Computational Design Innovation Laboratory

Official homepage of Prof. Kai A. James' research group


Routes to STEM Seminar Series

The Routes to STEM Seminar Series is an exciting new initiative that began in Fall 2019 at the University of Illinois College of Engineering.  The series features monthly seminars on a wide range of fascinating topics related to science and technology, presented by U of I faculty who are leading experts in their fields.  The Routes to STEM series recognizes that diversity is critical to maintaining a dynamic, innovative scientific community. Our lived experiences and the paths we’ve taken on our academic journeys inform the ways in which we approach scientific challenges.  By promoting inclusion and diversity we can leverage the richness of our unique experiences to foster a thriving and productive campus community.

  • Each session features a 30-minute TED-style talk that is designed to be accessible to a diverse audience with a wide range of scientific and non-scientific backgrounds. Each talk is followed by a question period and open discussion led by the speaker.
  • Women and underrepresented minorities are encouraged to attend.
  • Free lunch is provided during each seminar


***Update: After a recent hiatus due to the covid-19 pandemic, the Routes to STEM seminar series will return in a new virtual format on February 4th, 2021 at noon CST.  See further details below…


Seminar Topics include:

The new era of automated engineering design

Materials that sing: How sound is revolutionizing materials

Electric aircraft: An Innovation on the Horizon

Looking inside the atom

How to land things on Mars

Fly like a bird: How nature can teach us flight

Upcoming Seminars

Friday, April 23, 2021 – “Electric Aircraft: An Innovation on the Horizon”, Prof. Phillip J. Ansell, Department of Aerospace Engineering, 12:00 – 1:00pm CST [Register here to receive the zoom link]

“The aeronautics industry has been challenged on many fronts to increase flight efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and decrease dependence on traditional hydrocarbon fuels. Each year, aviation produces over 900 million metric tons of CO2, which without new interventions in policy, technology, and business practices, will further increase alongside the growing air-transport market.  Electrification of aircraft systems offers a promising avenue for decarbonizing aviation, though in a fashion unique from approaches used in other transportation markets.  This talk will provide a background into aircraft electrification, describe technological developments that enable improvements towards environmentally-responsible air transportation, and forecast a vision for future generations of aircraft systems.”

Previous Seminars

March 10, 2021 – “Going through the quantum tunnel …“, Prof. Nadya Mason, Department of Physics, 12:00 – 1:00pm CST [Register here to receive the zoom link]

“Quantum mechanics seems to be everywhere these days, from superhero movies to Fortune 500 companies. But what makes quantum mechanics so different and special? How can it be used? And can objects really pass through barriers?  This talk will bridge the divide between popular imaginations of quantum and real quantum mechanical devices, covering the basics of quantum mechanics (such as wave-particle duality) as well research and applications of solid-state quantum devices.”

February 4, 2021 – “Bioinspired Soft Materials: From Sensors to Actuators“, Prof. Holly Golecki, Department of Bioengineering, 12:00 – 1:00pm CST

“Naturally occurring structures and organisms often serve as inspiration for engineering design. In this talk Dr. Holly Golecki will discuss her research in nanoscale and macroscale bioinspired functional materials. She will discuss the evolution of her career designing and constructing sensors, substrates, and actuators for use in biomedical devices and robots all made from soft materials.”

March 31, 2020 – “Materials that sing: how sound is revolutionizing materials“, Prof. Kathryn Matlack, Bruce Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, 1212 W Nevada St, Urbana, IL, 12:00 – 1:00pm [Postponed due to Covid]

“Sound waves allow us to produce and enjoy beautiful music, communicate through speech, and perceive the world around us.  The same physics can be used to solve rigorous engineering problems, such as finding damage hidden in structures, medical imaging, and designing materials with unnatural properties.  This talk will discuss recent research at UIUC on how acoustic waves interact with materials, and why this is important in a variety of engineering applications”

March 10, 2020 – “How to Land Things on Mars“, Prof. Zach Putnam, Bruce Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, 1212 W Nevada St, Urbana, IL, 12:00 – 1:00pm

February 25, 2020 – “Fly Like a Bird: How Nature Can Teach Us Flight“, Prof. Aimy Wissa, 1103 Everitt Lab, 1406 Green St., 12:00 – 1:00pm

For thousands of years, bird flight has inspired and challenged our imaginations and dreams. Man has always aspired to build machines to help him fly like birds. Even today, there are still significant efforts underway focused on understanding the physics of bird flight. This talk starts by showing that bird-inspired flight has the potential to combine the many capabilities such as hovering, maneuverability, agility, safety, and stealth. Then, several feather-inspired devices will be introduced as a pathway towards revolutionizing the current design of small unmanned air vehicles. Flight footage and benchtop demonstrations will be used to engage an audience of all technical backgrounds.”

February 11, 2020 – “Looking Inside the Atom“, Prof. Benjamin Hooberman, Department of Physics, 2049 Natural History Building, 1301 W. Green St. 12:00 – 1:00pm

“Particle physicists study the fundamental building blocks of matter and the forces that govern their interactions. This talk will describe how physicists are able to peer inside the atom and what we have learned about the smallest pieces of the universe over the past century.”

November 12, 2019 – “Reinventing the Wheel: The New Era of Automated Engineering Design“, Prof. Kai A. James, Department of Aerospace Engineering, 2405 Siebel Center 12:00 – 1:00pm

“Advances in 3D printing and supercomputers have led to a new class of computer programs that are able to design complex engineering systems with almost no human guidance.  In this talk we will explore the future of engineering design, and learn why computers – not humans – may be the designers and inventors of the technologies of tomorrow.”