Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Northern Today - December 14, 2009

Michel van Veenendaal wins $420,000 grant,
picked to lead theory group at Argonne

The research efforts of NIU physics professor Michel van Veenendaal received major boosts on two separate fronts recently. 

Van Veenendaal, who was named a Presidential Research Professor this past spring, has been selected to head a new research group at Argonne National Laboratory. The group will develop theory and new software to help scientists better understand phenomena they observe during experiments at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS).

Van Veenendaal is an expert in the field of X-ray science, which uses powerful X-rays produced by giant research machines known as synchrotrons to probe the atomic structure of materials, particularly those that hold promise for technological breakthroughs. He develops the theories and complex mathematics that help scientists predict and interpret the results of experiments.

The APS is a national synchrotron research facility. It produces the Western Hemisphere’s most brilliant X-ray beams, which allow scientists to pursue new knowledge about the structure and function of materials.

“APS groups are almost always led by full-time Argonne employees, so I think this is a clear recognition of the work NIU has done in collaboration with the APS in recent years,” Van Veenendaal says.

Other members of the Theory and Software Group include NIU research scientists Károly Németh and Jun Chang.

Van Veenendaal also recently won a new $420,000 Department of Energy grant to support his broader research program, which aims to develop new tools to better understand and characterize phenomena in materials that might be relevant to solving challenges in energy and information technology.

The NIU physicist hopes to lay the groundwork for the use of X-ray science in the study of non-equilibrium effects. The process of photosynthesis in plants provides just one example of a non-equilibrium system. Scientists have a general understanding of the highly complex process but don’t understand in detail what’s happening at the atomic level as light is being converted to chemical energy.

“Photosynthesis is extremely complex. We’ll actually be looking at simpler non-equilibrium systems to study how light is converted to chemical energy,” van Veenendaal says. “X-ray science has often been used to analyze static systems, but the trend now is to examine the behavior of systems in flux in real time and space.”

Biologist Gabriel Holbrook named
NIU’s Outstanding International Educator

NIU’s Division of International Programs has named Biological Sciences professor Gabriel Holbrook as recipient of the annual Outstanding International Educator award.

For the past decade, Holbrook has served as the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ coordinator of the NIU at Oxford Program. The study-abroad program takes place each summer at Oriel College, founded in 1326 and considered to be one of the most beautiful of the 34 colleges that make up Oxford University.

NIU has offered the Oxford program, founded by the Department of English, for more than 40 years. It is the oldest and one of the largest of the university’s faculty-directed study-abroad offerings. Each year, 25 to 35 NIU students take advantage of the five-week program, which allows them to earn NIU credit across the pond.

“Gabe has led our faculty in creating a truly engaged learning experience for this very special program in England,” says Deborah Pierce, associate provost of International Programs at NIU.

A native of England, Holbrook over the years has facilitated the teaching and organization of courses led by more than two dozen NIU faculty members from various departments, including anthropology, English, economics, geography and political science. Additionally, he teaches biology courses during the Oxford program.

“NIU at Oxford provides a unique opportunity for faculty to internationalize their courses,” Holbrook says.

“More than anything, though, the program benefits our students,” he adds. “For many, it’s the first time they’ve been out of the country, and they often do their own exploration in Europe. Quite a few participants end up coming back. In fact, this past year we had two undergraduates who enjoyed the Oxford program so much that they went on to attend graduate school at the University of Essex in England.”

The program will be offered this coming summer from June 27 to July 30.

Holbrook received his award recently during the annual International Recognition Reception.

International Programs also gave its award for Outstanding Department to the Department of Marketing, while the Outstanding Student awards went to Nicolet Berkman, a senior in marketing, and Karel Waska, a doctoral student in geology.

Nutrition students prepare, taste-test
recipes for ‘Keep the Beat’ cookbook

For those who are seeking Christmas gifts that will promote the health of family and friends, 54 students in an NIU “Applied Nutrition” course have the perfect suggestion.

“Keep the Beat Recipes: Deliciously Healthy Dinners,” a cookbook published by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, features “tasty recipes that are good for your heart and your health.”

