MechSE celebrates three new named professors

5/8/2023 Julia Park

Professors Gaurav Bahl, Randy Ewoldt, and Nenad Miljkovic were honored in an investiture ceremony for their named professorships on May 2.

Written by Julia Park

Tuesday, May 2, 2023 was a day to remember for MechSE Professors Gaurav Bahl, Randy Ewoldt, and Nenad Miljkovic. In an investiture ceremony held at the NCSA Auditorium, all three formally received their new distinctions. Bahl was named George B. Grim Professor, Ewoldt was named the Rankin Professor, and Miljkovic was named a Founder Professor in Mechanical Science and Engineering.

Named appointments or named professorships are important in marking the successful trajectory of high-achieving faculty. It is the highest honor the university can bestow on prominent faculty. By providing dedicated resources for research and teaching opportunities, these positions enable our most gifted faculty to excel in their scholarly activities. Similarly, faculty who hold a named professorship are celebrated for teaching, research, and the caliber of thinking that inspires both.

“The faculty in our college and in MechSE are doing phenomenal work. The strive for excellence is a journey, it’s not a destination. We have to keep at it,” said Grainger College of Engineering Dean Rashid Bashir. “We’re here to make an impact on the world through science and engineering and to teach our students. These faculty have demonstrated that already and I look forward to so much more that will come from their research groups.”

Gaurav Bahl

Gaurav Bahl shaking Rashid Bashir's hand
Gaurav Bahl, right, with Dean Rashid Bashir

Bahl earned his PhD in electrical engineering in 2010 from Stanford University. After a postdoctoral position at the University of Michigan, he joined the MechSE Department in 2012 as an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 2018 and became professor in 2022.

He has been a pioneer in developing the understanding of opto-mechanical interactions – that is the study of how light and vibration can couple in microstructures – in exploring non-reciprocal physical effects for light and sound, and in microfluidic opto-mechanical devices for new sensing applications. His work on these topics has been highlighted multiple times as top developments in optics by the Optical Society (now called Optica). His research group is currently exploring the practical applications of these new physical effects, how topological metamaterials can be exploited for engineered devices, and how mechanical timekeeping devices could be used to outperform atomic clocks.

“I’m very proud of Gaurav. His success in my lab is a predictor of his success in finding opportunities and great ideas to work on, and driving them forward towards success, finding resources, partners, friends in the group to help him develop tools that he needed – and really, it was a predictor of his successful academic career,” said Bahl’s doctoral advisor Tom Kenny, Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs and the Richard W. Weiland Professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University.

Randy Ewoldt

Randy Ewoldt shaking Rashid Bashir's hand.
Randy Ewoldt, right, with Dean Rashid Bashir.

Ewoldt joined MechSE in 2011 as an assistant professor. He earned his PhD in 2009 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota prior to joining Illinois. He was promoted to associate professor in 2017 and professor in 2021, at each stage receiving a Campus Distinguished Promotion Award.

Ewoldt and his research group conduct fundamental research in fluid mechanics, rheology, and soft matter. Applications include direct-write 3D printing, wildland fire suppressants, soft robotics, and flow batteries for grid-scale energy storage.

“I come from humble beginnings in Iowa. Growing up on a farm means you learn how to be independent, how to do things at a young age, and I owe a lot of my independent spirit to that upbringing,” Ewoldt said. “I feel honored to be here, to get a chance to be alive at a time when I can, for my job, get to learn how the world works, figure out how to explain that to other people and get paid for it is outstanding, and it’s a real joy to be here.”

Nenad Miljkovic

Nenad Miljkovic shaking hands with Rashid Bashir
Nenad Miljkovic, right, with Dean Rashid Bashir.

Miljkovic arrived at MechSE as an assistant professor in 2014. He earned his PhD in mechanical engineering in 2013 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was promoted to associate professor in 2019 and professor in 2022. He is Director of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Center (ACRC) and holds affiliate positions in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment; Materials Research Laboratory; and the International Institute for Carbon Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER).

Miljkovic’s research intersects the multidisciplinary fields of thermo-fluid sciences, interfacial phenomena, and renewable energy. He aims to bring about transformational efficiency enhancements in energy (power generation to oil and gas to renewables), water, agriculture, transportation and electronics cooling by fundamentally manipulating heat-fluid-surface interactions across multiple length and time scales. The focus of his research is directed towards fundamental research on micro/nanostructured surfaces for phase change, interfacial phenomena, and electrokinetics; and applied research on devices and systems including solar thermal energy conversion and atmospheric energy harvesting.

“Nenad launched his research program at Illinois that quickly gained a lot of momentum and had a lot of impact, and he was doing that while being incredibly generous with his colleagues, including me. His insight into application, his understanding of the fundamental physics, is capped off by also being a real human being and a generous collaborator who’s willing to share ideas and equipment to make stuff happen in the lab, just for the betterment of the department and the betterment of our surroundings,” said Tony Jacobi, MechSE Department Head and a collaborator of Miljkovic.

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This story was published May 8, 2023.