Saif elected to National Academy of Engineering

2/8/2024 Lois Yoksoulian, U of I News Bureau

MechSE's Taher Saif, the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor, has been elected to the NAE's 2024 class, one of the most prestigious professional distinctions given to an engineer.

Written by Lois Yoksoulian, U of I News Bureau

Taher Saif, the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). He was elected “for characterizing mechanical properties of materials at small scales, with applications in materials science and biology.”

Taher Saif
Taher Saif. Photo by Julia Park.

Saif was one of two faculty from The Grainger College of Engineering elected to NAE’s 2024 class – including Kiruba Haran, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Grainger Endowed Director’s Chair in Electric Machinery and Electromechanics.  

They are among 114 new members and 21 international members elected to the academy this year. This brings the total U.S. membership to 2,310 and the number of international members to 332. Academy membership honors those who have made “outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education,” according to the NAE.

“I am delighted that my friend and colleague has been recognized for his deep scholarship in this prestigious, well-deserved way. I was so excited, in fact, that after learning of Taher’s election to the NAE, I danced around my office. While I am extremely happy for him, personally, I am also pleased by the added visibility his election to the NAE brings to the MechSE Department and The Grainger College of Engineering,” said Tony Jacobi, MechSE Department Head and the Richard W. Kritzer Distinguished Professor.

At Illinois, Saif studies the effects of forces at small scales, focusing on nanoscale materials and living cells. His work on deformation in nanomaterials could lead to self-healing metal components, and his work on the effects of cellular forces has opened new research avenues in neuron function, cancer progression and biological robotics. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2023) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (2012). He also is affiliated with the Department of Bioengineering, the Beckman Institute, the Cancer Center at Illinois, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Among other achievements, Saif was the first to demonstrate that plastic deformation in nanocrystalline metal films can be reversible—raising the possibility of manufacturing metal components that can heal themselves after being deformed. In other work, he and a collaborator demonstrated that neurons are under mechanical tension, and he is now studying the role of tension in neurons on memory and learning.

Haran studies high specific power cryogenic and non-cryogenic machines for electrified transportation and renewable energy applications. In 2022, he was named director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS) – a key enabler in providing an increase in power density through advanced technology and workforce development. He also is affiliated with the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at Illinois.

“The work of both professors Haran and Saif proves that Grainger Engineering faculty answer the call each and every day to leverage their platforms as researchers and engineers to better understand the world’s problems and to craft the answers needed to improve the world around us,” said Rashid Bashir, Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering. "Much of Professor Haran’s emphasis on electrified transportation and renewable energy applications comes at a time when there is a clear trend toward increasing the need for these technologies. Meanwhile, Professor Saif’s focus on nanoscale materials and living cells has an incredible real-world effect through impacts on cancer research, memory and learning, and the potential for self-healing metal components."

“These sorts of efforts change the world, explain the unique impact Grainger Engineers make on a consistent basis, and are certainly worthy of this wonderful recognition through the National Academy of Engineering.”

The new members will be formally inducted September 29 during the NAE’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.


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This story was published February 8, 2024.