997-2005. He was also a Professor of Computer Science, Director of Computer Engineering, and Director of the Greenscale Center for Energy-Efficient Computing at UCSB from 2005-2015. He is a recipient of the NSF CAREER award, the Intel Outstanding Researcher Award, and 13 best paper awards.

His research interests include emerging technologies for computing, quantum computing, multicore and embedded architectures, computer security, and sustainable computing. Prof. Chong has been funded by NSF, DOE, Intel, Google, AFOSR, IARPA, DARPA, Mitsubishi, Altera and Xilinx. He has led or co-led over $40M in awarded research, and been co-PI on an additional $41M.

Fred exemplifies the quantum leadership that Illinois is known for given his outstanding scientific expertise and his role as chief scientist for Infleqtion. Fred was also part of the major partnership between the University of Chicago, IBM, Google and the University of Tokyo.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Chong’s work.

Olufunmilayo I. Olopade

University of Chicago

Breast Cancer • Altered Genetics • Advanced Imaging
Research Description

Olufunmilayo I. Olopade, MD, FACP, is the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and the Director, Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Global Health at the University of Chicago. She is an expert in cancer risk assessment and individualized treatment for the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, having developed novel management strategies based on an understanding of the altered genes in individual patients. She stresses comprehensive risk reducing strategies and prevention in high-risk populations, as well as earlier detection through advanced imaging technologies.

Dr. Olopade is internationally renowned for her expertise in breast cancer, and her research has advanced early detection, treatment and prevention of breast cancer in high risk women. A distinguished scholar and mentor, Olopade has received numerous honors and awards including honorary degrees from six universities and a 2005 MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius grant”) for “translating findings on the molecular genetics of breast cancer in African and African-American women into innovative clinical practices in the United States and abroad.” She serves as a director on several Civic and Corporate Boards.

Dr. Olopade has received numerous honors and awards, including honorary degrees from North Central, Dominican, Bowdoin and Princeton universities. In 2021, she was awarded one of the highest honors in breast cancer research, the William L McGuire Award and Lecture by the San Antonio Breaks Cancer Symposium. She is also a recipient of the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist and Exceptional Mentor Award, an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professorship, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship and Officer of the Order of the Niger Award, and the Giants of Cancer Care Award. Dr. Olopade is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. She serves as director on several Civic and Corporate Boards.  In 2021, Dr. Olopade was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Election to the National Academy of Sciences is considered one of the highest scientific honors. Each year, members are nominated and elected for their distinguished and continuing accomplishments in original research, by current Academy members. Dr. Olopade is one of the 120 members, including 59 women, elected in 2021.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Olopode’s work.

Jeffrey Hubbell

University of Chicago

Biomaterials • Protein Engineering • Immunotherapeutics
Research Description

Dr. Jeffrey Hubbell is the Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering and Vice Dean and Executive Officer at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. He received his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in 1982, and his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1986, both in chemical engineering. He started his academic career as a member of the chemical engineering faculty at the University of Texas, then at the California Institute of Technology.

Before moving to Chicago, he was on the faculty of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL, where he served as founding Director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Dean of the School of Life Sciences), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and University of Zurich, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas in Austin. Hubbell is the former president of the Society for Biomaterials. Hubbell also is an elected fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. He was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 2010, the National Academy of Inventors in 2014, the National Academy of Medicine in 2019, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021, and the National Academy of Sciences in its class of 2024.

With more than 400 papers and 100 issued patents, Hubbell uses biomaterials and protein engineering approaches to investigate topics in regenerative medicine and immunotherapeutics. In regenerative medicine, he focuses on biomaterial matrices that mimic the extracellular matrix and on growth factor-extracellular matrix interactions, working in a variety of animal models of regenerative medicine. In immunotherapeutics, he focuses on nanomaterials in vaccines that target lymphoid-resident antigen-presenting cells, on protein engineering to modulate the tumor microenvironment and materials engineering to induce anti-tumor immunity, and on protein and materials engineering approaches to deliver antigen to the liver for inverse vaccines to induce tolerance to protein drugs, modulate allergy, and ameliorate autoimmunity. His interests are both basic and translational, having founded or co-founded six biomedical companies based on his technology, three of which are based on or related to research he directs at the University of Chicago. His companies create surgical sealants and tissue repair agents, and develop technologies to increase immunotolerance. Along with his associates, he holds 77 patents.

