Family and friends of alum establish scholarship to “pay it forward”  

Chuanjing Xu pictured at the Morrow Plots on the UIUC campus.

In 1986, Chuanjing “Charlie” Xu (PhD, ’92) was a teaching fellow at Shanghai Normal University (SHNU), China.  That year, he also served as a translator for a visiting scholar, Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, who was a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

That chance meeting changed the course of Charlie Xu’s life when Dr. Faulkner visited SHNU again two years later and invited Dr. Xu to UIUC as a visiting fellow.  

Now, 37 years later, that life-altering invitation has prompted family and friends of Dr. Xu, who passed away in May 2020, to establish the Chuanjing Xu Memorial Scholarship in his memory. 

Ming, who is one of the family members, said it was important to family and friends to make this gift, because UIUC was instrumental in Charlie’s family being able to start a new life in America. 

“The fellowship he enjoyed, which allowed him to transition from visiting scholar to PhD student, to PhD graduate, redefined what was possible for his family. It was important to establish a scholarship in his name to ‘pass it forward,’ and see if we can help someone else the same way. We are grateful to have the opportunity to help someone else along in their journey and pursuits,” Ming said. 

Charlie began his fellowship at UIUC in February 1988 and was accepted into the chemistry PhD program in 1990 under the advisement of Dr. Faulkner. Two years later, Dr. Xu successfully defended his dissertation and earned his PhD in electro-chemistry. 

Ming said the time that Charlie spent in the PhD program at Illinois was one of the highlights of his adult life. 

“The department was an anchor and an opportunity to a whole new life. It gave him the opportunity to study what he was passionate about, with great professionals,” Ming said.  

Charlie was born in 1948, in Shanghai, China. During the turbulent years after the Chinese civil war, his father was lost to a Communist re-education camp, and he and his three siblings were raised by his mother, a schoolteacher. He began learning English and the violin in his late teenage years as simple acts of rebellion amidst the tides of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Charlie spent his early twenties working in a Shanghainese steel mill.  

In 1977, he gained entrance to SHNU through competitive exams, graduated in 1981 with an undergraduate degree in chemistry, and was invited to remain at the university as a teaching fellow, an honor reserved for top graduates, which led to him meeting Dr. Faulkner five years later. 

Ming said Charlie was particularly grateful for his advisor, Dr. Faulkner, and for his personal and professional mentorship during and after the PhD program. 

“He also made lifelong friends through the program,” Ming said.  

After earning his PhD at Illinois, Dr. Xu did postdoctoral work at the University of New Mexico and Texas A&M University and then began his career in the private sector, working as a senior research scientist at TJ Technologies and A123 Systems, both in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area.  

In his more than 20-year career, Dr. Xu made significant contributions to the field of high-density fuel cell research, particularly in lithium-ion batteries. He is credited as an inventor on 12 U.S. patents and on another 15 patents through the European Patent Office. 

Ming said he believes Charlie would be pleased that this gift has been established to help other students.  

“I think he would be glad to be able to help someone discover the wonders of chemistry, and this school of science’s ability to qualitatively change the human experience…for the chemist and to those who benefit from scientific discoveries,” Ming said.

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