LAS Distinguished Professors

The Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor award was established in 2006 to commend exceptional faculty for their contributions to the LAS and UIC communities, as well as for their significant and sustained intellectual scholarship in their chosen fields. Each year, the Executive Committee of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences votes for superlative candidates in the humanities, social sciences, the natural sciences or interdisciplinary fields.


Alexander Furman (PhD, Hebrew University in Jerusalem) is a mathematician working in the fields of Ergodic Theory and Dynamical Systems, Lie groups, and Geometric Group Theory. Professor Furman is one of the leaders in Measured Group Theory, an area of research that is also connected to the study of von Neumann algebras and to Descriptive Set Theory. He has made important contributions in orbit-equivalence, homogeneous dynamics, and to the study of rigidity of lattices and group actions. Professor Furman joined the UIC Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science in 1999 after postdoctoral positions at the University of Chicago and Penn State University. He held visiting positions at University of Paris VII, ETH Zurich, University of Bielefeld, UCLA, MSRI, and the Weizmann Institute. Professor Furman has published in the Annals of Mathematics, Journal of the AMS, Inventiones Mathematicae, Acta Mathematicae, Duke Mathematical Journal, GAFA, and other prestigious mathematical journals. Professor Furman’s work has been recognized by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award, Simons Fellowship, and the University of Illinois Scholar Award, and his research has been supported by the NSF since 1998. In 2014, Professor Furman was an invited lecturer at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul. He is also a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, Class of 2016. A former participant in the International Math Olympiad (1983 Paris, bronze medal), Professor Furman is now leading a Math Outreach Program, called UIC Math Olympiad Project, for gifted Chicago school students.



Barbara Risman (PhD, University of Washington) is a professor in the Department of Sociology at LAS. She is a renowned scholar, whose theoretical work has focused on the development of a theory about gender as a social structure. Professor Risman published widely as she developed her groundbreaking theory of gender as a social structure framework. Her book, Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition, published in 1998, began to fully outline gender structure as a part of a society research, showing how gender structure operates in the same way as political and economic structures do in our society. From 2016-2017, she was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She has also served as Vice-President of the American Sociological Association, the President of the Southern Sociological Society and is currently President of the Board of Directors of the Council on Contemporary Families. In the winter of 2108, Dr. Risman will be a Fellow at the institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Durham in England.


Nanno Marinatos (PhD, University of Colorado) is a professor and the head of the Classics and Mediterranean Studies Department at LAS. As an internationally renowned scholar, her research interest and expertise spans the fields of Minoan art, religion and culture, Attic Greek religion and culture, the history of archeology, and Ancient Greek literature—in particular Homer and Thucydides. Her first book, Thucydides and Religion, published in 1981, continues to influence and inspire the study of Classical Antiquity and religion in the work of Thucydides. She has presented papers and lectured at over 30 academic institutions, including Yale, Cornell, Princeton, Duke, Cambridge; and served a guest professor at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and at the University of Bergen, Norway. Professor Marinatos is currently working on a book-length project on 5th Century BCE Ancient historian Thucydides. The project’s aim is to seek the unity of emotions and ideas of Thucydides by reference to his personal circumstances and direct judgments.


Samuel Fleischacker (PhD, Yale University) is a professor of philosophy and a renowned scholar on moral and political philosophy, the history of philosophy, aesthetics, and the philosophy of religion. Among the issues of particular interest, Professor Fleischacker focuses on the moral status of culture, the nature and history of liberalism, and the relationship between moral and other values (aesthetic values, religious values, political values). A 2001-2004 University Scholar, he has also held fellowships at the UIC Institute of Humanities; the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at Edinburgh University, and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton. He is currently a fellow at the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center, New York University. He previously served as the director of Jewish Studies and currently serves as the coordinator for Religious Studies at the LAS School of Literatures, Cultural Studies and Linguistics.


Robin Mermelstein (PhD, University of Oregon) is a professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy. She also is a clinical professor of community health sciences in UIC’s School of Public Health. A prominent leader in the area of tobacco use research, her research studies range from longitudinal examinations of the etiology of youth smoking to cessation interventions for adult smokers. Since the mid-1990s, she has been the principal investigator of a series of studies, including the current program project, funded by the National Cancer Institute, to investigate trajectories of adolescent and young adult smoking, with a focus on social and emotional contextual factors. She has also directed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's national program office of Partners with Tobacco Use Research Centers: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Advancing Science and Policy Studies. Dr. Mermelstein is the current president of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco and serves on national research review committees of the National Institutes of Health.


