Today’s conflict in Afghanistan reminds Dr. Suljo Linic of when he finished high school in 1992 in northwestern Bosnia.
While he dreamed of going to a major university to pursue his lifelong interests in science, physics, math and chemistry, his nightmare was just beginning.
“As I was completing high school the Bosnian war was starting,” he said. “In the Fall of 1992, my family and I were forcefully displaced out of the country.”
The Linic family soon found its way to a refugee camp in Croatia for a few months and later spent a year in another camp in Slovenia. No college. No science. He played professional soccer. His mom, undeterred by their living conditions, decided her son needed to pursue his academic dream. She transcribed his high school transcripts into English, sent them to a number of US colleges, and Suljo received a faculty scholarship in 1994 to West Chester University, Pennsylvania.
“I got lucky,” he said.
Dr. Linic completed his BS degree in Physics with minors in Mathematics and Chemistry in spring 1998. In fall 1998, he moved to the University of Delaware in Newark to study surface chemistry and catalysis in the Center for Catalytic Science and Technology. There, he earned MS and PhD degrees in chemical engineering in 1999 and 2003, respectively.
Newark to Berlin to Ann Arbor
Early in 2003, Dr. Linic accepted an Assistant Professor position at the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan.
Before moving to Ann Arbor, he relocated to Berlin, Germany, to work on chemical transformations as a Max Planck postdoctoral fellow at the Fritz Haber Institute. In September 2004, he started at U-M and was promoted to Associate Professor in September 2010. In September 2014, he was promoted to Professor and was appointed the Class of 1983 Faculty Scholar Professor of Chemical Engineering. Since 2015, he has been a Hans Fischer Fellows at the Chemistry Department of Technical University in Munich, Germany, and has served as an associate editor of ACS Catalysis, a multi-disciplinary catalysis journal published by the American Chemical Society.
Today, Dr. Linic is the Martin Lewis Perl Professor and Associate Chair, U-M Department of Chemical Engineering, with a faculty appointment in the Integrative Systems Design division of the College of Engineering, where he serves as Program Director, Energy Systems Engineering.
Creating Clean Energy
Climate change is well recognized as a global challenge we all face, presenting an urgent need for clean energy and sustainability.
Dr. Linic has provided a crucial voice and global influence on clean energy and sustainability during these critical times.
Based on his expertise in the science of energy conversion, in 2017 Dr. Linic led a team of prominent US scholars at the Chemical Sciences & Society Summit, which brought together the leading experts from China, Japan, Germany, UK and USA to outline the areas of future research directions for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its international sister organizations.
An expert in his field, Dr. Linic has testified in front of the US Congress on issues related to sustainable energy conversion and generation, and has served on multiple US Department of Energy, NSF and National Academies panels tasked with identifying critical national objectives for research and developments. He has an extremely impressive list of invited energy presentations at prestigious venues, both nationally and internationally, influencing the direction of his peers in the field and on the world stage.
“The impact of our energy systems on the environment should not be underestimated,” Dr. Linic said. “The path forward will require novel sustainable technological solutions as well as public policy and social science contributions to put these technological advancements in the function of society. In my opinion, the need for these advancements is urgent.”
Dr. Linic has served on numerous energy and sustainability committees, including the University Energy Institute Evaluation Committee, as well as an advisory committee that worked to establish new directions in energy- and sustainability-related research at U-M.
“Dr. Linic is an extraordinary scholar and a world-renown driving force in energy and sustainability with profound and rare achievements in scholarly research, meaningful and inspiring contributions to pre-eminent teaching and mentorship, and dedicated and influential service to U-M and the world,” said Dr. Diann Brei, Program Chair and Professor, ISD.
Extraordinary Career Honored
Dr. Linic has published – with 15,000+ citations – over 80 peer reviewed papers in leading journals, including some of the most cited papers in Science, Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Materials, Nature Catalysis and Nature Chemistry. He is sought worldwide for his expertise, delivering more than 180 invited and keynote lectures around the globe.
