Litvinov Receives UH’s Most Prized Faculty Award

By Francine Parker

The University of Houston recognized the scientific and academic accomplishments of one of its most esteemed researchers — Dmitri Litvinov, vice provost and dean of UH’s Graduate School.

LitvinovLitvinov, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the materials engineering program, is the recipient of the 2014 Esther Farfel Award, UH’s highest faculty honor.

The Farfel Award symbolizes overall career excellence and carries a $10,000 cash prize.

“I knew I was being nominated for the award, but I couldn’t believe that I was selected as this year’s recipient,” Litvinov said. “I know some of the previous honorees and the level of contributions they make to the University. I thought I didn’t have a chance.”

Clearly, Litvinov’s colleagues and peers thought differently, and a number of them, so impressed by his work and commitment to UH, wrote letters supporting his nomination.

“Dr. Litvinov’s record in research and service, as well as his commitment to teaching and student learning are truly outstanding,” said Badri Roysam, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen University Professor.

Roysam, who nominated Litvinov for the award, added, “His contributions have been essential in elevating UH toward Tier I status and beyond.”

Litvinov’s contributions include serving as founding director of the UH Center for Integrated Bio and Nano Systems and the UH Nanofabrication Facility, where scientists manipulate materials at the nanoscale level in an environment virtually free from dust and other contaminants that can interfere with the results. He also is the founding director of the nano-engineering minor program.

In 2011, Litvinov assumed leadership of the material engineering program. He took on the challenge of restructuring and streamlining the curriculum. He also facilitated an arrangement that enabled equitable sharing of credit among participating departments in the Cullen College of Engineering. As a result of his efforts, the number of Ph.D. students enrolled in the program increased from six to 25 in just two years.

Litvinov also has garnered success in the classroom, receiving excellent evaluations from his students. One of Litvinov’s former students described him as an exceptional professor.

“His reproduction of engineering and physics materials is to what most people driving a car is – automatic and effortless,” the student commented in a letter supporting Litvinov’s nomination.

Litvinov has supervised 10 doctoral students, six of whom have graduated, and six postdoctoral students. He encourages his students to think critically.

“I know some of the previous honorees and the level of contributions they make to the University. I thought I didn’t have a chance.” Dmitri Litvinov, recipient of the 2014 Esther Farfel Award

“I like to give my graduate students lots of freedom,” Litvinov said. “I will supervise them. I will tell them if they’re going in the right or wrong direction, but I don’t like to spoon feed them the information or prescribe what they need to do.”

Litvinov’s service to the University also includes leading the Faculty Senate as its president from 2012 to 2013 and chairing the Research Council from 2010 to 2011.

Litvinov joined the UH faculty in hopes of exploring research other than data storage, which was his focus at Seagate Technology. He sought to practice basic research that has applications that would be beneficial to society.

For Litvinov, UH was nearly a perfect match for him “in terms of the research that was being conducted on campus,” he said.

Litvinov went on to add that UH’s diverse student population and its strong reputation among scientists also influenced his decision to accept a position at UH in 2003. Since then, he has received numerous accolades, including a 2013 UH Excellence in Research and Scholarship Award and the 2011 Cullen College of Engineering Senior Faculty Research Award.

In 2013, Litvinov was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors based upon work he started at Seagate Technology. At Seagate, he championed the development of so-called “perpendicular magnetic recording” technology now commonly used in nearly all computer hard drives. He also was appointed UH vice provost and dean of the Graduate School last year. During the course of his UH career, Litvinov has received grants exceeding $9 million in external research funding. He is the recipient of 26 patents and is the author of more than 120 peer-reviewed papers.

Litvinov is also lauded for his professional service, which includes a number of editorial assignments for major engineering and scientific journals. He also is founding chair of the Houston chapter of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Nanotechnology Council.

A native of Ukraine, Litvinov studied applied physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree. He earned a Master of Science degree in physics from the University of Miami. At the University of Michigan, he obtained a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering as well as a Ph.D. in applied physics.

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