Nicholas Huggett (PhD, Rutgers University) is a professor of philosophy and internationally regarded scholar who continues to make significant contributions to the fields of the philosophy of science and the philosophy of physics. The research focus of Professor Huggett centers on the relationship between philosophy and quantum gravity, a field that he has helped popularize, despite it often difficult concepts. His most recent book, Everywhere and Everywhen, takes the mind-bending concepts surrounding string theory, spacetime, and the relationship between philosophy and physics, and makes them accessible to a wide audience. Of recent note, his research received expansion funding of $1.1 million from the John Templeton Foundation. This grant in the humanities supports projects that cross-interdisciplinary boundaries and focus on research about the “basic forces, concepts, and realities” governing the universe and humankind’s place in it. Professor Huggett is a prolific writer, having published three books and upwards of 40 essays. In addition, he served in numerous administrative roles, including on the faculty senate, LAS Executive Committee, departmental executive committees and P&T committees, as Chair of the Graduate Admissions Committee, and as the Placement Officer. He is currently the director of graduate studies for the Department of Philosophy.


Barbara Ransby (PhD, University of Michigan) is a professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History and Director of the UIC Social Justice Initiative. A long-time community activist and historian, Professor Ransby’s work, particularly at the UIC Social Justice Initiative, has helped foster the paring of foundational critical thinking and research skills with a passion for social change to give back to struggling communities. Her books, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision and Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson, have been awarded such distinctions as the Leticia Woods Brown Prize, the Lillian Smith Book Award, the James A. Rawley Prize, and the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize. She is also the author of countless articles and, recently, served on the three-person 2015 Pulitzer Prize Selection Committee for the category of Biography. During her career at UIC, Professor Ransby has held such administrative appointments as the interim vice provost for planning and programs, and served as the director of the gender and women’s studies program at LAS from 2008-2013. Professor Ransby currently serves as Editor in Chief of SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, as well as on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago.


Nikos Varelas (PhD, University of Rochester) is a professor of physics and an internationally recognized scholar who has made deep and sustained contributions to three major areas of high-energy particle physics research: the field of quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the search for quark substructure, and the hunt for the Higgs Boson. The research work of Dr. Varelas is centered in the experimental study of hadron collisions at the highest energies available in the world. His research at UIC started with the D0 experiment at the Fermilab Tevatron Collider in Batavia, Illinois, and has continued with the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. The CMS and D0 experiments are designed to address fundamental issues of great importance to our understanding of the structure of matter at its most basic level. The collisions that both of these experiments study results in tremendous energy densities that mimic the conditions of the early universe shortly after the Big Bang. Detecting the radiation components resulting from these collisions provides a unique window into the incredibly rich and amazing dynamics of the early universe, as well as key insight for establishing the foundations of our theoretical understanding of our world today. Professor Varelas has been a member of the D0 experiment since 1994 and of the CMS experiment since 2005. Professor Varelas is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Co-Spokesperson of the Coordinated Theoretical-Experimental Project on Quantum Chromodynamics (CTEQ), Chair of the Fermilab Users Organization, and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Physical Society Division of Particle and Fields.


Joel Brown (PhD, University of Arizona) is a professor of biological sciences. An ecologist who has made outstanding contributions to ecological interpretations of animal behavior, he has written 183 publications and two books. His research has been extremely influential within the fields of behavior, ecology, and evolutionary biology. A common theme in his research is the application of game theory to four areas. Within the field of Species Coexistence and Evolution, Professor Brown is known for his game-theoretic modeling; in the field of Cancer Research, a game theoretic model he co-developed is currently being reviewed for a Phase I trial for treatment of a class of pancreatic cancers. Professor Brown coined the term for one of his fields, the "Ecology of Fear," and developed the concept of using the fear responses of prey species to study their ecology and the ecology of their predators. Brown conducts research in over 20 countries, but he has also successfully integrated his research program with prominent studies on Urban Wildlife Ecology – notably in metropolitan Chicago, where "Project Squirrel," the web-based citizen science program he co-founded, has grown greatly and resulted in twelve papers that establish Brown as the expert on urban squirrels. In addition to leading a large graduate group at UIC and being voted "Best Teacher" by the undergraduate Biology Colloquium, Brown has given invited lectures and taught short courses in 11 states of the USA and seven countries and has served on 22 doctoral committees at other universities in the US and internationally.


