Presidential Research Professors


Frederick Bloom (elevated to Distinguished Research Professor in 2006)

Frederick Bloom, Department of Mathematical Sciences, earned his Ph.D. degree in applied mathematics at Cornell University. He was a lecturer at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and then faculty member at the University of South Carolina before coming to NIU in 1983. Since then, he has also served as a consultant to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Particular research interests include wave propagation, partial differential equations associated with nonlinear problems of electromagnetic theory, and modeling of viscous fluid flows, heat transfer, and lubrication problems. Dr. Bloom's work has important practical applications in the pulp and paper industry; on the theoretical side, he is known for applying rigorous mathematics to the study of problems from classical physics. A prolific researcher, he has published four research monographs and 80 papers in mathematics and engineering journals. The research has been supported by more than $350,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research as well as by a number of federally funded and industrial contracts. A colleague describes Dr. Bloom as "a scholar with a passion for the science of mechanics"; he is recognized by another as having made "seminal contributions" to the mathematical theory and methods needed to address problems in such fields as electromagnetism, fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer, and structural stability from a mechanics perspective. Yet another notes that it is rare, in a time of specialization, for a researcher to "contribute with equal ease and depth to both mathematics and mechanics," as does Dr. Bloom.


Biswa Nath Datta (elevated to Distinguished Research Professor in 2005)

Professor Datta acquired his Ph.D. degree from the University of Ottawa; he joined the Northern Illinois University faculty in 1981. He is internationally recognized in the fields of linear algebra, numerical linear algebra, control theory, and systems theory and for developing mathematical techniques with interdisciplinary applications. Dr. Datta's mathematical contributions to the solution of engineering problems include the development of algorithms applicable to automobile design, aircraft design and vibration control in bridges, in buildings and in land, air and aerospace vehicles. His work has recently been recognized by his election as a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE). He has obtained numerous research grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Air Force and the research councils of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, Mexico and Portugal. He is also well known for his editorial contributions to several premier technical journals, and he is a frequent contributor to professional meetings around the globe, including serving as invited speaker and conference chair. He has held visiting professorships in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, England, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Singapore and Spain. Professor Datta has published more than 80 scientific papers and has written or edited several books; and he has presented nearly 100 invited talks at universities around the world. He has shared his significant intellectual activity with numerous graduate and undergraduate students during his distinguished academic career.


Jindrich Necas (elevated to Distinguished Research Professor in 2001)

Jindrich Necas, Department of Mathematical Sciences, holds both the Ph.D. and Dr.Sc. degrees from the Academy of Sciences, Czechoslovakia. For more than twenty years, he was leading researcher at the Mathematical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, following which he became leading researcher and department head at the Mathematical Institute of Charles University in Prague. He came to NIU as professor of mathematical sciences in 1991. Professor Necas's field is the theory and application of partial differential equations, and his academic experience and reputation are broad. He has served as visiting professor at a dozen universities, including the Universities of Pisa and Rome, Italy, and Bonn and Heidelberg, Germany; Moscow University; and École Normale Supérieure and Université Marie Curie, Paris. He has published more than 150 articles in international journals (in four languages) and nine books, the most recent in 1996, and has received several medals and awards in recognition of his "vast and original" research, which has applications in such diverse fields as metallurgy, biology, chemistry, and mechanics. A member of the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences, Professor Necas has also been honored by a special issue of the Czechoslovak Mathematical Journal dedicated to him on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday.


Anton Zettl (elevated to Distinguished Research Professor in 1999)

Anton Zettl, Department of Mathematical Sciences. Professor Zettl completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee in 1964, and began his academic career at Louisiana State University. He joined the faculty in mathematical sciences at NIU in 1969. Most of his scholarly activity has been in the areas of ordinary differential equations and norm inequalities involving derivatives. This research, supported by grants from agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and British Science and Engineering Research Council, has resulted in two jointly authored books, nearly 100 journal articles and research reports, and many invitations to lecture at conferences and colloquia nationally and internationally. Professor Zettl's work has been described as "very broad, very deep, and both nationally and internationally acclaimed"; it has had significant impact on mathematical theory, yet also has practical applications in physics and engineering. His international stature is further demonstrated by appointments as visiting faculty or scientist at institutions such as Argonne National Laboratory; the University of Essen in West Germany; the University of Birmingham, England; and the University of Dundee, U.K.

