UW Today

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September 27, 2007

Four new chairs in engineering

News and Information

Nearly half of the 10 departments in the College of Engineering are ushering in changes at the top. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will be led by a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher. Materials Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering will make the acting chairs permanent. And the Department of Bioengineering welcomes a new acting chair as Yongmin Kim steps down.

Craig Benson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has accepted a position as chair of the UW’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Benson’s research combines field experiments and computer modeling in the area of geotechnical engineering.

“Craig has a very modern view of civil engineering’s impact on society,” said Matthew O’Donnell, dean of the UW’s College of Engineering. “He sees the possibilities for linking the civil engineering and environmental goals, in terms of seeing sustainability as a design goal.”

Benson earned his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin in 1989 and joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty in 1990. His research interests include the remediation of hazardous waste sites, the underground transport of groundwater pollutants and the design and construction of landfills. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Geo-Institute, and a recipient of the Presidential Young Investigator award from the National Science Foundation.

“This is an exciting time in civil and environmental engineering, with issues in energy, environment and infrastructure having a prominent role in the context of sustainable society,” Benson said. “The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will take a leadership role in tackling these important issues through research and development as well as training the engineers of the future. I look forward to leading this effort on behalf of the department.”

O’Donnell noted that the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will undergo significant change in coming years due to older faculty retiring and anticipated expansion of the department. The committee saw Benson as a dynamic chair who could oversee that transition, he said. Craig Benson begins his appointment on July 1, 2008. In the interim Tim Larson, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will take over as acting chair from John Ferguson.

This fall O’Donnell has also appointed Leung Tsang, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, as department chair. Tsang has been acting chair since 2006. Tsang’s current research interests include remote sensing of snow extent using microwave radiation, which he currently studies in a collaborative project with NASA and the National Science Foundation. Other research includes studying radio-frequency effects and signal integrity for package and circuit board interconnects with industrial partners such as Intel Corp. and Semiconductor Research Corporation.

Tsang studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been a professor at the UW since 1983. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and of the Optical Society of America; he has published over 230 journal articles and is the lead author of four books.

“Over the last decade, the EE department has been building its national reputation tremendously,” O’Donnell said. “With Leung’s leadership over the next five years the plan is to take it even further.”

In another move that makes a temporary appointment permanent, Alex Jen, holder of the Boeing-Johnson Chair and professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, has been named department chair. Jen has been a professor at the UW since 1999 and acting chair of the department since 2005. He received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 and worked in the private sector for more than a decade before choosing to pursue academic research.

At the UW Jen leads an interdisciplinary team looking at photonics, the science of creating and detecting light rays, and optoelectronics, the study of devices that combine optical and electrical signals. He was named director in 2006 of the UW’s newly formed Institute for Advanced Materials & Technology. Jen is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Society for Optical Engineering and holder of an Endowed Visiting Chair at Wuhan University in China.

“Having someone with Alex’s international reputation will be instrumental for the department, particularly as we seek to become a leader in the emerging field of molecular engineering,” O’Donnell said.

Yongmin Kim, who has led the Department of Bioengineering since 1999, is stepping down to focus on his research full time. Beginning this fall Paul Yager, professor of bioengineering, will be acting chair of the department. For the past 15 years Yager has developed instruments that manipulate fluids on a microscopic scale. Yager leads the team that received a $15.4 million grant in 2005 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a low-cost, portable instrument to analyze blood and diagnose diseases in the developing world. He received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Oregon in 1980 and joined the UW in 1987. Yager has been vice-chair of bioengineering since 2001.

Finally, Eric Stuve, professor of chemical engineering, was appointed to serve a second term as chair of the department. Stuve has held the position since 1999. The new term lasts five years.

“The College of Engineering is entering a period of growth,” O’Donnell said. “I am very excited about the strong leadership we have in place for these coming years.”