MY CAMPUS: Beckman Institute Director Jeff Moore


jeff moore

Jeff Moore holds two degrees from the University of Illinois — a bachelor’s in chemistry (1984) and Ph.D. in materials science (1989).

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

You name it, JEFF MOORE does it at the UI’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology — work, eat, think, lead, meet, get tested for COVID and, starting Friday, help put on the first virtual edition of the building’s biennial open house.

The two-day event will kick off at midnight Friday at beckman.illinois.edu/openhouse and include many of the same family-friendly favorite features as in-person editions did. Plus more — from Bugscope, a for-the-kids look at insect specimens on Beckman’s environmental scanning electron microscope, to a videotaped conversation between Moore, Beckman’s current director, and Ted Brown, its founding director.

To set the mood, we asked Moore — a two-degree UI grad, Stanley O. Ikenberry endowed chair and professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering — to tell us about some of his favorite places and spaces on and around campus, several of them involving the interdisciplinary research hub he directs.

As a student, I enjoyed finding a corner table in the vending room in the Illini Union. As a faculty member, I found the greatest ideas came over meals shared with my colleagues, professors Nancy Sottos and the late Scott White.

We’d grab a bite to eat from the Beckman Café and sit outside or in the atrium. Many collaborative research ideas came from those lunch conversations. When we finished talking research, we’d commiserate about “daughter’s boyfriend” problems.

Most of my interview was spent in Roger Adams Lab, on the Monday after the Super Bowl in 1993.

I traveled down from Ann Arbor, Michigan the night before and I had no idea who played in the game. I had meetings with Professors Peter Beak, Scott Denmark and John Katzenellenbogen.

Only a few years earlier, each of them taught me organic chemistry in their classrooms. Now, they were considering hiring me.

There was an awkward feeling of what they’d remember about me as a student.

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I would almost certainly bring a visitor to the Illinois MRI Exhibit, which is located just off the Beckman Institute Atrium. There, you will see the magnets and equipment of the first-ever human MRI scanners.

This little gem will be featured prominently on the Beckman open house page.

I’d probably want to bring by visitors during an afternoon when the building is hopping, and all sorts of people are connecting around the atrium/cafe. Because of COVID-19, this isn’t a reality right now, but we’re using our virtual open house to give online visitors a sense of how groundbreaking the University of Illinois’ research contributions to MRI have been.

As an undergraduate, I fell in love with calculus. Professor Joe Miles taught the second-semester course in the spring of 1981. He lit a fire in me for the love of learning in the Altgeld Hall auditorium.

My dingy little basement room in Sigma Pi Fraternity, then on the corner of Second and Daniels in Champaign.

I had an 8 a.m. class, and my roommate, Jim Constertina, was taking his CPA exam that semester. He was intensely studying that semester, and couldn’t be distracted; I needed to be awake for the 8 o’clock, so we decided to adopt a schedule that limited human contact, maximized focus and helped me to be wide awake in the morning.

Sunday through Thursday evening, we slept immediately after dinner, wake before 2 a.m. and studied in the room until it was time to go to class. We’d often set the alarm just in time to order grinders or ‘za — Papa Del’s pizza — before closing.

It’s not one place but it’s a favorite 20-mile running route that covers Savoy, Urbana and Champaign. It’s beautiful on a crisp October morning, and especially memorable when friends like Lloyd Munjanja join me.

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The Beckman Cafe remains my favorite place on campus to eat. Our open house features a few recipes from cafe manager Joshua Walker.

Where you’d find me on Friday and Saturday nights as a student

I was a nose-to-the-grindstone student. My friend, Mike Gartlan, and I would spend our weekend evenings studying in the main library stacks, usually until closing, six or seven days a week during our freshman and sophomore years.

Occasionally, backpacks full of books, we’d swing by one of the campus bars to grab a beer on the way back home.

470 Roger Adams Lab, which I knew as a student as the office of professors Nelson Leonard and Eric Jacobsen.

I was humbled to be in that space where so much great chemistry had been discussed before.

Certainly Beckman. Beckman wants to be an excellent campus partner and hosting a testing site was a great way to contribute to keeping everyone on campus healthy. Plus, it offers proximity to the Beckman Cafe.

The best professional news has come from hearing about research breakthroughs, delivered straight from excited mouths of students who just had a big “ah-ha” moment.

One morning, sometime in 2008, I was in Roger Adams Lab when Stephanie Potisek and Doug Davis, two Ph.D. students in the Moore Group, pounded on the office door. They could not wait to show me that they had discovered the long-sought polymer that changes color when it’s pulled apart.

That was a key demonstration of the new idea we called mechanophores, useful for damage detection and repair. They knew they hit pay dirt and they had to share the news right away.

The Beckhenge sculpture, just south of the Beckman Institute. Each summer solstice, it offers is uplifting to experience the astronomical beginning of summer.

The spire from Beckhenge aligns with the exact center of the fountain closest to it.

jeff moore

In addition to serving as director of the UI’s Beckman Institute, Jeff Moore is a Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair, professor of chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

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