Peter T. Doran (PhD, University of Nevada, Reno) is a professor of earth and environmental sciences and is a prominent leader in the field of climate science. Global climate change is a topic of pressing public and societal concern which itself is a fundamental driver behind current issues of energy and sustainability, both of which are being formally addressed by initiatives at UIC. His publications in major journals (including Nature and PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) have had major long‐term impact on the scientific community and he continues to break new exploratory ground in his research. He also leads new technological achievements, most notably the robotic exploration of the sub‐ice volume of Antarctic lakes. Concurrently with managing part of a long‐running annual field program in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, he has unfailingly provided exceptional service to the profession, UIC and the public. He currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council’s Subcommittee on Planetary Protection. In the past he has served on a NASA-funded Mars Exploration Program analysis Group and an International Committee on Space Research. At UIC, Professor Doran has served on the UIC Faculty Senate, the LAS Executive Committee and the EAES Advisory Committee. Additionally, he served as the Director of Graduate Studies while the doctoral program was developed in EAES.


Sally Sedgwick (PhD, University of Chicago) is a professor of philosophy and is one of the leading scholars in the world on the relation between Kant and Hegel’s philosophies. This year, her book Hegel’s Critique of Kant: From Dichotomy to Identity was published by Oxford University Press. It is the culmination of more than 20 years of work on one of the most difficult areas within philosophy. Her work on this matter has been cited as the “…clearest reconstruction to date of the problems Hegel found in Kant and their role in shaping Hegel’s own system.” Sedgwick’s work in this area may prove to have a ripple effect on wider philosophical debates, outside of the direct field of philosophy. Professor Sedgwick’s research has been recognized with various honors including multiple visiting posts at well-regarded universities such as Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. She has been a Humboldt Research Fellow on two occasions and has brought several prestigious Humboldt conferences to UIC’s campus. She has been funded by institutions such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Sciences, and the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD). She has also served as the President of the Central Division of the APA. During her tenure at UIC, she has served on many committees within the department as well as the LAS Executive Committee.


Vladimir Gevorgyan (PhD, Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis) is a professor of chemistry and a renowned expert in the areas of Lewis acid- and Pd-catalyzed synthetic methodologies. During his time at UIC, Professor Gevorgyan has also made significant contributions to other areas of synthetic chemistry including Cu-catalyzed synthesis of pyrroles, transition metal-catalyzed chemistry ofstrained ring systems and transition metal-catalyzed C-H activation. Since Professor Gevorgyan’s arrival at UIC in 1999, he has greatly expanded the scope and potential of these various forms of chemistry and has become a much-sought-after chemist and speaker in both industry and academia. His work has been recognized with an impressive funding record including grants from the National Institutes of the Health and National Science Foundation.  Recently, Professor Gevorgyan took part in the Chicago Tri-Institutional Center for Chemical Methods and Library Development, a tri-institutional NIH initiative.  During his thirteen years at UIC he has served as the leader of the organic division of the Department of Chemistry and has also received a UIC Researcher of the Year Award.


David Marker (PhD, Yale University) is a professor of mathematics and one of the leading logicians in the U.S.  He has made deep contributions across logic, especially in the application of model theory to other areas of mathematics.  Professor Marker’s work has been widely published and he has served as editor for Lecture Notes in Mathematics and the Journal of Symbolic Logic, the journal of the Association of Symbolic Logic. He has been recognized with numerous awards, including: the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, the American Mathematical Society Centennial Research Fellowship, a University of Illinois University Scholar award, multiple National Science Foundation grants, a UIC Award for Excellence in Teaching, a UIC Council for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Teaching Recognition Award, and a UIC Graduate College Mentoring Award. Professor Marker has served in various roles at UIC including Director of Graduate Studies, Associate Head for Administration, and Head of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science.


Henri Gillet (PhD, Harvard University) is a professor of mathematics, statistics, and computer science. He is a leading figure in arithmetic geometry, an important area of mathematics at the cusp of number theory and algebraic geometry. Gillet has worked extensively in arithmetic intersection theory and the arithmetic generalizations of Riemann-Roch for the last few decades, allowing mathematicians using algebraic geometry to better attack questions in number theory. His most fundamental contribution to the field was a collaborative effort with Christophe Soulé in arithmetic intersection theory, which was critical in Falting's proof of Lang's Conjecture for sub-varieties of abelian varieties. This is considered by many to be one of the greatest achievements in number theory in the 20th century. Gillet's research has been published extensively, most notably in the three most prestigious journals of mathematics: Annals of Mathematics, Journal of the AMS and Inventiones Mathematica. His work has been recognized by numerous awards and honors--in 2008 he was named a Senior Scholar by the Clay Mathematics Institute, a who's who of the best in mathematics. Gillet has served as head of the UIC Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, as well as serving on numerous academic committees.



