Two are named distinguished professors


With a new academic year at hand, The University of Akron Board of Trustees honored two very accomplished faculty members at its Aug. 4 meeting by awarding them the title of “distinguished professor.” The title is bestowed upon professors who have excelled at teaching and scholarly activity beyond current expectations and have earned national recognition for their work.

Joining the ranks of UA’s distinguished professors are Dr. Robert Y. Liang of the Department of Civil Engineering, and Dr. Darrell H. Reneker of the Department of Polymer Science.

Dr. Robert Liang

Distinguished Professor Robert Y. Liang joined The University of Akron in 1985 as an assistant professor, the same year he earned a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned an M.S. in Civil Engineering in 1979 at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1974 at Tam Kang University in Taipei, Taiwan.

A Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Liang served as chair of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1995 to 2000. He is active in several other professional organizations as well, and has published 95 papers in refereed journals. His research interests include geotechnical engineering encompassing deep foundations; soil improvement techniques; retaining structures; soil dynamics; construction materials, including the development of new materials and applications; and engineering mechanics, with emphasis on inelastic behavior, fatigue and damage mechanics.

In his nomination letter, Dr. George K. Haritos, dean of the College of Engineering, notes that Liang “is a nationally recognized research leader, with more than $9 million in total funding, of which more than $8 million was distributed to him.” He also has served as the primary adviser for 27 master’s students and 35 Ph.D. students.

“Professor Liang is held at the highest esteem by his colleagues in the college and the department for his leadership in everything he does and especially in organizing and motivating research teams and for providing invaluable mentorship to young faculty,” adds Haritos.

For his part, Liang says, “I am extremely honored and humbled to receive the title of distinguished professor, as it represents trust and recognition from esteemed colleagues for my long, sustained and productive academic career, in terms of teaching, research and service at The University of Akron. I am indebted to so many of my mentors and professional friends, former and current students, as well as colleagues for their support and collaboration through my career.

Success of students is gratifying

“I am also very grateful to the administration of The University of Akron for providing a wonderful environment for me to thrive on,” continues Liang. “I am most proud of the diverse array of accomplishments of my former students, who have provided energy to propel me on this rewarding career path. I look forward to carrying this trust from my colleagues and the University to continue on this challenging, yet gratifying, professional journey.”

Dr. Darrell Reneker

Distinguished Professor Darrell H. Reneker joined UA in 1989 as a professor of polymer science and director of the Institute of Polymer Science after successful careers at the Dupont Company and later, at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, where he was manager of its Center for Materials Science. Reneker earned both an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Chicago, in 1955 and 1959, respectively. He also holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, earned in 1951 at Iowa State University in Ames.

Reneker, who was recognized by the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering in March 2009 with a symposium in his honor on the occasion of his 80th birthday, is widely regarded in his field as an innovator. In addition to generating more than $5 million in funded research, Reneker has 40 issued U.S. patents and pending patent applications to his credit, and more than 160 publications. He has applied his nanotechnology expertise, in cooperation with UA colleagues, to develop bandages for slow-healing wounds, ceramic nanofibers for catalytic filters and other innovations. Reneker’s many honors include the Silver Medal Award from the Department of Commerce, and being named an "Outstanding Researcher" of the University in 2002.

Expertise creates opportunities for others

“Professor Reneker is the father of broadly applicable, contemporary polymer electrospinning technology,” notes Dr. Stephen Z.D. Cheng, dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, in his nomination letter. “In the early 1990s, he was the only researcher creating this new field, and today, a few hundred research groups and more than 150 companies worldwide have joined him in this technology and production. … His expertise in polymer physics, specifically crystallization and electronic properties, has provided many unique opportunities for graduate students.”

Notes Reneker, “It’s a real distinction to be chosen as a distinguished professor among an already distinguished faculty. I feel fortunate that I’ve gotten on to something this good this late in my life.”

During his tenure at UA, Reneker has had more than 22 Ph.D. and M.S. students under his direction, which he has found to be a particularly rewarding part of his work.

“It’s been very interesting, and satisfying, to work with students from high school age right through the graduate level as they take an interest in the development of nanofibers and electrospinning,” adds Reneker.

Media contact: Laura M. Massie, 330-972-6476 or