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Three faculty to receive college teaching and research awards


BioE communications office

Bioengineering faculty members Jenny Amos, Ting Lu, and Andrew Smith have been selected to receive 2019 College of Engineering (COE) awards in recognition for their teaching and research accomplishments. They will be presented with the awards on April 29 at a College-wide celebration.

Jenny Amos, who is receiving the COE Teaching Excellence Award, has been part of the Illinois Bioengineering department since 2009. She has played a major role in designing and implementing the department’s curriculum by crafting six core courses, 11 secondary courses, and the pre-college Bioengineering Girls Adventures in Math, Engineering, and Science (GAMES) summer camp aimed at increasing the number of women in science and engineering fields of study.

In addition, she has been extensively involved in developing an assessment framework and leading accreditation efforts for the entire College of Engineering.

Amos is the recipient of several other teaching awards including the 2018 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Illinois-Indiana Section Outstanding Teaching Award, and the COE Rose Award for Teaching Excellence; Outstanding Advisor award; the campus Distinguished Teacher Scholar Award, CITL Fellow, and she was an Education Innovation Fellow for AE3.

 She has received five major grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Education, and has played a lead role in redesigning the Bioengineering curriculum as part of a $2 million NSF grant. 

Although she teaches several courses in Bioengineering and at the college level, she is perhaps best known to students as the instructor of the Bioengineering senior capstone design course. She is consistently ranked as an excellent instructor by students in end-of-semester evaluations.

Most recently, Amos was appointed as the Director of Evaluation and Student Assessment at the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine, which is the first engineering-driven medical school. In this role, Amos is in charge of designing assessments and tracking progress of the students pursuing a blended curriculum of engineering and medicine.

Associate Professor Ting Lu will receive a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research. Lu’s work focuses on bacterial synthetic biology—the analysis, modeling and construction of gene regulatory networks in bacteria for cellular functionality programming.   

Bacteria often form complex communities in nature mediated by cellular interactions such as cooperation and competition. One focus of Lu’s research program is to investigate the fundamental design principles underlying the organization of bacterial communities. By combining experimental synthetic biology with mathematical modeling, Lu has systematically dissected the roles of social interactions in driving microbial assemblage in space and time. For example, his lab recently uncovered that the mode and spatial scale of interaction are two key determinants for the characteristic dynamics of microbial ecosystems.

Lu has also exploited such cell-cell interactions to create synthetic ecosystems with specific behaviors and functions, such as the formation of spatial population structures and autonomous production of biochemicals. These studies advance the fundamental knowledge of microbial ecology and also provide insights into the design of robust artificial consortia for biotechnological applications.

Another focus of Lu’s research is to advance the engineering methodologies for lactic acid bacteria (LAB), such as Lactococcus and Lactobacillus, that are common in food and also in the human gut microbiome. Recently, he has developed a synthetic biology platform for rapid construction of large-scale gene networks such as biosynthetic pathways in LAB. The platform confers efficient manipulation of both large building blocks, like single operons, and multiplex and continuous editing of small DNA parts such as ribosome-binding sites.

With the platform, Lu was able to rapidly engineer and optimize complex systems such as the pathway of nisin, an antimicrobial peptide that is widely used in the food industry. This set of work addressed the fundamental requirement for fully exploiting the potential of LAB, helping to establish them as cellular chasses for therapeutic purposes.  

Lu’s research has been published in leading journals such as Science, Nature Chemical Biology, Nature Microbiology, Science Advances and PNAS. He has received several awards, including an NSF CAREER Award, ONR Young Investigator Award, ACS Infectious Diseases Young Investigator Award, AHA National Scientist Development Grant, and was named a Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering (CMBE) Young Innovator.

Bioengineering Associate Professor Andrew Smith will receive the Collins Award for Innovative Teaching. Since joining the Bioengineering faculty in 2012, he has developed and led a diverse range of new educational initiatives and programs.

Smith’s innovation in teaching is exemplified by his work to fundamentally redesign courses that he teaches. In BIOE 220, Bioenergetics, Smith tailored the classical thermodynamics coursework to the field of pharmacology and the pharmaceutical industry, which due to the real-life biomedical application, led to significantly improved student learning and motivation.

In his BIOE 479 Cancer Nanotechnology course, Smith focused the content around grant writing skills and mock grant review panels, fostering an insightful critique and revision process which prepares students for careers in research and technical writing. Smith also redeveloped the primary introductory course in the Bioengineering core curriculum, BIOE 100, to focus on student experiences in biomedical data collection and analytical technologies, using multi-tiered undergraduate mentoring teams to provide hands-on expertise and advice on college life.

As Bioengineering's associate head for undergraduate programs, he has overseen numerous aspects of redesign in the department’s curriculum. This led to the development of five new introductory courses, BIOE 100, 110, 120, 200, and 298, which provide students with an understanding of grand motivational challenges in the Bioengineering field, experiences in the professional practice of engineering, and biomedical-focused computational and analytical skills.

Smith was co-PI for an NSF-supported Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program called Discoveries in Bioimaging and is currently PI for the NSF REU Site: Frontiers in Biomedical Imaging. This program has been successful in facilitating the matriculation of historically minoritized undergraduates in STEM to graduate school programs—seven of whom are currently in or entering PhD programs at Illinois. Through this program, he developed a Bioimaging Bootcamp based around the use of cell phone microscopes and automated image analysis to rapidly provide students with diverse image collection and analysis tools in the context of the biomedical sciences.

In addition to Bioengineering, Smith is a faculty member in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine in which he is developing the core content for Hematology and Oncology, with unique engineering experiences built in through high resolution pathological imaging of tumor tissue and diagnostic analysis of images through machine learning.

He has also been a leader in diverse educational initiatives across campus, including the Cancer Scholars Program, the College of Engineering GATE award program, the T32 tissue microenvironment training program, and he received a Carver grant for educational lab equipment that transformed three lab courses (BIOE 202, 306, and 460).