Standing behind those recipes are Beverly Henry’s FCNS 310 students, who prepared and taste-tested all 60 of the dishes in an NIU food science lab.

Henry, a professor in the Department of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, was asked by an acquaintance at the American Institutes for Research, a consultant for the NHLBI, if the university had a food science lab and students willing to cook and eat.

“Our juniors were the perfect group. They are familiar with kitchen procedures and can comment on the accuracy of the recipes and how easy they are to prepare,” said Henry, who integrated the project into the course’s lab activities. “This was a great opportunity for them. They’re making a difference in the real world.”

Henry first made contact with the NHLBI a few years ago. The organization publishes a dual-purpose “Keep the Beat” calendar that provides positive health messages and helps users to track their goals daily: Did they eat right? Did they exercise?

The professor thought the calendar could serve as a valuable tool for future nutritionists, so she ordered enough for her students.

“Throughout the semester, they work on their health goals, tracking their progress on the calendars so they can practice following behavior changes,” she said, “and not just talking about how good it would be if everyone were healthy.”

After NHLBI staff decided to publish their cookbook, Henry said, they eventually thought of NIU after working with another Columbia University the year before.

NIU nutrition students worked on the project over two weeks with assistance from Henry, Beth Lulinski and graduate assistants, who ensured the availability of the ingredients and even cooked a few of the dishes themselves.

If the chefs who created the recipes decided to tweak their instructions in response to the NIU comments, the nutrition team prepared and tasted the altered dishes.

With the lab activity, students saw what had been described in class discussion and readings: how to modify recipes to make them heart-healthy; for example, using different spices to lower sodium amounts. They also compared recommended dietary guidelines with the maximums to which most people should adhere.

As a reward for their assistance, each student received a free copy of the cookbook. “The NHLBI people were very happy with us,” Henry said. “They feel as though they got good information.”

Discussions now have begun for NIU’s assistance on a new cookbook tailored toward families, she said.

This project could incorporate young children enrolled in NIU’s Child Development Lab, who would get practice following recipes, cooking and taste-testing under the guidance of Henry’s students.

The Department of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences is housed in NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Saturday memorial service planned
for retired engineering professor Warner

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, for James C. Warner, a longtime member of the faculty in the Department of Industry and Technology who became a pioneer in the field of computer automated manufacturing.

Warner died peacefully Wednesday, Nov. 18, at his DeKalb home. He was 78.

Warner joined the faculty of the Department of Industry and Technology in 1962 and, within a few years, took an interest in an emerging technology known as “numerical control” – the use of computers to control machine tools.

He was one of the first academics to explore the field that transformed the way manufacturing is done across the globe and to incorporate the technology into his teaching of machine tool technology.

As a result of his efforts and his teaching ability, NIU was quickly recognized as the nation’s leader in teaching that skill.

“He was the pioneer in numerical control of machines,” said Dennis Stoia, a retired professor who was hired by Warner. “People who wanted to teach classes in that area, or wanted to create programs, would come to meet him.” 

Many of Warner’s students went on to careers in the aerospace industry. At one point, Stoia said, defense contractors had a “standing order” for Warner’s students and guaranteed jobs to his graduates.

Warner himself was also in demand by industry. He was recruited to personally take over the research and development of computer software used to define and develop complex machinery used in gas turbines and jet engines.

He continued to build the program throughout the 1970s, adding classes in software programming that became the foundation for a formal numerical control curriculum within the Department of Industry and Technology. He also secured state-of-the-art machining tools to give his students hands-on experience and traveled the world lecturing on the topic.

“He was a big believer in hands-on teaching. He made them write the programs, made them enter it into machines and made them actually create parts,” Stoia said. “One reason his students were so in demand was that they were ready to go to work the day they graduated.”

Those students also were well-drilled in the discipline of the field, Stoia said: Even though Warner’s program drew the brightest of students, he would tell them that half could expect to fail the initial class, and he would prove to be a man of his word. Most recovered and went on to graduate.

“He was an outstanding, but tough teacher,” said Darrell Newell, a retired electrical engineering professor. “He made you work. You learned or you got out.”

