$1 million gift launches new PhD4 initiative

Date

08/10/20

A new initiative, called the PhD4 program, has been established in the Department of Chemistry to fund fourth-year graduate students. 

Alumnus Peixin He (PhD, ’85, Faulkner) and Xiaoming Chen have made the first donation, a $1 million gift. 

The long-term goal of the program is to fund all graduate students during their fourth year, providing full fellowships for those who have passed their preliminary exams. The program will also provide some additional funds to each student above the department's standard salary. 

“We certainly hope to see this program grow with other donors supporting it as well,” He said. “It will help graduate students and faculty members to be more productive in their research work.” 

In 1980, He first came to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a visiting scholar from Fudan University in China. He worked in the research group of Larry R. Faulkner, a professor of chemistry at Illinois. 

“It was a turning point in my life,” said He, who returned to Fudan University in 1982. 

But one year later, Fudan allowed him to return to Illinois to pursue a PhD program through an arrangement by Faulkner and the Department of Chemistry. He defended his thesis by the end of 1984, the same year that his wife, Chen, joined Faulkner’s group as a visiting research scientist. He officially graduated in 1985. 

“It was a fruitful and very enjoyable and memorable time,” He said.

After completing postdocs at Illinois and Purdue University, He and Chen returned to China in early 1987, holding faculty positions at Fudan University. Then, in 1990, they returned to the United States.

In 1994, the couple established CH Instruments, Inc., a firm specializing in electrochemical instrumentation.

He and Chen initially expressed interest in establishing an endowment for chemistry graduate awards and scholarships, He said, but they liked the concept of a PhD4 program after previous head Martin Gruebele talked to them about the idea. 

“We are happy that the department helped to set up the program,” He said. “It is critical for students to concentrate on their research.” 

Gruebele said he was thrilled to hear from the couple when they decided to fund the PhD4 initiative. 

“They know how important it is to get one’s research to the finish line after the preliminary exam. I hope the program catches the eye of many more alumni,” Gruebele said.

The PhD4 program is not the first time He and Chen have supported the university and the Department of Chemistry. 

In 2011, the couple made a $1 million donation to establish a Faulkner professorship, and in 2015, they donated another $1 million, elevating the fund to an endowed chair in Faulkner’s name. 

For their commitment and generosity, the couple received the 2019 LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award

In 2016, the first person named to the new Larry R. Faulkner Endowed Chair in Chemistry was current department head Catherine Murphy, a professor best known for developing nanomaterials for biological and energy-related applications. 

An alumna of the Department of Chemistry, Murphy (BS, ’86) said she met Larry Faulkner when she was an undergraduate and he was department head. 

“I am so happy that Larry’s former group members continue his tradition of care for both students and science,” Murphy said. 

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