Brian Kay (PhD, Yale University) is a professor of biology and a world expert in the field of molecular recognition, the science of how proteins selectively interact with each other inside cells. His research group of 13 individuals utilizes phage-displayed libraries of combinatorial peptides, antibody fragments and engineered proteins to probe the surfaces of proteins and identify contact sites for binding. This approach is being applied to develop biosensors for protein kinases, create tools to study protein expression in cells and organisms, generate affinity reagents to bacterial and human membrane proteins, and develop diagnostics for monitoring laser-induced eye damage. He has authored 110 scientific reports and reviews, co-edited three books, and been issued 15 patents. For the past five years, he has served as head as the Department of Biological Sciences at UIC. During that time, he has also been an Honors College fellow, and participated on search committees for Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and President of the University of Illinois. He also teaches introductory and advanced cell biology courses to undergraduates, and advanced molecular biology to graduate students at UIC.


Sivalingam Sivananthan (PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago) is a professor of physics and the director of the MicroPhysics Lab in the UIC Department of Physics.  He has been a pioneer in the growth of single-crystal II-VI materials on silicon for 20 years and proposed their use for the manufacture of ultrahigh-efficiency single-crystal II-VI on silicon photovoltaic solar cells 15 years ago. Sivananthan founded EPIR Technologies in 1997 for the commercialization of MBE-grown CdTe on silicon (CdTe/Si) for defense infrared night vision applications and the development of ultrahigh-efficiency photovoltaic solar cells. EPIR has grown over the past decade out of Sivanathan’s basement into a world-class research and development organization and, more recently, a manufacturing enterprise. His honors include a 2005 “Friend of the Night” award by the U.S. Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate for his leadership in this field. He serves as a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Infrared and Millimeter Waves  and the National Advisory Board for the Nanotechnology Core Facility.  His continuing contributions to the field of II-VI semiconductor research and development are evidenced by his over 200 refereed publications and his numerous invited talks.


Luis Alberto Urrea is a professor of creative writing, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. Born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea has published extensively in all the major genres and has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays. The Devil's Highway, his 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize. The Hummingbird's Daughter, an historical novel, tells the story of Teresa Urrea, the unofficial Saint of Cabora and Mexico’s Joan of Arc. The book, which involved 20 years of research and writing, won the Kiriyama Prize in fiction. The Devil's Highway, The Hummingbird's Daughter and Urrea’s most recent novel, Into the Beautiful North, have been chosen by more than 30 different cities and colleges for One Book community read programs. Before coming to UIC, Urrea taught at Harvard University, the University of Colorado and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Prior to teaching, Urrea served as relief worker in Tijuana, a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications.


Lennard J. Davis (PhD, Columbia University, New York) is a professor of English and disability studies. His most recent book Obsession: A History (2008) explores the way obsessive-compulsive behaviors function within our society, both positively and negatively. The book received wide critical acclaim, including a place on the list of the Chicago Tribune's Top Five Books by Chicagoans in 2008. Davis is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Award, a Fulbright Award and his book, My Sense of Silence: Memoirs of a Childhood with Deafness (2008), was nominated for a National Book Award. In total, he has written or edited 12 books. In addition to his appointments in English, Disability Studies and the UIC School of Medicine, Davis is also the director of Project Biocultures, a think-tank devoted to issues around teh intersection of culture, medicine, disability, biotechnology and the biosphere. His current interests include disability-related issues, literary adn cultural theory, as well as genetics, race, identity and biocultural issues. 


Lawrence Man Hou Ein (PhD, University of California, Berkeley) is a professor of mathematics and a leading authority in algebraic geometry. Ein was an American Mathematical Society Centennial Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies and a CLE Moore Instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the UIC faculty in 1985. Ein has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, University of California Los Angeles, University of Michigan Ann Arbor and the University of Hong Kong. After arriving at UIC, Ein received the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship and UIC's University Scholar award. An editor for Communications in Algebra, Transaction, Geometria Dedicata and Serdica Mathematical Journals, Ein has also served on several U.S. National Science Foundation and the Canadian National Science Foundation grant review committees and delivered dozens of invited papers at universities across the globe.