Multiple prominent international and national organizations – as well as U-M and the College of Engineering – have recognized Dr. Linic for his outstanding and sustained contributions to teaching, mentorship and service with numerous honors and awards. Suljo’s research has been recognized through multiple awards including the Emmett Award from The North American Catalysis Society, the flagship award in the field of catalysis; the ACS (American Chemical Society) Catalysis Lectureship for the Advancement of Catalytic Science, awarded annually by the ACS Catalysis journal and the Catalysis Science and Technology Division of ACS for his impactful work in the field performed in the seven years prior to the award; the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum Young Investigator Award, awarded by American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the ACS Unilever Award awarded by the Colloids and Surface Science Division of ACS; the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award awarded by the Dreyfus Foundation; the DuPont Young Professor Award; and a NSF Career Award.
Trailblazer and Innovator
Dr. Linic even created a new field.
He and his students discovered a new field of chemical conversion, termed plasmonic catalysis and chemistry. Their work showed that plasmonic metal nanoparticles, characterized by strong optical absorption of solar light, represent a new family of powerful photocatalysts. They revealed these reactions are driven by non-thermalized electrons that transiently populate the reactants, inducing chemical reactions in a mechanism that is fundamentally different from the reactions driven by heat.
This new mechanism of chemical bond activation opened avenues for introducing energy into specific chemical bonds, allowing for the design of new catalysts for driving difficult chemical transformations and for selectively making value-added products at lower temperatures with higher energy efficiencies. They used the combined experimental and first principles theoretical approaches to explain unusual catalytic activity of graphene and gold, design novel electro-catalysts for fuel cell applications, as well as to advance the emerging fields of photo- and electro-catalysis.
As a result, there are thousands of papers published annually as well as new businesses taking advantage of this phenomenon, demonstrating the impact of his discovery.
Outstanding Student – and Faculty – Mentor
Dr. Linic has shown a remarkable ability for preparing his students for academia and the commercial sector. Some of his former students are faculty members in leading academic institutions. These young faculty members are already emerging as leaders in the field of chemical engineering.
“Dr. Linic is an inspiring educator with a long and impressive record of teaching and mentorship of students and faculty,” Dr. Brei said. “An extremely impressive feature of Suljo’s mentorship is his ability to relate to students from very different backgrounds.”
In addition to mentoring students, Dr. Linic has emerged as a supportive, engaging, and influential mentor to young faculty, having spent many hours helping with the challenges of proposal writing and advising them on teaching as well as how to best manage their careers.
“Dr. Linic has provided me with invaluable mentorship in research, teaching, and service,” said Bryan Goldsmith, Dow Corning Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. “I’ve learned how to manage a high-achieving research laboratory, write competitive external grant proposals, and how to achieve fruitful student-faculty interactions. He is an inspirational colleague and a great mentor, whom I can rely on for sound advice and help whenever I have questions or am facing obstacles.”
Designing Innovative Courses
Notable is Dr. Linic’s innovation leading to pre-eminence.
He has designed multiple new courses, developed new educational programs and curricula, and established fruitful relationships with corporate entities benefiting U-M and its students.
As ISD’s ESE Program Director, he has developed one of the premier programs in the nation to attract top students and corporations. His signature energy courses have high enrollments from across the university and receive excellent student and corporate evaluations. He has been at the forefront in developing online and hybrid pedagogy – long before it was popular or necessary, laying the foundation for best practices benefiting many students and faculty in this last year during the pandemic.
Embracing diversity and achieving excellence
Dr. Linic has always had some of the most diverse research groups at the College. He credits this to his open, respectful and straightforward approach to mentoring his students.
One of his former students, Eranda Nikolla, now an Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Wayne State University, said “I was always treated as equal and not different from everyone else. Through his careful mentoring and tireless promotion of inclusiveness and diversity, Dr. Linic was able to eliminate any gender-related bias in his group. This has significantly impacted my success in a male-dominated research field.”
Earning a Top Honor
In recognition of his exceptional efforts as an “extraordinary scholar”, U-M’s College of Engineering will honor Dr. Linic with an appointment to a collegiate professorship during a lecture and ceremony at 3 p.m. September 16 on the third floor of the Lurie Engineering Center (Johnson Rooms)
“The appointment is humbling,” Dr. Linic said. “I see this as the highest honor bestowed by the College of Engineering. I can tell you in the fall of 1992, as a teenager who was facing some challenging times, I could not even imagine one day I would be recognized by such a stellar academic institution for my academic achievements. Life is truly like a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re gonna get.”
This article was originally published by U-M Integrative Systems + Design (ISD) and written by Ted Coutilish.