Three more faculty honored at investiture ceremony


Julia Park

The MechSE community celebrated new named appointments last week for Professors Elizabeth T. Hsiao-Wecksler, Harley T. Johnson, and Tonghun Lee. In an investiture ceremony held in the Beckman Institute Auditorium, the three colleagues formally received their new distinctions. Hsiao-Wecksler was named the Grayce Wicall Gauthier Professor, Johnson was named a Founder Professor, and Lee was named the Bei Tse Chao and May Chao Professor.

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.

Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler

Dean Rashid Bashir and Elizabeth T. Hsiao-Wecksler
Dean Rashid Bashir and Professor Elizabeth Hsiao-Wecksler

Hsiao-Wecksler spent seven years working for the Xerox Corporation before transitioning to a career in research and, in 2000, earning a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. After a postdoctoral fellowship in the joint Integrated Rehabilitation Engineering Program between Boston University and Harvard Medical School, she joined the MechSE Department as an assistant professor in 2002. She was promoted to associate professor in 2009 and full professor in 2015. She holds faculty affiliate positions in Bioengineering; Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering; the Center on Health, Aging and Disability; the Center for Autonomy; the Neuroscience Program; the Beckman Institute; and the Coordinated Science Laboratory.

Hsiao-Wecksler is a faculty affiliate and was inaugural co-course director of the Clinical Neuroscience course in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and is the Interim Director of the Health Care Engineering Systems Center at Illinois. From 2015 to 2019, she served as Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs in the MechSE Department.

She leads the Human Dynamics and Controls Laboratory, where the overarching goal of her research group has been to understand and improve function and quality of life due to changes in health, aging and disability. Originally, the group used methods from musculoskeletal biomechanics and movement analysis design to explore locomotion biomechanics. This work has morphed into applying user-centered design, control theory, robotics, and most recently machine learning to address assistive device development, medical education task trainers, and wearable technology.

Hsiao-Wecksler is Fellow and current Past-President of the American Society of Biomechanics, Fellow of ASME, and a member of AAAS and IEEE. She consistently wins awards for her teaching and research, including the 2018 SWE Distinguished Engineering Educator Award, 2017 “150 for 150” top accomplished women at UIUC, 2013 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research, Engineering Council Outstanding Advising Award, and numerous semesters on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students.

“It’s because of my students that the Human Dynamics and Controls Lab has been able to grow and do amazing and impactful research for the last 20 years at the University of Illinois. I couldn’t have done any of these things without them,” said Hsiao-Wecksler.

Harley Johnson

Dean Rashid Bashir and Professor Harley Johnson
Dean Rashid Bashir and Professor Harley Johnson

Johnson earned his PhD in engineering from Brown University in 1999. He joined MechSE as an assistant professor in 2001 and was promoted to associate professor in 2006 and full professor in 2011. He served as Associate Head for Graduate Programs in MechSE from 2011 to 2014.  Since 2019 he has served as the Associate Dean for Research in The Grainger College of Engineering, a role in which he oversees and supports all research programs across the college.  He holds a courtesy appointment as a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and affiliate appointments in the Materials Research Laboratory (MRL) and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

Johnson’s research program addresses how mechanical inputs (e.g., stresses and strains) and the physical state of solids (e.g., impurities, defects, and dislocations) affect their quantum, electronic, and electromagnetic properties. This has impact in advanced nanoscale electronic devices, solar energy, microelectronics, sensing and detection, and materials processing. He currently directs the “DIGI-MAT” NSF NRT PhD Research Traineeship in Materials and Data Science, based in NCSA and MRL. He received the NSF CAREER Award and the ASME Thomas J. R. Hughes Young Investigator Award for special achievement in applied mechanics.  He is a Fellow of ASME and a Fellow of the Society of Engineering Science (SES).

Johnson has long promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion.  In 2017 he became the inaugural chair of the College of Engineering Diversity Committee, and led the visioning for the Institute for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA).  In 2018, Johnson won the UIUC Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award for Leadership in Diversity, and in 2020 he was awarded the University of Illinois Outstanding Faculty Leadership Award. In 2021 he received a Presidential Medallion from the university for his leadership efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tonghun Lee

Tonghun Lee and Dean Rashid Bashir
Professor Tonghun Lee and Dean Rashid Bashir

Lee earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford University in 2006. He began his career at Michigan State University before joining MechSE as an associate professor in 2013. He was promoted to full professor in 2018.

Lee’s research program is devoted to the study of reactive flows with a focus on integration of sustainable fuels and high-speed propulsion. He leads a multidisciplinary experiment-focused research program spanning a number of research fields including: laser and optical spectroscopy; combustion chemistry; hypersonic flows; microscale power generation; and alternative bio-derived fuels.

Lee is the Academic Lead for the Department of Defense Center for UAS Propulsion Systems (CUP) and Industrial Consortium, which aims to develop novel technologies for the next generation of UAVs. He also serves on the Leadership Committee for the Center for Hypersonics (CHESS) at Illinois, and as co-PI in the establishment of the National Jet Fuel Combustion Program (NJFCP), and he aims to make Illinois the place to obtain a systematic understanding of the field of ignition and oxidation chemistry of alternative fuels. In 2017, he was named a steering member of the coordination committee for the FAA National Jet Fuel Combustion Program and has developed the FAA Sustainable Aviation Fuel database over the past decade. 

Lee has won several of the most prestigious early-career awards, including an Air Force Office of Scientific Research YIP award, Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers.

Lee had asked his son, Taehan, to introduce him and his work at the investiture. “I’m not completely familiar with my dad’s research but I know it involves some combustion, some supersonic engines, some lasers, and some alternative fuels. I think it’s pretty cool when you can come to work and burn things. He must be doing a great job if he’s receiving another name as professor,” Taehan joked. “I wish my dad continued success in his research and I hope that sometime in the future we can travel much faster and more efficiently due to his research.”