August 16, 2011

Long-time energy research center director retiring

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The long-time leader of a Southern Illinois University Carbondale energy research center is stepping down shortly and his colleague will fill in until the University finds a permanent replacement.

John S. Mead, director of the SIUC Coal Extraction and Utilization Research Center, will retire at the end of August after more than 20 years in that position.  The University plans to conduct an external search for his replacement.

In the meantime, Tomaz Wiltowski, professor of mechanical engineering and energy processes, will serve as interim director of the center, where he has served as associate director for more than a decade.  He begins his new responsibilities Sept. 1.  His appointment requires ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees.

John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school at SIUC, said Mead’s leadership has been an asset to the University’s research reputation.

“John has been great director and ambassador for the University,” he said.  “He will be sorely missed.

“I am confident the (center) is in good hands while the search is ongoing,” Koropchak added.

Mead arrived at SIUC in 1989 as director of the center after serving as manager of coal research and director of the office of coal development and marketing with the Illinois departments of Energy and Natural Resources from 1985 to 1989.  Before that, he worked at the Illinois Energy Resources Commissions from 1979 to 1985, working his way up from intern to staff director.

Mead earned his law degree at the University of Illinois in 1979 and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1976.

During his 22-year tenure, Mead has helped the center advance research activities among SIUC faculty and students in wide-ranging coal-related topics.

“SIUC has grown as a research institution in the past 20 years and activities in energy and the environment have been important to that growth,” Mead said.

Technology breakthroughs and the application of new technologies will be crucial to achieving important advances in how society uses energy and ultimately restores environmental balance, Mead said.

“I believe research and scholarship is where the boldest technology developments begin,” he said.  “Research oriented-places like SIUC will be exploring radically new ways to manage our energy resources.”

Wiltowski arrived at SIUC in 1985 after earning his doctorate in chemical engineering in 1984 at the Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry at the Polish Academy of Science. He has worked with the staff of the coal research center since 1990, becoming associate director of the center in 1997.

As a researcher, Wiltowski focuses on energy processes, coal and biomass gasification, Fischer Tropsch catalytic synthesis of liquid fuels and applications of heterogeneous catalysis in energy processes.

As interim director, Wiltowski said he wants to continue Mead’s mission, which he said is striving for excellence in coal, energy and environmental research. 

“The mission of the center is clearly identified and includes development and identification of the opportunities in the area of coal and energy in general,” Wiltowski said.  “No less important is also the center’s activity in education, which includes the University and the local community.            

“Helping faculty in the development of their research is also very important,” he said.  “As interim director, I would like to follow these objectives and accomplish them in the best possible manner. In addition, I would like to expand the international collaboration in energy research.”

Wiltowski said Mead was involved in many different aspects of making the center a success.

“He did his best focusing on the success of the center, University and the State of Illinois,” Wiltowski said.  “I do believe that his trademark is enthusiasm and always has been. Enthusiasm is highly contagious and he tries to spread it when the opportunities come.”