James C. M. Li, Albert A. Hopeman Professor of Engineering at the University of Rochester, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the most prestigious honors in the engineering fields. Li has been a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering for 35 years.
"Jim is known for his nurturing of students and encouraging all his students to achieve their very best," says Stephen J. Burns, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "He likes to talk with students and see that their goals and aspirations are achieved."
Li was cited on the award for his research into "glassy metals," a kind of material that has no crystalline properties. His research has yielded a glassy metal that has formed the basis for an entire industry. Engineers use this material to create electrical transformers that transfer energy with a much higher efficiency than conventional transformers. He has worked for 45 years on similar materials that are mechanically superior to their traditional counterpartsóbeing stronger, tougher, and more resistant to corrosion.
Recently, Li has worked on new catalysts for fuel cells to improve their durability and reduce costs. He is developing a material process for lightweight, high-temperature valves that will improve the efficiency of internal combustion engines. Another of his projects involves methods of reducing failures in electronic circuits by eliminating "whisker" growth within the new solder materials. Whiskers can grow between the electrodes of a battery, shorting the battery over time. Normally, these electrodes are simply replaced, but often replacement isn't an option, such as on a satellite. Li's work may make fuel cells in extreme conditions more reliable than ever before.
Li earned his bachelor's degree from the National Central University in China in 1947, and his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Washington in 1951 and 1953, respectively. He joined the University of Rochester in 1971 as the Albert A. Hopeman Professor of Engineering.
In his long tenure at the University, Li has mentored more than 50 master's, doctorate, and postdoctoral students, and has published more than 350 papers, as well as many patents. He is the Champion H. Mathewson Gold Medal winner for the Metallurgical Society, the recipient of the Acta Metallurgica Gold Medal from the American Society for Materials, and a Senior Alexander von Humboldt Award winner.
"Jim asks the most astute questions of anyone in the department," says Burns. "When visiting professors would talk about their computer simulations, he'd often be able to ask such penetrating questions that it would become evident that the simulations were not quite up to par. We learned to expect that level of insightfulness from him."