Girish Chowdhary, Vijay Singh, and Yuanhui Zhang received named appointments from the Grainger College of Engineering

January 6, 2021

Three agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) faculty members recently received named appointments from The Grainger College of Engineering. These prestigious appointments were granted to Dr. Girish Chowdhary as Donald Biggar Willet Faculty Fellow and Drs. Vijay Singh and Yuanhui Zhang as Founder Professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Their selection for these appointments were based upon the recommendation of the Grainger Engineering College Advisory Committee on Appointments and have the approvals of Dean Rashid Bashir and Provost Andreas Cangellaris. Such distinguished named faculty appointments are based upon accomplishments. All appointments are effective August 16, 2020. These ABE faculty provide exemplary contributions to the achievement of the missions of ABE and the university that highly impacts our role for the broader good of society.

Girish Chowdhary is associate professor in ABE and Computer Science. His research program focuses on distributed autonomous systems. He has established the Distributed Autonomous Systems Laboratory and the Field Robotics Engineering and Sciences Hub (FRESH). He is also associate director on the USDA-NSF AIFARMS national AI institute, and the chief scientist on the Illinois Autonomous Farm.  His primary research contributions revolve around creating advanced control and learning algorithms for intelligent field robotics, particularly in the context of agriculture, defense, and remote area exploration. He has established himself as a leader in robotic phenotyping methodology research, an area that is in the critical path of the plant breeding and genetics for a sustainable future, and in advancing robotics and AI for under-canopy applications. He is the author of over 90 publications in autonomy and robotics, and PI/co-PI on numerous grants (total grant amount of approximately $45.9 million). He was the winner of the Air Force Young Investigator Award, PI on an ONR MURI grant, and has received several best paper awards. He is the co-founder of EarthSense Inc., working towards making sustainable farming profitable with ultralight field robots.

Vijay Singh is professor in ABE and director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL). He is an exceptional translational researcher in food and bioprocessing and has demonstrated leadership in bringing together colleagues in pursuit of multidisciplinary or emerging areas. Singh has been an investigator for more than $27 million research and $202 million center grants and has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, 16 book chapters, 72 other publications and holds 14 patents (6 licensed patents). Singh also directs IBRL, a bioprocessing product research and development facility that helps food and beverage, biofuels, biopolymers and other industrial biotech companies from all over the world in developing and improving their products and processes. Singh’s contributions have been recognized through various awards including Fellow, Applied Research Award, Young Scientist Award from the American Association of Cereal Chemists, International (AACCI); International Food Engineer Award and New Holland Young Researcher Award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE); University Scholar, Xerox Award for Faculty Research from the Grainger College of Engineering and Research Excellence Award from the College of ACES; and Faculty Excellence Awards from Corn Refiners Association.

Yuanhui Zhang, professor in ABE, has built an internationally recognized, innovative and productive program in environment-enhancing energy and indoor air quality. His creativity and research impact has been clearly demonstrated in his breakthrough hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) technology for converting biowaste (animal manure, food waste, municipal sludge and algal bloom) into biocrude oil and transportation fuel, unique volumetric particle tracking velocimetry (VPTV) technology for real-time three-dimensional measurement of airflow in full-scale rooms, and his creative aerodynamic deduster technology for cleaning dusty air. His total research grant/contract amount as PI or co-PI is approximately $23.8 million from federal and state agencies, and industry, with $11.74 million directly allocated to him. He is a prolific author, publishing two books, eight book chapters and monographs, and  226 refereed journal articles. He is a caring advisor, completed 28 PhD and 23 MS students, and in addition, he currently advises 8 PhD and 3 MS students.  Zhang’s research, teaching, and service contributions have been recognized through numerous awards, including Fellow of ASABE, Fellow of American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), ASABE Henry Giese Structures and Environment Award, and ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award. He was a recipient of Everitt Award for Teaching Excellence in the Grainger College of Engineering.  He was named Innoventor Professor in Engineering, jointly by the Departments of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Mechanical Science and Engineering in 2011-2016.

The Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Fellowships are awarded to faculty members who are excelling in their contributions to the University of Illinois. More broadly, the Willett Research Initiatives in Engineering funds professorships, undergraduate and graduate student research, and related research activity in honor of Donald Biggar Willett (1897-1981), who studied civil engineering at the University of Illinois from 1916-1921. The Founder Professorships are made possible by the Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative, the result of a $100 million investment in the Grainger College of Engineering. The name commemorates Stillman Williams Robinson, the first faculty member to teach engineering at the University of Illinois and the first dean when the College of Engineering was organized in 1878.