College of LAS « Illinois

Andrew A. Gewirth named Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professor of Chemistry

Professor honored for long-standing commitment to university

Andrew A. Gewirth, left, the Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professor of Chemistry, is congratulated by Feng Sheng Hu, Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS, right, and Vice Provost William Bernhard. (Thompson-McClellan.)
Andrew A. Gewirth, left, the Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professor of Chemistry, is congratulated by Feng Sheng Hu, Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of LAS, right, and Vice Provost William Bernhard. (Thompson-McClellan.)
Andrew A. Gewirth, a professor at Illinois since 1988, has been named Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professor of Chemistry. A named professorship is one of the highest honors a faculty member can receive.

Gewirth was chosen by a committee of peers to hold the chair.  This position was made possible by a generous gift from the Dr. Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professorship Fund.

“Andy has richly contributed to the fabric of chemistry and to the campus community with his advising, mentoring, and going out of his way to impact the Illinois community,” said Martin Gruebele, head of the Department of Chemistry, at an investiture ceremony in Gewirth’s honor. 

The late Peter Markunas (MS ’37; PhD ’40; chemistry) worked in the chemical research department of National Distillers of Cincinnati and researched penicillin for U.S. troops during World War II. Later, he led chemical research at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Upon his retirement from R.J. Reynolds, Markunas researched farmland and soybeans in Springfield, Illinois.

Andrew A. Gewirth (Thompson-McClellan.)
Andrew A. Gewirth (Thompson-McClellan.)
The late Gretchen Miller Markunas earned her teaching certificate from Illinois State Normal University in 1932. She was an employee in the Sangamon County school system until 1941, when she married Peter Markunas. Both were life members of the Illinois Alumni Association and the University of Illinois President’s Council.

“I want to thank the Miller Markunas family for their dedication to the University of Illinois and allowing me the honor of professorship with their name. This professorship means a lot,” Gewirth said, at the ceremony. “This particular period in time I think will likely be known as one of the golden ages of electrochemistry, which is what I do.”

After joining the Illinois faculty in 1988, Gerwith developed the Atomic Force Microscope as a tool to study the interfacial electrochemical environment.

A former director of the School of Chemical Sciences, Gewirth has received a number of awards, including a Presidential Young Investigator Award, an A. P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the Department of Energy Outstanding Accomplishment Award in Materials Chemistry, the Sessler Lectureship at Stanford University, and the University of Illinois University Scholar Award. Colleagues gave tremendous praise to Gewirth for his accomplishments and impactful research.

“I am grateful to Gewirth’s long-standing commitment to chemistry, and this is a better university because of his scholarship,” said Feng Sheng Hu, Harry E. Preble Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Andrew A. Gewirth celebrates with students at the ceremony recognizing him as the Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professor of Chemistry. (Thompson-McClellan)
Andrew A. Gewirth celebrates with students at the ceremony recognizing him as the Peter C. and Gretchen Miller Markunas Professor of Chemistry. (Thompson-McClellan)
Added Vice Provost William Bernhard, professor of political science: “It is an honor to celebrate the extraordinary record of Gewirth’s accomplishments. It’s more than just research. It’s dedication, diligence and working hard.”

Gerwith has published over 225 papers, delivered over 200 invited talks, organized several conferences, chaired a U.S Department of Energy panel examining the future of electrical energy storage devices, and served as the University of Illinois lead for the Center of Electrical Energy Science. His research aims to understand chemistry at interfaces, especially the solid-liquid interface in studies relevant to fuel cells, batteries, and other related devices.

“This professorship will mean that my group and I can proceed at faster rates investigating this important research,” Gewirth said.

He added, “Going forward in my life, I’d like to thank my late wife Nancy, both for her support and also for teaching me what I now know is the most important thing in science, which is communication.”

Gewirth also praised his students, past and present.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with students over the past 30 years. Each one of you is unique. Each one of you has some broad new perspective to bring to science. There has been a lot of fun times, and also some not so fun times, but every time you people come together as a group, it seems like there are new possibilities,” Gewirth said. “This professorship is really about my students and I thank you very much.”

Taylor Hoffman
9/25/2017

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