Chemistry Welcomes Three New Faculty

You are here: Home About Us Chemistry Spotlights Chemistry Welcomes Three New Faculty

Main Content

Chemistry Welcomes Three New Faculty

Chemistry is happy to welcome Igor Aronson, Elizabeth Elacqua, and Kenneth Knappenberger as members of the department's faculty.

Igor Aronson


Igor Aronson joined the department as Huck Chair and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, and Mathematics in January, 2017. His research involves a multifaceted approach to active bio-inspired materials, where experiment, theory, and simulations are integrated within one interdisciplinary research group. His work encompasses computational modeling of eukaryotic cell motility, experimental and theoretical studies of bacterial motility in anisotropic environments such as mucus and liquid crystals, collective dynamics and control of active cytoskeletal filaments and synthetic nanomotors, and new approaches to 3D printing using self-propelled microparticles. Prior to joining the Penn State faculty, Prof. Aronson was a senior scientist and theory group leader at Argonne National Laboratory. He was also a Fellow of the Institute for Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago, and a member of the McCormick Graduate School of Engineering, Northwestern University. His honors include the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, the Wolfson Fellowship, Argonne-U. Chicago Board of Governors Distinguished Performance Award, Henry Poincare Invited Professorship, Ville de Paris Invited Professorship, and CNRS Scholarship Award.

Elizabeth Elacqua


Elizabeth Elacqua joined the department as an Assistant Professor in August 2017. Her research interest areas lie in the fields of organic materials, polymer synthesis, molecular self-assembly, and supramolecular chemistry, with a keen focus to combine chemistry, biology, and materials science. Research in her group will be dedicated to the synthesis and controllable assembly of soft materials into well-defined architectures with the use of dynamic covalent and non-covalent chemistry. She is interested in ‘coding’ novel building blocks with information that dictates their self-organization, akin to strategies that are replete in Nature, while affording materials that avoid randomly-dictated assembly patterns. Before joining the department at Penn State, Elacqua was a postdoctoral scholar at New York University where she worked with Prof. Marcus Weck on designing self-assembling materials. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in supramolecular chemistry and pharmaceutical materials under Prof. Leonard MacGillivray, and also has conducted research at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Kenneth Knappenberger


Kenneth L. Knappenberger, Jr., joined the department as a Full Professor of Chemistry in August, 2017. In his research, Knappenberger developed new imaging methods that can be used on nanomaterials to determine how nanometer scale structure influences their optical and electronic properties. These new methods have spatial accuracies of approximately one nanometer, which exceeds the diffraction limit of conventional optical microscopes by more than 100-fold. Members of the Knappenberger group use sequences of phase-stabilized ultrafast laser pulses to generate these functional images, which allow them to visualize energy flow through light-harnessing materials on timescales on the order of 10–15 s. These advances in chemical imaging at the limits of temporal resolution and spatial accuracy have been recognized with many research awards, including the Coblentz Award in molecular spectroscopy.

At Penn State, Knappenberger will leverage the world-class electron microscopy facilities housed on campus at the Materials Research Institute to establish correlated light and electron microscopy (CLEM) capabilities for materials research. This powerful combination of imaging modes will allow Knappenberger and his collaborators to learn how local structure can be tailored to optimize material performance. In addition to optical imaging, Knappenberger will also use magneto-optical methods to understand the structure-function interplay for photonic materials. These advances could lead to magnetic resonance imaging capabilities with nanometer spatial accuracies.

“I am extremely excited by the opportunities that await at Penn State,” Knappenberger said. “The Chemistry Department at Penn State is truly extraordinary, and the campus, as a whole, is a world leader in materials research. Given the outstanding colleagues and cutting-edge research infrastructure at PSU, I can think of no better place to base my research program.”

Prior to joining Penn State, Knappenberger held the rank of Full Professor at Florida State University and was jointly appointed as Head of the Magneto-optics Program at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida, where he remains an affiliate member.