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Brad Petersen
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1066 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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Meg Dickinson
Communications Specialist
1068 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 300-6664
megd@illinois.edu

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Liang and Cunningham each receive EMBS Technical Achievement Award

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By Mark Pajor, ECE ILLINOIS
June 11, 2014

  • Professors Liang and Cunningham each received the EMBS Technical Achievement Award, which recognizes individuals for outstanding achievement, contribution, and innovation in a technical area of biomedical engineering.
  • Liang earned the award "For fundamental and pioneering contributions to the theory, algorithms, and biomedical applications of model-based magnetic resonance imaging."
  • Cunningham earned the award "For development and commercialization of optics-based biosensors and detection instruments for applications in drug discovery, diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and life science research."

The IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society (EMBS) Technical Achievement Award went to two researchers this year, and both of them are ECE ILLINOIS faculty: Professor Zhi-Pei Liang and Professor Brian T. Cunningham.

Professor Zhi-Pei Liang earned the award “For fundamental and pioneering contributions to the theory, algorithms, and biomedical applications of model-based magnetic resonance imaging.” Liang also has appointments with the Beckman Institute, Coordinated Science Laboratory, and Department of Bioengineering.

Zhi-Pei  Liang
Zhi-Pei Liang
Liang has long been a dedicated member of EMBS. He has been chairman of several of the society’s committees, and he served as president from 2011-2012.

“I have been a member of EMBS for my entire career, starting out as a student member," Liang said. "It means a lot to be recognized by my international colleagues."

Liang and his research group have made key contributions to the theory and algorithms of model-based magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). His work has significantly increased the resolution and speed capabilities of MRI.

“My research group, for more than 20 years, has endeavored to use spins to develop advanced imaging technology to unravel the mystery of biological and disease processes,” Liang said.

Over the course of those 20 years, Liang and his students have developed a new class of constrained imaging methods for high-speed data acquisition and optimal image reconstruction. These methods are essential for important applications such as real-time cardiac imaging and physiological imaging of various disease processes.

“I am particularly proud of my group’s work on tackling some of the long-standing problems associated with limited imaging speeds, resolution, and signal-to-noise ratio from spin physics to signal processing,” Liang said.

Among his many awards and recognitions, Liang is a Fellow of IEEE, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. In 2012, he was elected to the International Academy for Medical and Biological Engineering, and received the Otto Schmitt Award from the International Federation for Medicine and Biological Engineering “for outstanding contributions to the advancement of the field of medical and biological engineering.”

Professor Brian T. Cunningham earned the award “For development and commercialization of optics-based biosensors and detection instruments for applications in drug discovery, diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and life science research.” He is the interim director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory and is also a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering.

Brian T. Cunningham
Brian T. Cunningham
“My group and I work on biosensors using electromagnetics associated with light,” Cunningham said.

“We’ve made detection systems that can detect tiny drug molecules, virus particles, proteins, or DNA just from their refractive index,” he said. “All biological objects have the ability to slow down light just a tiny bit. We built these nanostructure surfaces called photonic crystals that can capture light from an LED, or a laser, or a light bulb – and to concentrate its energy on the surface where we attach biomolecules like antibodies or proteins that can selectively look for and grab something specific out of a test sample.”

One recent breakthrough by Cunningham and his group is the first biosensing laser. Cunningham and his colleagues have already found a number of applications for their research, including HIV viral load and early-stage cancer detection. They have even developed a cradle for smartphones that uses the phones’ cameras to turn them into on-the-go biosensors.

The “commercialization” side of the award citation comes in the form of Exalt Diagnostics, a new company started by Cunningham. Exalt Diagnostics will use Cunningham’s biosensing technology for applications in human health care, animal health, and agriculture.

“We recently got commitment from a group of venture capital investors to fund the company, and we developed a license agreement with the university for the patents,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham has received many awards and honors, including Fellowship status with IEEE, the Optical Society of America, and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. In 2010, he received the IEEE Sensors Council Technical Achievement Award “For the invention, development, and commercialization of sensors and detection instruments based on photonic crystals.” He was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2014.

Professors Liang and Cunningham expressed appreciation for one another’s work, and they were glad for the opportunity to showcase ECE ILLINOIS’s contributions to medicine and biology.

“Professor Cunningham is a very special man. I am one of his biggest fans,” Liang said. “Sharing the stage with him makes the award even more special and memorable to me.”

“It’s great to share the award with Professor Liang,” Cunningham said. “He does great work, and I think it also just shows the world that we do great things in medicine and biology at Illinois.”

Professors Liang and Cunningham will receive the EMBS Technical Achievement Award this August at the 36th annual EMBS international conference. The Technical Achievement Award recognizes individuals for outstanding achievement, contribution, and innovation in a technical area of biomedical engineering. EMBS, an IEEE society, is the world’s largest international society of biomedical engineers.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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