Ten new faculty to join McKelvey Engineering in 2023-24

The new faculty members bring entrepreneurship, research strengths

Beth Miller 
Clockwise from top left: Berkland, Chen, Cooper, Dai, Huang, Iqbal, Jiao, Russell, Wormleighton and Zhang
Clockwise from top left: Berkland, Chen, Cooper, Dai, Huang, Iqbal, Jiao, Russell, Wormleighton and Zhang

Eight new tenured/tenure-track faculty members and two lecturers will join the McKelvey School of Engineering in the 2023-24 academic year which will bolster the school’s strengths in research, education and entrepreneurship.

Biomedical Engineering

Cory Berkland, professor

  • PhD, chemical and biomolecular engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2003
  • MS, chemical engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001
  • BS, chemical engineering, Iowa State University, 1998

Cory Berkland joins the faculty Nov. 1 from The University of Kansas, where he is the Solon E. Summerfield Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. He has been on the faculty since 2003. In addition, he is the cofounder, chair and CEO of Bond Biosciences based in the Kansas City area; co-founder and chair of Kinimmune, a St. Louis-area company developing cancer immunotherapies; and co-founder and chair of Axioforce, also based in St. Louis. Berkland also is a co-founder and was on the executive team of three other bioscience startup companies, including Orbis Biosciences (acquired in 2020 by Adare Pharmaceuticals) and Savara Pharmaceuticals, which was listed on the NASDAQ in 2017. 

Berkland’s research merges engineering and biological sciences to develop novel therapeutics and biomaterials. His lab designs molecules and materials to treat disease using tools such as biomolecular engineering, polymer science and material design. His research areas include cancer immunotherapy, antigen-specific immunotherapies, biosensors and targeted drug delivery, among others.  

Berkland was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2017, was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biomedical Engineering in 2015 and has won numerous other awards. He has been involved in several study sections for the National Institutes of Health and sits on several journal advisory boards and academic advisory boards. He has more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and holds about 70 U.S. patents.


Yifan Dai, assistant professor

  • PhD and BS, chemical and biomolecular engineering, Case Western Reserve University, 2020 and 2017, respectively

Yifan Dai joins the faculty July 1 from Duke University, where he was most recently a postdoctoral fellow in biomedical engineering.

His research focuses on exploring and studying the physical chemistry of biology to understand how chemical functions are encoded in biological soft matter and developing fundamental capabilities for synthetic biology to design smart medicine capable of sensing and responding to cellular states for the improvement of human well-being. He studies the chemical features of biological soft matter, such as biomolecular condensates and focuses on establishing function-feature correlations to understand the underlaying physicochemical principles of cellular functions. In addition, his research integrates electrochemistry into synthetic biology. He designs strategies to engineer biological components at different scales (biomolecules, molecular/genetic circuits and cells) capable of sensing and responding to change of local/global electrochemical equilibrium.


Computer Science & Engineering

Jiaxin Huang, assistant professor

  • PhD, computer science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2023
  • BEng, electronic information science and technology, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 2018

Jiaxin Huang joins the McKelvey School of Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a doctorate in computer science. She was a recipient of the highly competitive two-year Microsoft Research PhD fellowship in 2021 and received the C.W. Gear Outstanding Graduate Award from the UIUC Computer Science Department in 2022. She has been an author on 20 peer-reviewed conference papers and journal articles. She plans to join McKelvey Engineering Jan. 1, 2024. 

Her research primarily focuses on leveraging large language models to enable label‑efficient knowledge acquisition and utilization. She develops novel approaches from constructing fundamental knowledge representations for concepts, entities and documents, to improving complex reasoning process for language models. Her work on language model self-improving has been applied to practical usage in Google Research. 


Umar Iqbal, assistant professor

  • PhD, University of Iowa, computer science, 2021
  • BS, computer science, National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences, Pakistan, 2013

Umar Iqbal joins McKelvey Engineering from the University of Washington, where he has been a postdoctoral scholar since 2021. His research interests are in privacy, security, technology policy and internet measurements. His research takes a data-driven approach to improve user privacy and security on the internet. He is particularly interested in building defenses against prevalent threats on the internet, preemptively anticipating and mitigating threats in emerging technologies, and exploring defenses that leverage law and policy. He joins the faculty Sept. 1, 2023.

Iqbal completed internships at Apple, Mozilla, Brave and Microsoft and was a solution consultant at LMKT for three years. He has won numerous honors and awards, including the CSAW Best Applied Research Award (third place), Graduate Research Excellence Award, the Ada Louis Ballard and Seashore Dissertation Fellowship and the Graduate College Post-Comprehensive Research Fellowship from the University of Iowa and the Computing Innovation Fellowship from the Computing Research Association. He has been an author on more than a dozen peer-reviewed conference publications.


