2024 TS Piper Award Winner: Daniel Hu

Daniel Hu stands holding a certificate in Chem Annex lecture hall
Daniel Hu with the TS Piper award after his research presentation.

Growing up in Taiwan, Chi-Herng "Daniel" Hu dreamed of studying in the United States and earning his doctorate.

After graduating from National Taiwan University in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, Hu achieved the first part of his dream when he was accepted into the graduate program in chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Now, he has fulfilled the second part, graduating with his PhD and receiving the 2024 Theron Standish Piper Award, given each year in the Department of Chemistry in recognition of an outstanding PhD thesis in inorganic chemistry.

In May, Hu presented his thesis research during a special lecture recognizing the 2024 TS Piper Award winners, and two special guests were in attendance, his parents, who are Illinois alumni.

His father, Hsuan-Teh Hu (PhD, '88, civil and environmental engineering), and his mother, Shin Chang Hu (PhD, '91, nuclear, plasma & radiological engineering) met in Daniels Hall on the Illinois campus.

“And that’s why I was nicknamed ‘Daniel,’ ” said Hu, whose dream to study in the U.S. was made possible by a Taiwan-UIUC Fellowship.

He said the support allowed him to focus on research without worrying about funding in the early part of his graduate studies.

“I am tremendously grateful,” he said. “If it were not for the fellowship, I would likely have stayed in Taiwan to work in one of the companies in the chemical industry. The time here at UIUC is life changing.”

Advised by Prof. Liviu Mirica, Hu’s PhD research focused on the merger of two areas, nickel catalysis and aerobic transformations.

Hu said nickel catalysis has emerged as one of the most intensively studied research areas in the past decade due to its application in novel transformations such as alkyl-alkyl cross-coupling and dual nickel photocatalysis. And aerobic transformations are key to biological metabolisms and embody the core principles of green chemistry. Hu said the merger of these two fields will be of high relevance to chemical research, and as inorganic chemists, their work focuses on striving to understand the fundamentals of chemical reactions in these two areas.

“Through my PhD studies, we have identified the key factors for oxygen atom transfer reactivity, with hydrogen peroxide or dioxygen as the direct oxidant. We anticipate that these findings will translate into catalytic applications and stimulate future research in related fields,” Hu said.

He said a major highlight of his graduate studies was seeing his first first-author paper published.

“I was so excited and shared it with my friends,” said Hu, who has already started the next phase of his career on the Illinois campus.

He accepted a postdoctoral research position in the Mirica lab where he will continue research and work on an unpublished manuscript. After his postdoctoral work, he said he plans to seek job opportunities in academia.

Hu said he is grateful for friendships he has made at Illinois and for key mentors, including Prof. Mirica and three Mirica Group alumni – Dr. Leonel Griego, Dr. Yiran Huang, and Dr. Liang Sun – whom he spent a lot of time with, not only in the lab but outside the lab.

“They taught me how to grow as a chemist,” he said.