University of Illinois, Chicago: News

University of Illinois, Chicago: News

  • 11/30/ (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) writer (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) published by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy)
    The University of Illinois at Chicago is a partner in a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub that will combine the R&D firepower of five Department of Energy national laboratories, five universities, and four private firms in an effort aimed at achieving revolutionary advances in battery performance.

    The Hub, to be known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) and led by Argonne National Laboratory, was selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced today in Chicago, where he was joined by Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

    JCESR (pronounced "J-Caesar") will be directed by Argonne senior scientist George W. Crabtree, who is distinguished professor of physics and electrical and mechanical engineering at UIC.

    "The JCESR award brings top battery scientists and engineers from around the country to tackle a major energy challenge: creating next-generation batteries with many times the energy density at much lower cost within the next five years," said Crabtree, an internationally recognized leader in energy research.

    "UIC is proud to be a partner in a project of this scope to meet a crucial national need for a game-changing technology," said Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares. "We're looking forward to the journey of discovery, and confident that Professor Crabtree is just the person to lead it. He'll have the full intellectual resources of the campus, and particularly our strong physics and chemistry departments and College of Engineering, behind him."

    According to the Energy Department, advancing next-generation battery and energy storage technologies for electric and hybrid cars and the electricity grid are a critical part of President Obama’s "all-of-the-above" energy strategy to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil and lower energy costs for U.S. consumers.

    "Based on the tremendous advances that have been made in the past few years," said Chu, "there are very good reasons to believe that advanced battery technologies can and will play an increasingly valuable role in strengthening America's energy and economic security by reducing our oil dependence, upgrading our aging power grid, and allowing us to take greater advantage of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar."

    The partnership between "world-leading" scientists and companies, Chu said, ensures that the advanced battery technologies the world needs "will be invented and built right here in America."

    Durbin said the project "promises to have a significant economic impact across Illinois, with the help of towns and businesses who have already agreed to partner on the commercialization of promising technology developed at the Hub."

    In a written statement, Sen. Mark Kirk said, "The research at the Energy Storage Hub has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry." The Hub will "bring the private sector, national labs and universities together" to deliver new technologies and spur commercial innovation, he said.

    Quinn is providing $5 million through his "Illinois Jobs Now!" capital construction plan to help build the state-of-the-art JCESR facility on the Argonne National Laboratory campus in suburban Chicago. Additionally, the governor has committed to working with the General Assembly to provide an additional $30 million in future capital funding for the building, which will serve as a nationwide center for energy storage research.

    "Illinois is the birthplace of innovations that have changed the world, including the web browser, the cell phone and the ultrasound," Quinn said.

    Emanuel said he is focused on making Chicago "the electric vehicle and batteries capital of the nation," as part of a "comprehensive strategy that will allow Chicago to lead in this industry, from conception to construction to implementation."

    The Hub will bring together some of the most advanced energy storage research programs in the U.S. Other national labs partnering in JCESR include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Other university partners include Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois's Urbana-Champaign campus, and the University of Michigan. Four industrial partners -- Dow Chemical Company; Applied Materials, Inc.; Johnson Controls, Inc. and Clean Energy Trust -- have also joined, to help clear a path to the marketplace for the advances developed at JCESR.

    "JCESR provides key innovations not only in basic science and applied technology, but also in end-to-end management of the entire research and development chain," said Crabtree. "We will set the model for creating the energy innovations of the future."

    Energy Innovation Hubs are major integrated research centers with researchers from different institutions and technical backgrounds that combine basic and applied research with engineering to accelerate scientific discovery in critical areas. They are modeled on the scientific management principles of the Manhattan Project; Lincoln Lab at MIT that developed radar; AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor; and, more recently, the Bioenergy Research Centers.

    JCESR is the fourth Energy Innovation Hub established by DOE since 2010. It was selected through an open national competition with rigorous merit review by outside experts. Other Hubs are devoted to modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors, achieving major improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings, and developing fuels from sunlight. A fifth Hub focused on critical materials research was announced earlier this year and is still in the application process.

    Over several decades, DOE national laboratories and DOE-funded university research programs have been responsible for some of the most important advances in battery technology. For example, key battery improvements developed at Argonne helped make the Chevy Volt battery possible.

    [Editors note: Photos of Crabtree are online at Other photos and video are at]

    UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is Chicago's largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.
  • 11/29/ (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) writer (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) published by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy)
    Groundbreaking Ceremony for new University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System Mile Square Health Center

    The state-of-the-art facility will be dedicated to continuing to provide Mile Square's quality health care to the people of Chicago.

