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Chen and Li named 2015 Willett Scholars


Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS

Associate Professors Deming Chen and Xiuling Li were among the 10 engineering faculty members named Donald Biggar Willett Scholars for 2015.

The Willett Scholar award recognizes faculty members who at a relatively early stage in their careers, are excelling in their contributions to Illinois.

Xiuling Li
Xiuling Li

Li said she was honored and surprised by recognition, and feels it’s a validation of her hard work.

Li’s research discipline is in the area of nanoscale technology. She works on a variety of different research projects in her lab with her graduate students in an effort to make semi-conductor materials and devices smaller and run more efficiently.

“We are in the area of nanotechnology and our goal is to innovate at the material and structural level to improve the state of our device performance,” Li said. “With that we have several technology platforms for different types of devices.”

Li said she feels fortunate to have spent her career at Illinois, home to experts from all types of backgrounds who are open to collaboration.

“If you need something, you can always find somebody that has a deep knowledge of the topic,” Li said. “It allows everyone to be resourceful because everybody you would need is very close to you. The willingness of people to collaborate is very critical, especially with our research, which touches all different areas.”

Li said she’s not sure where her research will take them in the future, but is confident the support ECE ILLINOIS provides her will be invaluable as her career progresses.

“I think it is a great honor to receive the Willett Scholar award, and of course to be nominated by this department means a lot to me,” Li said. “It motivates me even further to pursue my work and my excellent students contribute so much towards our goals every day.”

Deming Chen
Deming Chen

Chen, who has been at the university since 2005, focuses primarily on electronic design automation for VLSI circuits as well as computation acceleration through the use of FPGAs and GPUs. He is considered a leading expert in high-level synthesis (HLS), an automated design process that interprets algorithmic behavior and implements it through digital hardware.

He has won four best paper awards in the HLS area and has also provided training sessions for industrial hardware designers to better adapt to this new design methodology. In the recent years, he started to work on computational genomics and developed DNA error correction tools that are widely adopted in the community.

Chen said he’s learned that a true scholar is someone who can inspire students to see past challenges.

“Even there was no solution at the moment, say, after two years’ effort, it might be possible to still lead to a breakthrough, if we keep pushing forward,” he said. “The solution might be just three months away or have been waiting at yet another intersection of new direction. Such stubbornness and persistence proved to be quite valuable for my past research, and I am ready to take on bigger challenges moving forward.”

He sees the award as belonging to the smart and hardworking students in his lab.

“This is a great milestone for all of us and we are ready for the next milestone,” he said.