Henry Howe (PhD, University of Michigan) is a professor of biology and a preeminent ecologist whose primary research tests dispersal limitation in tropical trees in the restoration of plant dispersal processes in southern Mexico. Recent projects include a large exclosure project at the Morton Arboretum that tested the effects of seed-eating by birds and foliage consumption by voles on the density, productivity, dominance, species richness and diversity of synthetic tall-grass communities. Other projects along these lines involve rodent exclosures in Wisconsin, and several studies of the effects of burn season on the population and community ecology of tall-grass restorations. He is the co-author of Ecological Relationships of Plants and Animals, as well as the author of numerous articles that have appeared in BiotropicaEvolution, and American Naturalist. The recipient of numerous grants and awards from the likes of the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, he currently serves as director of graduate studies in ecology and evolution in the UIC Department of Biological Sciences.


Peter Shalen (PhD, Harvard University) is a professor of mathematics and one of the leading figures in low dimensional topology, a branch of mathematics that studies conceptual spaces called manifolds. He is also an affiliate professor at the University of Haifa, and a member of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom of Bar-Ilan University. His research interests are three-dimensional topology, hyperbolic geometry, and geometric and combinatorial group theory. He has served on the editorial board for Bulletin of the American Math Society and on several NSF grant review committees. With his work appearing in the most prestigious journals in mathematics, including the Bulletin of the American Math SocietyJournal of Pure and Applied Algebra, and Geometric Topology, Shalen has contributed to nearly every critical aspect of geometric topology. At UIC, he has built a world class group in geometry and typology and attracted promising doctoral and postdoctoral students. 


Susan R. Goldman (PhD, University of Pittsburgh) is a professor of psychology and education, and Co-Director of the UIC Center for the Study of Learning, Instruction, and Teacher Development. She is a member of the Cognitive Division in Psychology and of the Language, Literacy, and Culture and Educational Psychology programs in the College of Education. Goldman's interests are in learning and assessment in subject matter domains such as literacy, mathematics, history, and science and roles for technologies in supporting assessment, instruction, and learning. Current work includes research on a web-based diagnostic reading assessment system, learning from multiple information sources, and use of virtual agent systems to support language development in kindergarten and first grade children from both English and Spanish language backgrounds. Past accomplishments include research and development of several technology-based environments for learning and assessment, including the mathematics problem solving series The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury, and The Little Planet Literacy Series.


James W. Pellegrino (PhD, University of Colorado) is a professor of psychology and a UIC Distinguished Professor of Education. He also serves as Co-director of the UIC interdisciplinary Learning Sciences Research Institute. Pellegrino's research and development interests focus on children's and adult's thinking and learning and the implications of cognitive research and theory for assessment and instructional practice. Much of his current work is focused on analyses of complex learning and instructional environments, including those incorporating powerful information technology tools, with the goal of better understanding the nature of student learning and the conditions that enhance deep understanding. He has authored or co-authored over 250 books, chapters, journal articles and reports in the areas of cognition, instruction and assessment. Pellegrino's knowledge of cognitive science, psychometrics, educational technology, instructional practice and educational policy has led to appointment as head of several National Academy of Science/National Research Council study committees. A lifetime National Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, he was recently elected to lifetime membership in the National Academy of Education.


Roger P. Weissberg (PhD, University of Rochester) is a professor of psychology and education, the NoVo Foundation Chair in Social and Emotional Learning and the president of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), an international organization committed to making evidence-based social, emotional and academic learning an essential part of preschool through high school education. For the past decade, Weissberg has been considered one of the country's leading advocates for training scholars and practitioners about innovative ways to design, implement, and evaluate family, school, and community interventions. Named one of the 2008 Daring Dozen by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Weissberg has authored 200 publications focusing on preventive interventions with children and adolescents. He has written curricula on school-based programs to promote social competence and prevent problem behaviors including drug use, high-risk sexual behaviors, and aggression. The past president of the American Psychological Associations Society for Community Research and Action, he has also co-chaired an American Psychological Association Task Force on "Prevention: Promoting Strength, Resilience, and Health in Young People."


Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (PhD, Dalhousie University) is a professor of African-American studies and is the author of more than 20 books and countless articles and book chapters published in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and North America. His scholarship focuses on African economic, social and intellectual history, as well as development studies, gender studies and diaspora studies. He is also a short story writer, novelist and literary critic. Several of his books have won awards including the 1994 Noma Award for A Modern Economic History of Africa (1993), the 1998 Special Commendation of the Noma Award for Manufacturing African Studies and Crises(1997), the 2003 Choice Outstanding Academic Title and the 2004 Honorable Mention of the Conover-Porter Award for Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century African History (2002). He has raised nearly five million dollars in research and institutional grants from various foundations and public agencies. He is also working on a global project on African diasporas in Asia, Europe and the Americas, funded by the Ford Foundation. In fall 2007, Zeleza was elected president of the African Studies Association for the 2008-09 term.