CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – Three University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professors have been awarded 2022 Guggenheim Fellowships.
This year’s grantees are dance professor Cynthia Oliver and chemistry professors So Hirata and Prashant Jain.
They are among 180 artists, writers, scholars and scientists selected from nearly 2,500 applicants through a rigorous peer review process, according to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation press release.
Oliver is an award-winning choreographer and performer and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation in Humanities, Arts and Related Fields. In 2021 she was named a Doris Duke Artist and received a United States Artists Fellowship. She is a professor at the Center for Advanced Study and a 2011 University Fellow. She is a recipient of the New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for Choreography and a 2016 Mellon Fellowship from the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography.
Oliver’s work incorporates Caribbean, African and American influences. It examines the intersection between contemporary dance, feminism, black popular culture and expressive performances in the African diaspora. Her recent feature-length performance Virago-Man Dem explored the concept of masculinity in Caribbean and African-American cultures. It premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2017 Next Wave Festival and has toured the country, including a performance at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. She is also the author of Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean.
Oliver said she will use her grant to work on a book project on black artists’ involvement in avant-garde and postmodern dance and experimental work. Circling Black, Circling Back will be an experimental treatise that will help expand dance history and theory, addressing the lack of writing by choreographers of color and its impact on the field of dance. The title of the book refers to a characteristic choreographic strategy that characterizes her work.
“Circularity and repetition are African values that are historical anchors of black ceremonial assembly and are used to evoke and initiate altered states – as in possession, rituals and transformational practices. I use both in my choreography in a post-modern and experimental way, in that with every return to a movement, a phrase, a motif, what is seen is somehow different. The architecture of the book will reflect the above strategies of my choreographic method of going back to basics and acknowledging the dance lines I come from,” said Oliver.
Hirata is the Marvin T. Schmidt Professor of Chemistry and a Blue Waters Professor. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an elected member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. He received the Illinois School of Chemical Sciences Teaching Award in 2017 and has been recognized with the National Science Foundation‘s CAREER Award, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the Hewlett-Packard Outstanding Junior Faculty Award, and the Annual Medal of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, one of the most prestigious international awards for quantum chemists under the age of 40. He is a co-author of the US Department of Energy’s award-winning computational chemistry software NWChem, which is distributed in over 2,800 locations worldwide.
Hirata and his research team are pushing the boundaries of quantitative theory and computational technology to interpret and predict the properties of molecules, polymers, solids, and liquids. He develops methods and computing algorithms to make the fundamental equations of motion in chemistry, which are high-dimensional partial differential equations with complex boundary conditions, manageable for numerical solutions.
One aspect of Hirata’s work focuses on fundamental aspects of quantum many-body theories for electrons and nuclei in molecules and solids. He said he plans to use this award to extend these theories to coupled electronic-nuclear motions, including those underlying superconductivity.
“So much in physics is based on Richard Feynman’s diagrammatic methods, which ultimately appeal to human intuition,” Hirata said. “There is a strong theoretical justification based on time-dependent perturbation theory, but it is not a constructive theory since no one has been able to use it for actual numerical calculations of the one-particle Green’s function theory or the finite temperature perturbation theory at high temperatures to use commands where human intuitions begin to fail. We have discovered a general and reliable algebraic method for formulating these theories that even a computer can understand, allowing it to perform their numerical calculations to any high order.”
Jain leads a research lab on nanoscale light-matter interactions, including using concentrated photons for artificial photosynthesis, inducing nascent chemical reactivity, and studying how catalysts work at the molecular level. Jain is celebrated for his teaching of physical chemistry, having won the School of Chemical Sciences Faculty Teaching Award and recognition in the Distinguished Teachers List nearly a dozen times. He is affiliated with the Materials Research Lab, the Physics Department, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and the Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center. He is a current member of the IDA/DARPA Defense Science Study Group.
Jain is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Beilby Medalist, Leo Hendrik Baekeland Medalist, Presidential Early Career Award recipient in Science and Engineering, Alumni Research Scholar, Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholar, IC Gunsalus Scholar, 2015 National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipient, 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, MIT TR35 inventor, Center for Advanced Study Beckman Fellow, and CAS Associate. His research has been cited more than 27,000 times and he has been recognized as a frequently cited researcher by Clarivate Analytics and Elsevier Scopus.
Jain said the grant will allow him to look to nature and develop new concepts, theories and materials to capture solar radiation and store it in the form of energetic chemical carriers that can be funneled around and used when needed for power generation and green manufacturing could be from chemicals like ammonia. A key strategy will involve optical nanoantennas coupled with catalysts that direct the cleavage and formation of desired chemical bonds.
“Biology has mastered the use of light as a source of free energy and to create dissipative structures. Shouldn’t synthetic systems obeying the same laws of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics be able to perform similar functions? But before we reach the ultimate frontier of light collection and control, we may still have many design principles to discover. The prospect of such discoveries drives our work,” said Jain.