Those demanding ways didn’t diminish his popularity with students. About a decade ago, dozens came back to DeKalb from all over the country to hold a dinner in his honor, Stoia said. Many of those in attendance had gone on to be leaders at some of the largest high-tech manufacturers in the country.

Warner became chairman of the Department of Industry and Technology in 1980, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.

In addition to his work, Warner enjoyed traveling with his wife, Jean, and their two daughters Pamela and Dawn. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman. After retirement he devoted much of his time to carpentry (doing extensive remodeling of his home) and making toys and furniture for his daughters and grandchildren.

Saturday’s Celebration of Life will be held at Anderson Funeral Home, 2011 S. Fourth St., in DeKalb. Visitation begins at 9:30 a.m. Cremation has taken place at the Anderson Funeral Home Crematory. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the James C. Warner Memorial Fund to benefit a scholarship being established in his name at NIU. Donations are accepted in care of Anderson Funeral Home, P.O. Box 605, DeKalb, IL, 60115, or at (815) 756-1022.


“Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia,” a book published recently by the Northern Illinois University Press, has been honored with the 2009 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize.

Author Laurie Manchester, an associate professor of history at Arizona State University, received the award last month in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, a co-sponsor of the award.

The Vucinich also is sponsored by the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies. It is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciencespublished in English in the United States in the previous calendar year.

“Combining sociological and anthropological analysis, intellectual history, and insights drawn from reading personal texts, Manchester identifies and describes the group ethos of the popovichi (the sons of Orthodox clergymen), showing that their moral values, social loyalties and ambivalent identities played a large role in Russia’s uneasy transition into the modern world after the Great Reforms of the 1860s,” according to the citation at the award presentation. “This carefully researched, beautifully written, and highly original book prompts us to rethink such issues as the formation of the intelligentsia, the secularization of educated society, and the rise of modern selfhood in post reform Russia.”

“The Vucinich Prize is a prestigious award within the AAASS,” said J. Alex Schwartz, director of NIU Press. “We pride ourselves on our thriving Russian Studies list, and winning this award demonstrates that we are indeed publishing important and valued monographs in this field.”

Manchester’s award-winning book can be purchased through NIU Press by calling (800) 621-2736, by ordering online at or by visiting a local bookstore.


Darla A. Brantley, who worked at various departments at NIU for more than 30 years and was the administrative secretary in the Office of the Provost before her retirement, died Tuesday, Dec. 8, in Sycamore. She was 70.

In Brief

Health Department expands
availability of H1N1 vaccine

The Illinois Department of Public Health has announced that all Illinoisans will be eligible to receive the H1N1 flu vaccination beginning Tuesday, Dec. 15.

The DeKalb County Health Department, located at 2550 N. Annie Glidden Road, DeKalb, will offer the injectible H1N1 vaccine to anyone six months of age or older. Call (888) 726-2412 to schedule an appointment. The vaccine is free of charge.

More information, including clinic schedule, consent forms and vaccine fact sheet, is available online.

Rec Services will host
open house in January

NIU Recreation Services will host a faculty/staff open house from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, through Thursday, Jan. 7, at the Student Recreation Center. All faculty and staff are invited to visit on any one or all three days to see what the center has to offer.

Play a favorite sport, participate in the special activities planned, take a tour or pick up membership information. 

For other details and a complete list of “Try Us Out” activities, visit

Convocation Center offers
packages for BMX Triples

NIU’s Convocation Center is offering two packages for the ASA Big Air BMX Triples competition scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

This special offer expires Monday, Dec. 21.

The VIP 4-Pack ($100) includes four lower-bowl tickets, four hot dogs, four fountain drinks and four meet-and-greet passes. The Fun Pack ($75) includes four upper-bowl tickets, four hot dogs and four fountain drinks.

Regularly priced tickets are $37 for reserved floor seats, $27 for reserved lower-bowl seats and $22 for reserved upper-bowl seats. NIU students with a valid NIU OneCard get a $4 discount at the Convocation Center Box Office.

Discounts are not applicable to prior sales, subject to availability and cannot be combined with any other offer.