The Hubbell Lab develops molecular and materials engineering approaches in immunotherapy, focused on vaccination in infectious disease and cancer and on an antigen-specific tolerance induction to protein drugs, allergens and autoimmune antigens.

Earlier in his career, Hubbell received the W.J. Kolff Award for Outstanding Research from the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs, the Outstanding Dow Young Faculty Award from the American Society of Engineering Education, and the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Hubbell’s work. 

Deepak Shukla

University of Illinois Chicago

Cellular Biology • Glycobiology • Neuroscience
Research Description

Dr. Deepak Shukla, the endowed Marion H. Schenk Esq. Professor and Associate Head of Research in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, also holds a professorship in Microbiology and Immunology at UIC. His illustrious career began after earning his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from UIC in 1996. Dr. Shukla’s significant breakthrough came during his postdoctoral research at Northwestern University under Dr. Patricia Spear, a distinguished member of the National Academy of Sciences, where he identified the entry receptor for the herpes simplex virus, earning recognition from the American Herpes Foundation in 2001. Shortly thereafter, he established his research laboratory at UIC, focusing primarily on herpesvirus pathogenesis while also exploring cell biology, glycobiology, immunology, and neuroscience.

Shukla’s primary research interest lies in understanding why herpesviruses persist in the body for decades, flaring up during periods of immune weakness. His translational research, funded by multiple grants from the NIH, aims to develop innovative therapies to slow the spread of herpesvirus infection. Notable breakthroughs include investigating small-molecule inhibitors that affect the virus’ ability to reactivate and infect additional nerves, thereby limiting disease severity. Additionally, Shukla explored using activated charcoal particles to enhance the activity of the approved antiviral drug acyclovir against herpesvirus. This localized delivery system allows topical application directly to affected areas, avoiding systemic side effects. He has designed a highly effective preclinical vaccine to eliminate herpesvirus. In 2023, Deepak Shukla received the prestigious Inventor of the Year award for his groundbreaking work. Same year he was also named University Scholar by the University of Illinois system. It is the highest honor that UI system confers to its faculty. In 2018, Dr. Shukla was named UIC Researcher of the Year. Beyond these accolades, Shukla is an elected fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Academy of Microbiology. His ongoing research explores the link between herpesvirus and neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, with the ultimate goal of finding approaches that not only contain the virus but also eliminate it from nerves.

 As the Principal Investigator (PI) on six NIH grants, Dr. Shukla’s research is both well-funded and highly influential, with over 175 peer-reviewed papers in prestigious journals including Cell, Nature Communications, PNAS, Angewandte Chemie, Science Advances, and Science Translational Medicine. His groundbreaking work has been featured in news magazines such as The Atlantic, Chicago Magazine, NIH News, and Newsweek.

Click here to learn more about Dr Shukla’s work.

Ramille Shah

University of Illinois Chicago

Tissue Engineering • Biomaterials • Natural and Synthetic Polymer Systems
Research Description

Dr. Ramille N. Shah is an Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering at UIC. She is also the Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Dimension Inx, LLC. Shah earned her B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at Northwestern University and her Ph.D. in MSE with a specialty in Biomaterials from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has over 20 years experience in the biomaterials and tissue engineering fields with an expertise in developing and characterizing new biomaterial strategies for tissue and organ regeneration including the use of natural and synthetic polymer systems, self-assembling biomaterials, gene and growth factor delivery systems, and 3D-printable biomaterials that have led to over a dozen issued and pending patents, as well as high impact publications in journals such as Science, Advanced Materials, and Science Translational Medicine. She spent 9 years at Northwestern University as an Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in Materials Science and Engineering and Surgery (Transplant Division) and was recently recruited to the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Department of Bioengineering where she is currently a part time Associate Professor.