    Congressman Danny Davis and Alderman Robert Fioretti will join University of Illinois President Robert Easter, UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, UI Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, and UI Vice President for Finance Walter Knorr at the ceremony.

    Dec. 3
    10 – 11:30 a.m.

    1220 S. Wood St.
    Chicago, Ill.

    The new 46,000 square foot facility will replace the current aging structure. The increased capacity will make it possible for Mile Square to be a medical home for twice as many families throughout the city of Chicago and suburbs, in addition to offering convenience care -- same-day appointments and drop-in visits. Seventy-six thousand patient visits are anticipated in its first year, including individuals newly insured under health care reform.

    For more information about the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System,
  • 11/15/ (Bill Burton) writer (Bill Burton) by (Bill Burton) published by (Bill Burton)
    University of Illinois students who excel in both academics and athletics are encouraged to enter the 2013-2014 Avery Brundage Scholarship competition.

    Full-time students at the Chicago, Springfield, and Urbana campuses, including incoming freshmen, graduate and transfer students, may apply. Grant-in-aid recipients may be eligible for Brundage scholarships under specified conditions. Academic and athletic competence will be considered over financial need.

    Undergraduate and transfer student applicants must rank in the top 25 percent of their college, and incoming freshmen must rank in the upper 25 percent of their incoming class. Graduate and professional students must be in good academic standing.

    Students must also have demonstrated "special athletic ability" in an amateur sport. However, their participation must have been for personal development, rather than as preparation for professional athletics. Previous winners represent a wide variety of sports from archery and tennis to swimming and wheelchair basketball. Last year, 16 winners were awarded $2,500 each.

    Scholarship applications can be submitted online at

    Deadline for submitting completed applications is Feb. 11.

    The late Avery Brundage, a 1909 U of I graduate, competed in the 1912 Olympics and later served as president of both the U.S. and International Olympic committees. He established the scholarship in 1974, with a $343,000 endowment to the University of Illinois Foundation. Over the past 39 years, 842 scholarships with a total value of $1,092,200 have been awarded. Brundage maintained his interest in the University through service as a member of the University of Illinois Foundation, President's Council and Citizen's Committee.

    [Additional media contact: Tim Gilles, scholarship coordinator for university-wide student programs, (217) 333-2030,]
  • 11/14/ (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) writer (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) published by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy)
    Chemists and vision scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago have designed a light-sensitive molecule that can stimulate a neural response in cells of the retina and brain -- a possible first step to overcoming degenerative eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, or to quieting epileptic seizures.

    Their results are reported online in the journal Nature Communications.

    Macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50, is caused by loss of light-sensitive cells in the retina -- the rods and cones.

    "The rods and cones, which absorb light and initiate visual signals, are the broken link in the chain, even though what we call the 'inner cells' of the retina, in many cases, are still potentially capable of function," says David Pepperberg, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences in the UIC College of Medicine, the principal investigator on the study.

    "Our approach is to bypass the lost rods and cones, by making the inner cells responsive to light."

    Pepperberg and his colleagues are trying to develop light-sensitive molecules that -- when injected into the eye -- can find their way to inner retinal cells, attach themselves, and initiate the signal that is sent to the brain.

    The researchers synthesized new compounds built upon the well-known anesthetic agent propofol, a small molecule that binds to a receptor-protein on nerve cells. The receptor is ordinarily activated by the neurotransmitter GABA, and when so activated it opens a channel in the membrane of the cell to initiate a signal that propagates to other nerve cells.

    Chemists led by Karol Bruzik, professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy in the UIC College of Pharmacy, succeeded in adding-on a light-sensitive chemical component to the propofol molecule. When struck by light of different wavelengths, the molecule changes shape and functions as a light-triggered, on-off switch for these receptors.

    The research team tested the new compound, code name MPC088, in three different types of cells: retinal ganglion cells, the nerve cells that send visual signals from the retina to the brain via the optic nerve; Purkinje neurons from the cerebellum; and non-nerve cells that were specially engineered to produce and install the GABA receptor in their membrane.

    MPC088 binds to the receptor and makes it far more responsive to GABA. Light of appropriate wavelengths converts the MPC088 to an inactive form and back again, reducing and then restoring the high sensitivity to GABA, which opens the membrane channel to initiate the neural signal.

