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Illinois Universities Surge Forward with Research Efforts

Illinois colleges and universities are on the leading edge of research and are recognized for their high quality degree programs

By John Fuller on February 28, 2014

Illinois Universities
Staff Photo

A backbone of Illinois’ success as a center of global commerce is the state’s collection of world-class colleges and universities.

Universities in the state are on the leading edge of research across a spectrum of disciplines and are recognized around the world for the high quality of their graduate and undergraduate programs. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranks the engineering program at the University of Illinois among the best in the nation for 2014.

Several Illinois universities are among the 108 institutions nationally classified as “Very High Research Activity” on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The list includes the University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago and University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana, Northwestern University, Loyola University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University

Search for Research

Southern Illinois University in Carbondale is one of the state’s leading research centers, with a research budget of around $70 million a year.

“Our strengths are in natural resources areas such as coal mining, water sciences, engineering, medicine and agriculture,” says Rita Cheng, SIU chancellor. “Many of our recent research initiatives have resulted in company startups.”

Among those startups is Thermaquatica, which has developed an environmentally friendly process of turning coal into plastics and polymers. Thermaquatica was started by SUI geology professor Ken Anderson. An Australian firm has invested several million dollars to move Thermaquatica into mass green-power production.

A group of SIU grads created a mobile app called RoverTown that allows local businesses to advertise retail and restaurant specials, mostly to college students in cities throughout the country. And SIU School of Medicine professor Kathleen Campbell developed the drug D-Met that helps prevent noise-infused hearing loss. The U.S. Department of Defense has contributed $2.5 million to Dr. Campbell’s research because of its concerns regarding hearing loss to its military personnel.

New Ventures and Lichen

Northwestern University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office helps bring research from lab to marketplace. In 2013, it averaged two new patents a day being registered. The department has already seen 11 companies started, including two by students, says Alicia Loffler, Innovation and New Ventures Office executive director.

One of the student companies, NuMat Technologies, designs high-performance materials for the safe and efficient storage of gases such as natural gas. The company was founded by NU grad Benjamin Hernandez. SiNode Systems was started by NU grad Samir Mayekars to develop lithium-ion battery anodes that enable a battery to charge more quickly and hold a charge 10 times longer than current anode technology.

“That will be great for electric vehicles and smartphones,” Loffler says.

DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media is working in collaboration with the health-care industry to improve technologies for noninvasive patient imaging, and is also partnering with the National Security Administration to improve the architecture of highly secretive software systems.

“One of our College of Science and Health professors, Dorothy Kozlowski, is doing amazing work with traumatic brain injuries and how the brain can come back after such injuries, as well as recover from strokes,” says Joanne Romagni, DePaul University associate vice president of research. “I am also involved in a research project to study lichen that grows in Antarctica, documenting changes in their chemical profiles as global warming occurs.”

Their Own Research Park

The University of Illinois Research Park in Urbana-Champaign houses 1,500 employees – many of whom are students – working on research for a multitude of companies, including 10 on the Fortune 500.

“State Farm has a tremendous presence in the park, with 300-400 students working on projects such as mobile apps and data analytics,” says Larry Schook, University of Illinois vice president of research. “BP is another tenant whose scientists travel to our campus from around the world. The research park allows students to know what market needs are, and it gives companies access to young, eager minds.”

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