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Hilgenfeldt named Willett Faculty Scholar


Julia Cation

MechSE associate professor Sascha Hilgenfeldt has been named a Willett Faculty Scholar by the College of Engineering.

This award is targeted at faculty members who are in a relatively early stage of their career but are excelling in their contributions to the university. He is one of 10 faculty members in the College of Engineering to receive the honor this year.

Hilgenfeldt conducts theoretical and experimental research on the interfacial structure and dynamical evolution of foam and soft condensed matter. Working with colleagues in the biological sciences, he has created a functional equation that describes how living cells pack together to create fruit fly eyes. The model helps researchers understand how adhesion energy changes the shape of the eye and allows them to study how such molecules develop and function during embryo development. His group is currently testing whether this model can be applied to different kinds of tissues, which could lead to advances in regenerative medicine. His research has important implications for drug delivery, gene therapy, and cell diagnostics, as well as generally enhancing the understanding of the mechanics of life.

Hilgenfeldt received hisPhD from Physics University of Marburg, Germany in 1997,and joined the MechSE department as an associate professor in 2008. He is a member of APS, SES, SIAM, the Society of Rheology, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft.

The Willett Research Initiatives in Engineering funds term professorships, undergraduate and graduate student research, and related research activity. It honors the memory of Donald Biggar Willett (1897-1981) who attended the University of Illinois from 1916-1921. Mr. Willett left the university before graduation, just a few credits short of completing his coursework in civil engineering. He started his career as a partner in the family business, Suburban Coal and Supply Company, and later, worked as a self-employed bookkeeper and tax preparer. In 1994, his widow, Elizabeth Marie Willett, willed her entire estate to the College of Engineering, which established the Willett Research Initiatives Fund.