As head of the Shah Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing (TEAM) Lab, she has been focusing on the development, characterization, and translation of new functional 3D-printable materials that are compatible with room temperature extrusion-based 3D printing for both biomedical (e.g. complex tissue and organ engineering) and non-biomedical (e.g. energy and advanced structural) applications. Prof. Shah has established herself as a renowned leader in materials development for 3D printing, and her work relating to everything from ovary organ and musculoskeletal tissue printing to new methods for printing metals, and Martian and lunar dust has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine (also named Crain’s 40 Under 40), Fox 32 News, National Public Radio, the National Science Foundation’s Science Nation News, and other major national and international media outlets. In 2016, Prof. Shah co founded Dimension Inx, LLC to facilitate the translation and commercialization of the 3D-printable material technologies developed in her lab. As Chief Scientific Officer of Dimension Inx, Prof. Shah has been guiding the overall scientific strategy of Dimension Inx, developing various connections and relationships with strategic partners, collaborators, and potential investors, and leading Dimension Inx’s effort towards FDA approval of its initial base products. 

Click here to learn more about Dr. Shah’s work.

Alex Leow

University of Illinois Chicago

Probabilistic ReconstructionTractographyNetwork Analyses Techniques
Research Description

Dr. Alex Leow With both a doctoral degree in applied mathematics and a medical board certification in adult psychiatry,  Dr. Leow is  Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Biomedical Engineering, and Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and an attending physician at the University of Illinois Hospital. Co-director of the Computational Neuroimaging and Connected Technology (CoNeCt) lab at UIC, Dr. Leow is the principal investigator of the BiAffect study, the first scientific study that seeks to turn smartphones into “brain fitness trackers”, by inferring neuropsychological functioning using entirely passively-collected typing kinematics metadata collected from the virtual keyboard of a smartphone (i.e., not what you type but how you type it). The BiAffect study app now powers the first-ever crowd-sourced research study with an overarching goal of unobtrusively measuring mood and cognition in real-time using iPhones. Dr. Leow and the BiAffect study have been extensively featured in the news, including Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tonight, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press news, the Rolling Stone, IEEE EMBS society, WCIU/CW26, WBEZ Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, NPR All Things Considered, FreeThink, and TEDxChicago.  

Click here to learn more about Dr. Leow’s work.

Viktor Gruev

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Image Guided Surgery • Underwater Remote Sensing • Optical Nanostructures
Research Description

Dr. Viktor Gruev is a professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Carle Illinois Medical School at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Prior to joining UIUC, he was an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Prof. Gruev received his M.S. and PhD. in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2000 and 2004 respectively. From 2004 to 2008, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. He has received numerous awards for his research on imaging sensors and their application in the medical field, including the 2016 Donald H Fink award for best paper published in any IEEE transaction and the 2015 best paper award at the IEEE Circuits and Systems Symposium. His current research focuses on developing bio-inspired sensory technology to address medical needs in resources limited hospitals.

Dr. Gruev’s lab is developing multimodal bioinspired sensors focused to solve problems in two areas: image guided cancer surgery and underwater remote sensing. The visual system of various animals, such as mantis shrimp or morpho butterflies, are able to detect spectral and polarization information with higher acuity compared to state-of-the-art imaging systems. Using combination of CMOS technology and optical nanostructures, they are developing bioinspired spectral and polarization imaging sensors with sensing capabilities exceeding state-of-the-art technologies. 

Dr. Gruev was just awarded a Phase I grant by the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator. This program funds the development and translation of multi-disciplinary research technologies for societal-scale impact. With this grant, Dr. Gruev will work with collaborators at the Cancer Center at Illinois, Department of Bioengineering, and Department of Sociology, in addition to external scientists, to develop a multispectral imaging technology that will be used to detect cancerous cells in real-time during operations. His technology can help surgeons more effectively treat lung and breast cancers.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Gruev’s work.

Erik Nelson

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Reproductive Physiology • Pharmacology • Bone Biology
Research Description

Erik Nelson is a professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and is affiliated with the Division of Nutritional SciencesCancer Center at Illinois (Urbana), University of Illinois Cancer Center (Chicago), as well as the Anticancer Discovery from Pets to People research theme within the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Dr. Nelson is an endocrinologist with specific expertise in nuclear receptor pharmacology who has made significant contributions to the fields of reproductive physiology, pharmacology, bone biology and cancer biology. Dr. Nelson has integrated his expertise in physiology, endocrinology and in vivo models to pursue translational breast and ovarian cancer research. The overarching goal of his research is to develop novel chemopreventative, therapeutic and lifestyle strategies aimed at reducing cancer incidence and mortality. He was the lead author on a seminal study which found that a cholesterol metabolite (27-hydroxycholesterol; 27HC) was the biochemical link between obesity and breast tumor growth (Science, 2013). His lab is now focused on using endocrine, metabolic/dietary and pharmacologic approaches to “re-educate” tumor associated myeloid cells to be anticancer, with specific emphasis on cholesterol homeostasis and the metastatic microenvironment. He is an Era of Hope Scholar of the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. Dr. Nelson’s research is of incredible importance, given that the majority (>90%) of breast cancer associated mortality is due to metastatic disease. His work provided the justification for the development of Elacestrant (ORSERDU), an orally available Selective Estrogen Receptor Degrader, that has recently received FDA approval for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