    "Putting it all together, we have a compound that dramatically regulates, in light-dependent fashion, the GABA receptors of both an engineered receptor system and native receptors of retinal ganglion cells and brain neurons," Pepperberg said.

    The experiments on the Purkinje neurons of the cerebellum, conducted in collaboration with neurobiologist Thomas Otis at the University of California at Los Angeles, "showed we were able to go beyond visual systems," Pepperberg said, and demonstrate that "photo-regulation may also have potential as a therapeutic for epilepsy, a class of diseases that involves abnormal excitatory activity in the brain."

    Epileptic seizures begin in a defined region of the brain, and it may become possible to introduce a photo-switching compound and a very thin light-guide into this region, Pepperberg said.

    "Because GABA receptors are typically inhibitory, introducing light of the appropriate wavelength into the region as the seizure begins and activating the GABA receptors could have the effect of turning off the seizure."

    The researchers also created a molecular switch related to MPC088 that can permanently anchor a genetically engineered GABA receptor, demonstrating the possibility that a light-sensitive molecule could be introduced into the eye or brain to modify GABA receptors and act as a photo-switch.

    "Our work opens up new avenues for not only the retinal application but also diseases of the central nervous system where a dysfunction or deficiency of GABA activity is a key problem," Pepperberg said.

    Co-first authors on the paper were UIC bioengineering graduate student Lan Yue, UIC medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy postdoctoral researcher Michal Pawlowski, and UCLA postdoctoral researcher Shlomo Dellal. Other authors were An Xie, Feng Feng, and Haohua Qian from the UIC department of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

    This study was supported by National Institutes of Health grants EY016094, EY001792 and AA01973; the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation; Hope for Vision; the Beckman Institute for Macular Research; the American Health Assistance Foundation; Research to Prevent Blindness; and UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science award UL1RR029879.

    [Editors note: images available at]
  • 11/12/ (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) writer (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy) published by (Jeanne Galatzer-Levy)
    Dr. Rohit Varma, a leading eye specialist and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, has been named head of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, pending approval by the UI Board of Trustees.

    At USC, Varma was professor of ophthalmology and preventive medicine and director of the glaucoma service, ocular epidemiology center and the clinical trials unit at the Doheny Eye Institute. At UIC, he will be associate dean for strategic planning in addition to heading the ophthalmology and visual sciences department.

    "Leading this department presents a real opportunity to provide the highest quality of care to our diverse patient population," Varma said. He said he plans to consider adding more satellite offices to extend the reach of the department and build the clinical enterprise.

    Varma's research interests include epidemiologic studies of eye disease in minority children and adults. He is principal investigator on three NIH-funded, community-based studies and on studies funded by the World Health Organization to assess the prevalence and socioeconomic burden of near-vision impairment.

    "Dr. Varma is a highly accomplished physician-scientist and translational investigator who has dedicated his career to studying the development of eye diseases in minority populations and to examining novel biological, genetic and lifestyle factors related to the risk of developing eye diseases," said Dr. Dimitri Azar, dean of the UIC College of Medicine and B.A. Field Professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "I am confident that Dr. Varma will lead our department of ophthalmology and visual sciences into a new era of clinical and research excellence."

    In addition to his interest in the burden of eye disease on minority and disadvantaged populations, Varma is an expert on changes in the optic nerve in glaucoma and on new imaging techniques in the early diagnosis of glaucoma-related optic nerve damage. More recently, he has been involved in the development of novel implantable intraocular pressure sensors and drainage devices.

    Varma completed his ophthalmology residency at the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital and glaucoma fellowships at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and at USC's Doheny Eye Institute. He also earned a master's in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

    He has published more than 190 papers in peer-reviewed journals, edited two books, and presented more than 200 abstracts at national and international academic meetings. He serves on the editorial board of Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Previously, he served as a member of the board of scientific counselors of the National Eye Institute, the National Eye Health education program planning committee, and the NIH anterior eye diseases study section.

    Varma has received many honors and awards, including the Research to Prevent Blindness Career Development and Sybil B. Harrington Scholar awards, the American Academy of Ophthalmology Senior Achievement Award, the Glaucoma Research Foundation President’s Award, and the ARVO Fellow Silver Award. He is a member of several national and international ophthalmological organizations and currently serves as the chair of the American Academy of Ophthalmology public health committee.

    [Editors note: images available at]

    For more information about the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System,