Presidential Teaching Professors


Harvey Blau

It's ironic that a mathematician such as Harvey Blau often finds that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But Blau's educational philosophy, some of it formed on basketball courts and in musical rehearsal spaces, embraces just that. "I volunteered as a basketball coach for my wife's teenaged special education students during the first years after we came to Illinois. In this role, I realized the importance of teaching literally one small step at a time," Blau says. "I was impressed by the Suzuki system of music instruction when my children studied violin. The curriculum separates, teaches, reinforces and then integrates every relevant component of technique and musicality, and is structured so that kids have fun," adds Blau, who also applies that same technique to the choir that he founded and continues to direct in his local Jewish congregation. And so it is in Blau's classroom that connected increments of learning are most effective. Quizzes each class period help students to measure how well they are understanding and mastering content. Those "kept us on our toes and inspired us to immediately apply what we had just learned," says Lisa Grilli, an instructor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and a former student of Blau's. "It created a buzzing atmosphere of ongoing learning." "Professor Blau challenges students to think about problems at a range of difficulties so that everyone learns in his class," student Ashley Case says. "If a student needs to see a second example of a particular concept, then he is willing and able to provide one." When students are puzzled in the classroom, Blau gladly starts over and clarifies each step of the solution. When students pose questions about the homework, he offers hints rather than answers. When students are struggling, he offers to hold out-of-class seminars. When the professor returns graded homework, it is covered in his valuable feedback, positive and constructive. "It's labor-intensive, but effective," he says. "My piano teacher in college gave me a small wooden mouse with big ears as a reminder to listen when I practiced. I try to listen to what my students are telling me in their responses, and to how my teaching is being received."

Blau, a member of NIU's Department of Mathematical Sciences faculty since 1969, earned his bachelor's degree at Reed College in Portland, Ore., and completed his master's and doctoral degrees at Yale. He has written study notes for several NIU math courses and, when asked to take over a geometry course required of all mathematics education undergraduate majors, he revised the course materials and then wrote what has become the text. Blau also designed, wrote and taught a graduate-level course in geometry, numbers and algebra for the department's new master's of science in teaching program with a specialization in middle school mathematics education. Blau is an active research mathematician with more than 50 publications that include joint projects with colleagues in Israel, Germany and China. He has supervised four NIU Ph.D. dissertations, and has four current Ph.D. students. He created and organizes his department's yearly math contest, advised the Math Club and has escorted various student groups to the annual meeting of the Illinois section of the Mathematical Association of America. In 1993, he won the university's Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.


William Blair (elevated to Distinguished Teaching Professor in 2008)

Mathematics Professor William Blair has zeroed in on the perfect equation: Make complex topics approachable, show how mathematics relates to the real world, inspire students' confidence in their own skills. As a result, thousands of NIU students over the years have come to appreciate the beauty of math and power of numbers. Blair, of DeKalb, earned his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and came to NIU in 1971. He has taught 34 different undergraduate and graduate courses, with calculus and abstract algebra being among his mainstays. For the past 14 years, he has served as chair of the department, which serves about 6,000 students each semester. While that responsibility alone is a full-time endeavor, he chooses to continue teaching. Despite his busy schedule, his door is always open to students. "In conversations outside of class, I try to learn my students' majors and interests," Blair says. "Showing how a particular topic in mathematics relates to their major subjects helps them to see how they might apply it in the future." Blair won the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1990. During his tenure as chair, he has helped raise the department's stature, but his influence extends well beyond the university. He and Distinguished Teaching Professor John Beachy co-authored the textbook, "Abstract Algebra," which is used at NIU and universities across the country.


John Beachy (elevated to Distinguished Teaching Professor in 2001)

John A. Beachy, Department of Mathematical Sciences, received his Ph.D. from Indiana University at Bloomington, and joined the faculty at NIU in 1969, coming from a faculty position at Goshen College. Over the years of his teaching at Northern Illinois University, he has taught a full range of courses, from entering freshman mathematics for non-majors, to algebra and calculus for majors and honors students, to graduate courses in algebraic structures. Professor Beachy's devotion to excellence in the classroom is matched by his dedication to designing and coordinating curricula for special needs, most notably his long-standing commitment to the university's CHANCE alternate-admissions program. Textbooks and articles which he has authored or co-authored focus, as does his teaching, on making mathematics accessible to all student learners. Students and colleagues alike praise his engagement with his subject, his ability to convey the "real-life" applications of the subject, and his leadership in adapting technology to the classroom. Professor Beachy does all this with enthusiasm, modesty, and good humor.


Linda Sons (elevated to Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1998)

Linda R. Sons, Department of Mathematical Sciences. Professor Sons earned her Ph.D. degree in mathematics from Cornell University in 1966; she had joined the faculty in mathematical sciences at Northern Illinois University the previous year. Her teaching activities have spanned a broad range of students and types of courses: majors and non-majors, general-education and honors courses, freshmen to graduate students. Professor Sons's career as a mathematics professor has been marked by her efforts to convey the value of an often challenging subject to all of these many and varied students. Colleagues write in praise of her contributions to mathematics education. Her involvement in several state and national conferences has been central to the development of a mathematics curriculum at the university level. In all of her activities, Professor Sons has, to quote from one student, "used her talents to enrich the lives of others."


Robert Wheeler (elevated to Distinguished Teaching Professor in 1995)

Robert F. Wheeler, of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, has been teaching at NIU since 1972. He was the recipient of the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1979 and has taught a range of classes from freshman mathematics to topics in analysis for Ph.D. students. In courses at all levels, he is described as patient, clear, thorough, and challenging; he has an intense concern for his students and creates a learning environment that is interactive and encouraging. He is praised as a teacher who goes out of his way to help students.