Chongjie Zhang, associate professor

  • PhD, computer science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2011
  • MS, computer science, Louisiana State University, 2006
  • BS, economics, University of International Business and Economics, Beijing, 2001

Chongjie Zhang joins the faculty Sept. 1 from Tsinghua University, where he has been an assistant professor at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences since 2017. In addition, Zhang is the co-founder and chief scientist for Zealen Ltd., a company that uses artificial intelligence to revolutionize clean energy production. He also has served as the chief AI scientist for Antwork Ltd., which provides urban aerial delivery services. Prior to his current endeavors, he was a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Zhang's research focuses on deep reinforcement learning, multi-agent systems and human-AI interaction. His work explores how intelligent agents can learn to make decisions and effectively collaborate with other agents or humans to achieve goals beyond individual capabilities. He has numerous peer-reviewed publications in top venues. 


Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering

Christopher Cooper, assistant professor

  • PhD, chemical engineering, Stanford University, 2023
  • MPhil, chemical engineering, University of Cambridge, 2018
  • BS, chemical engineering and economics, North Carolina State University, 2017 

Christopher Cooper will join the McKelvey Engineering faculty in Fall 2024, after completing postdoctoral research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he will study novel methods for polymer upcycling. His doctoral research at Stanford focused on synthesizing dynamic polymers with distinct molecular designs and reversible bonds to create novel stretchable materials that integrate into wearable or implantable electronic devices. He has published more than 15 peer-reviewed journal articles and given numerous conference presentations. His research at WashU will focus on using these dynamic polymers to create responsive soft materials for applications in energy storage, sustainability and human health. 

Cooper has received numerous honors, including the NIST NRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Churchill Scholarship, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and the Park Scholarship. He has also received several teaching awards from Stanford and won numerous awards at North Carolina State University.


Feng Jiao, professor

  • PhD, chemistry, University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom, 2008
  • BS, chemistry, Fudan University, Shanghai, 2001 

Feng Jiao joins McKelvey School of Engineering from the University of Delaware, where he was most recently professor and graduate program director in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and director of the Center for Catalytic Science & Technology. Jiao was hired as part of the environmental research initiative in Here and Next, the university’s strategic plan initiative.

Jiao’s research focuses on developing cutting-edge electrochemical technologies that address pressing global issues in energy storage, chemical manufacturing and food production. His lab focuses on advancing electrochemical systems for carbon utilization by pursuing high-performance CO2 and CO electrolysis, surpassing the efficiency of conventional fossil-based systems and exploring innovative synthesis methods for nanostructured materials tailored for energy applications, with the goal to mitigate global climate change by delivering clean, sustainable, and eco-friendly energy and chemical solutions, ultimately contributing to a more responsible and greener future. He holds three U.S. patents.

Jiao is editor of Chemical Engineering Journal and an advisory board member of several other journals. He recently received funding from the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Gates Foundation to create a sustainable source of protein for human food derived from carbon dioxide. 


Kurt Russell, lecturer

  • PhD, chemical engineering, Purdue University, 2023
  • MS, environmental engineering, Stanford University, 2018
  • BS, chemical & biomolecular engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2015

Kurt Russell joins the faculty July 1 from Purdue University, where he has been a doctoral student in chemical engineering. His research is in characterizing catalysts in various applications, including X-ray absorption spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction at Argonne and Brookhaven National Labs. He also has conducted research into the effects of combining dehydrogenation catalysts with zeolites on the reactivity and product distribution of olefin reactions.

Russell has been an author on more than 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals, has made several presentations at conferences and holds one U.S. patent. In addition to his research and teaching activities, Russell has been involved in his community helping middle-school students build solar-powered model vehicles, tutoring, teaching elementary students computer programming, and assisting in sports.


Electrical & Systems Engineering

Xudong Chen, associate professor

  • PhD, electrical engineering, Harvard University, 2014
  • BS, electronic engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, 2009

Xudong Chen joins the faculty Aug. 1, 2023, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he has been an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering since 2016. He also is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Applied Mathematics.

His research interests are in control theory, stochastic processes, optimization, graph theory, and their applications in modeling, analysis, control and estimation of complex systems as well as in the mathematical frameworks of ensemble control, which has applications in quantum spin systems, biological systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and robotics. 

Chen received the 2021 Donald P. Eckman Award from the American Automatic Control Council, an NSF CAREER Award in 2021, and the AFOSR Young Investigator Award in 2020. He has published more than 35 papers in peer-reviewed journals and more than 30 conference papers.


Ben Wormleighton, lecturer

  • PhD, University of California, Berkeley
  • BS, MMath, mathematics, University of Warwick

Ben Wormleighton joins the McKelvey Engineering faculty as a lecturer in August 2023 from the College of Arts & Sciences, where he has been the William Chauvenet Postdoctoral Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics since August 2020.

His research interests are centered on building formative practices in STEM education and in studying geometric problems largely arising from theoretical physics. He is interested in cultivating spaces where students can take their next steps in becoming rigorous and communal thinkers who use mathematics as a creative medium for inquiry. He has published several papers and given more than 70 presentations on his work.

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