Campus community urged
to register for text alerts

All members of the NIU community are encouraged to register for the NIU Alert text messaging system. The system will send a text message to registered cell phones in the event of a campus emergency. More than 10,640 cell phone users have signed up to receive NIU emergency text messages.

Enrollment is quick and free. Your registration information is private and will not be shared. You provide your name, cell phone number, service provider and e-mail address.

Once you have registered, a confirmation message will be sent to your phone and your e-mail address. Cell phone users who do not have unlimited texting might incur charges for this text message and should check their plans.

For more information and to register, visit

Media Services to provide
SMART classroom training

Media Services will offer training on the use of the audiovisual equipment in provost-sponsored SMART classrooms from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 6, and Thursday, Jan. 7, in DuSable Hall 348, or by appointment Friday, Jan. 8. Call Keith Bisplinghoff at (815) 753-0172.

These seminars are open-ended and run continually. A complete demonstration with hands-on practice takes about 30 minutes.

Sociology, LAS open registration
for ‘Travel with the Professor’

NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Department of Sociology are accepting registrations for their Travel with the Professor program, “From Theory to Practice: Examining Community Organizations.”

The Orlando, Fla., portion of the program will be held Monday, Jan. 4, through Friday, Jan. 8. The Illinois portion begins Saturday, Jan. 23, and ends Saturday, May 1.

This year’s program addresses the structural issues of poverty and its impact on individuals, the family, the community and the organizations created to provide services and advocacy.

Participants will have the opportunity to observe and participate meaningfully in projects designed to alleviate criminality, poverty, homelessness and addiction. The program includes a travel seminar with a combination of lectures, readings, guest speakers and site visits to selected organizations in Illinois and Florida. Participants also will have the opportunity to participate actively in one of several group projects and to present their groups’ findings in a formal report to the appropriate local service providers.

Program leaders are Jack King, faculty member and internship coordinator in the NIU Department of Sociology; Deanna Cada, DeKalb County Community Foundation program manager; and Keri Nelson, American Cancer Society income development manager.

More details, including tentative schedule, site visits, accommodations, transportation, academic credit option and registration information, are available online.

FIT program offers exercise

The NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s Fitness Images Today (FIT) Program is an exercise program for NIU employees, family members, retirees and residents of the surrounding community.

Membership in FIT includes access to cardio and weight training facilities, Anderson Pool and a variety of group exercise classes. FIT members have exclusive use of FIT facilities during FIT hours. All FIT staff hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in exercise physiology. The experienced staff will help members begin and maintain scientifically based exercise programs.

Fees are $65 for spring and $35 for summer. The fees also include health/fitness assessments. 

Registration is available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, through Friday, Jan. 8, in Room 126 of Anderson Hall. A free trial of FIT is offered from Monday, Jan. 11, through Friday, Jan.15.

Visit or call 753-0335 for more information.

Jazz Ensemble prepares
for pair of Chicago gigs

Members of the legendary NIU Jazz Ensemble will perform twice in Chicago during December.

The ensemble, directed by Board of Trustees Professor Ron Carter, will play two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the Jazz Showcase-Dearborn Station, 806 S Plymouth Court in Chicago. Special guest artists for the evening, which also doubles as a CD release party for both the ensemble and the NIU Liberace Jazztet, will include the NIU jazz studies faculty and the Warren Township High School Jazz Ensemble.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, the ensemble and its roster of special guest from the night before will appear on the program of the Midwest Clinic, the world’s largest convention of music educators. This year’s convention is held at McCormick Place West; NIU plays in Ballroom W196. 

TLC deadline extended

The Office of the Vice Provost is seeking proposals from NIU faculty to create themed learning communities for fall 2010. All proposals are due by Friday, Jan 15.

In these communities, faculty will offer incoming freshmen a unique opportunity to engage deeply with the course theme, connect learning across the linked course(s) in collaborative and active ways, develop relationships with peers and faculty and ease the transition to college.

The goal is to create between seven and 10 themed learning communities for fall 2010. The full
Request for Proposals and proposal form are online at