The Distinguished University Professorships, one of the University of Michigan’s highest honors recognizing senior faculty who have positively contributed to academia, was established in 1947 by the Board of Regents.

The three honored faculty members — Chemical Engineering professor Nicholas Kotov, English professor Laura Kasischke and Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Victor Li — gave presentations highlighting their professional and scholarly experiences. Kotov received the award this past year, while Kasischke and Li were awarded the professorship in 2018. Michael Solomon, dean of Rackham Graduate School and professor of chemical engineering, moderated the discussion.

Each professor presented on recent research they have been conducting. Kotov spoke first, discussing his research on nanoparticles. He emphasized the importance of understanding nanoparticles because of how prominent they are in everyday life. 

“So, that all leads to the necessity to understand what do they do in nature, and how do we understand their behavior there?” Kotov said. “Well, one of the unifying abilities of the nanoparticles is actually to move. This is the universal movement of particles — atoms and molecules.” 

Next, Kasischke talked about poets who have been faculty or students at the University, such as Robert Frost and Theodore Roethke. Kasischke highlighted Roethke’s ties to the Midwest, specifically Michigan. 

“In every poem, he is writing from the source of our state,” Kasischke said.

Kasischke said the University community can benefit from studying Roethke, who attended the University from 1925-1936, especially when it comes to paying attention to vivid details. 

“Whether or not we’re poets, what we can learn from Roethke, and what much of what’s being taught and studied at the University of Michigan, this half-century since he was here, is to pay that kind of attention to the world,” Kasischke said. 

Finally, Li, whose research focuses on creating sustainable-built environments, discussed how concrete influences the environment, highlighting how to reduce concrete’s impact on the environment through 3D printing. 

“Another direction we are taking is to reduce carbon in the construction industry by making it more productive and reducing waste,” Li said. 

University President Mark Schlissel also spoke at the event, emphasizing the achievement and importance of research at the University.

“These are qualities that set us apart in Michigan. Education and research are interdependent and synergistic,” Schlissel said. “Our students get to learn from faculty who are peering around the edges of human knowledge and understanding and framing the questions that will drive us into the future.”

Daily News Contributor Elizabeth Williams can be reached at

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