Dr. Nelson has been named the 2020-2021 Gunsalus Scholar by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for his work on cholesterol metabolism and cancer.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Nelson’s work.

Laura Rice

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Secondary Impairment Management • Rehabilitation Science • Mobile Health Applications
Research Description

Laura A. Rice, PhD, MPT, ATP is an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois and Interim Director of the Master of Public Health and Master of Health Administration Programs. She received her PhD in Rehabilitation Science and Technology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010 under the direction of Michael Boninger and a M.S. in Physical Therapy and B.S. in Health Sciences from Duquesne University in 2004 and 2003 respectively.

Dr. Rice is focused on preventing development of secondary impairments for persons with disabilities, the provision of effective education for persons with disabilities, and the community integration of individuals with disabilities. She is currently focused on developing and implementing a mobile health application-based program to provide education on fall prevention and management for people who use wheelchairs and scooters. In addition, Dr. Rice is interested in the development of outcome measures to evaluate functional mobility skills. Building on the theoretical foundations of social cognitive theory and self-efficacy, Rice’s research aims to enhance quality of life and community participation among individuals who experience disability. Specific research objectives include facilitating positive changes in behavior and increasing confidence in performance of desired activities in a person’s home and community.Dr. Rice also remains active as a Seating and Mobility Specialist.  She works closely with Dr. Deana McDonagh at the (dis)Ability Studio.

Dr. Rice is a leader in the use of technology to support healthy aging among people with disabilities. The Center she directs, TechSAGE, was recently renewed with an additional 5-year, $4.6M award from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

Click here to learn more about Dr. Rice’s work.

Ying Diao

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Organic Materials • Molecular Assembly • Material Phase Transformations
Research Description

Ying Diao is an Associate Professor, University Scholar and Dow Chemical Company Faculty Scholar in Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She serves as the Co-Chair of Molecular Science and Engineering in the Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology, and a Thrust Lead of the Molecular Maker Lab Institute – an NSF AI Institute. She received her Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2012. Her doctoral thesis was on understanding heterogeneous nucleation of pharmaceuticals by designing polymeric substrates. In her subsequent postdoctoral training at Stanford University, she pursued research in the thriving field of printed electronics.

Diao group, started in 2015 at Illinois, focuses on understanding assembly of organic functional materials and innovating printing approaches that enable structural control down to the molecular and nanoscale. Dr. Diao has established a vibrant and imaginative research program at the interface of materials chemistry, molecular electronics and biomedical sciences. Her highly creative research draws inspiration from many disciplines to significantly advance molecular electronics technology, which promises to have a transformative impact on electronics, clean energy and healthcare. Diao works in the area of molecular assembly and additive manufacturing. She has published 68 articles as an independent investigator. She has also mentored 33 undergraduate students, about half of whom are female, and she works to increase diversity through proactive recruiting efforts and forming connections with HBCUs. Dr. Diao recently recently initiated a multidisciplinary team to take printed electronics to a distinct application domain and create a new field of plant cybernetics. Her approach will not only deliver technologies to monitor plant health status precisely and autonomously, but also promises control of homeostasis which is the basis of life. This has implications for growing plants in space to feed astronauts during long missions.

She has over 100 publications which have been cited close to 10,000 times. Her work has been frequently featured in scientific journals and news media. She is named to the MIT Technology Review’s annual list of Innovators Under 35 as a pioneer in nanotechnology and materials. She is also a recipient of NSF CAREER Award, NASA Early Career Faculty Award, 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award and was selected as a Sloan Research Fellow in Chemistry as one of the “very best scientific minds working today”. She is a 2023 University Scholar at the University of Illinois.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Diao’s work.