First class of Engineering Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows announced


Four professors and their students will focus on bringing their work to the world by developing a technology and testing its commercial potential.

Engineering at Illinois has chosen its first class of Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows. The group is expected to “fundamentally redefine the role of faculty in innovation,” according to Andreas Cangellaris, dean of the College of Engineering.

Rather than being in the classroom, these fellows will be working with students out in the world. Together, they’ll conduct experiments, build prototypes, visit potential customers, study the market, conduct proof-of-concept research, and grow their entrepreneurial opportunities. And they’ll do all that with the advice and guidance of a group of veteran alumni mentors.

The first four Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows are:

Jianjun Cheng
Jianjun Cheng
Jianjun Cheng, Associate Professor & Willett Faculty Scholar
Materials Science and Engineering

Cheng and his team will explore the potential market for a new type of 3D printing material known as a malleable polyurea thermoset. A polyurea thermoset is tough enough to build with but, unlike contemporary materials, can be reprocessed and reused. It would be the first thermoset on the market for extrusion deposition 3D printing.


Mani Golparvar-Fard, Assistant Professor
Civil and Environmental Engineering

Golparvar-Fard’s team builds “flying superintendents.” These aerial robots transport recording equipment around construction sites. Using a first-of-its-kind, model-driven computer vision system, they can monitor construction progress and worker activities, alerting project managers to potential delays or other problems on the site.


Xiuling Li, Associate Professor
Electrical and Computer Engineering

With about a half dozen patents issued or filed on the subject, Li and her team will refine their nanotech “self-rolled-up membranes” to create electrical inductors, transformers, and other components. These components will be 10-100 times smaller and cheaper than current technology and could be used in healthcare, wearable computers, and security.


John Rogers, Professor & Swanlund Chair 
Materials Science and Engineering

Rogers’ team will design and manufacture prototype near-field communications devices that are small and flexible enough to mount on a person’s fingernail, earlobe, or tooth. They imagine these tiny devices could be used to send unique passwords and authentication information to electronic devices—Apple Pay from your body, instead of your iPhone 6.

“Our first responsibility will always be to our students, preparing them for excellent careers. But, when you have an idea for a company, the old model requires you to put the pedal down and drive your company away from those students as far and as fast as you can,” said Andrew Singer, a serial entrepreneur and professor who is responsible for a host of innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives in the College.