O'Brien: Donald Biggar Willet Professor of Engineering

Professorship: Donald Biggar Willet Professor of Engineering

Donald Biggar Willett (1897-1981) attended the U of I from 1916 to 1922, but left the university just a few hours short of earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. During the 1930s, Willett moved to Los Angeles and opened a tax accounting business. He died in 1981 at age 83. His wife, Elizabeth Marie Henning Willett, was an avid investor who accumulated a fortune. She knew that her husband admired the U of I College of Engineering for its thriftiness and honesty, so in her will she left a gift to the college for research in memory of her husband. Mrs. Willett died in 1993 at age 91. The purpose of the Willett Professorships is to increase the distinction of the College and its departments by recognizing and stimulating intellectual leadership and outstanding research.

Faculty: William D. O'Brien

William D O'Brien, Jr.
William D O'Brien, Jr.

William D. O’Brien Jr. is an expert on the interaction of ultrasound and biological materials. His ultrasound bioeffects studies have made diagnostic ultrasound used in obstetrics safer for both mother and baby. His quantitative ultrasound studies have provided significant insights into the information contained in a diagnostic ultrasound image, and has guided the imaging and blood flow capabilities of modern diagnostic ultrasound systems.

He is also a faculty member in the Departments of Bioengineering, Medical Information Sciences (College of Medicine), and Nutritional Sciences (College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences) on campus. He continues to study the fundamental mechanisms responsible for ultrasound-tissue interactions and currently is investigating a specific ultrasound-induced lung damage problem and ways to ultrasonically image the microscopic properties of cancer tissue. Before joining the ECE faculty in 1975, he was a research scientist at the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, where he established some of the earliest safe ultrasound-use exposure guidelines.

O’Brien has published nearly 280 articles. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Acoustical Society of America and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, and is a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. He has received numerous awards including the IEEE Centennial Medal (1984); the WFUMB Pioneer Award (1988); the IEEE Outstanding Student Branch Counselor Award for Region 4 (1989); the AIUM Joseph H. Holmes Basic Science Pioneer Award (1993); the IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society Distinguished Lecturer (1997-1998); the IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society’s Achievement Award (1998); the IEEE Millennium Medal (2000), and the IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society’s Distinguished Service Award (1998). An Illinois electrical engineering alumnus, O’Brien earned his bachelor’s degree in 1966, master’s degree in 1968, and doctoral degree in 1970.