Historical Markers

Illini Supersweet Historical marker, next to Davenport Hall.

Across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, bronze markers commemorate some of the world-changing achievements, discoveries and creations realized here. Through these markers, many generations of students, faculty, staff and visitors will learn of the university’s rich tradition of research excellence.

While the markers themselves are designed to recognize achievements, these marker tours provide a chance to meet the people behind those breakthroughs. Since 1867, these innovators have written the Illinois story. They, and many others, left Illinois a legacy of passion and practicality, hard work and vision, modesty and great expectations

North Campus

Computer-Based Education
Marker location: Southwest side of Everitt Laboratory
In 1961, Donald L. Bitzer, co-inventor of the plasma display panel, and Chalmers W. Sherwin introduced Plato, the first computer based education system, the first time-shared education system, and the home of the first on-line community. By the early 1970s, Plato included early forms of electronic mail, newsgroups, and computer games and provided hardware and software innovations for the computer industry. By the late 1980s, Plato offered instruction on approximately 100 subjects to students around the world.

Sound on Film
Marker location: Southeast side of Everitt Laboratory
The first public demonstration of sound recorded simultaneously with pictures on film took place at the Urbana campus on June 9, 1922. Joseph T. Tykociner’s double-feature motion picture included ringing a bell and reading the Gettysburg Address. The invention was not patented. The first commercial talking film in 1927 used a phonograph, and Tykociner’s invention was only later recognized. It is still used for sound on film.

Theory of Superconductivity
Marker location: Bardeen Quad – Northeast of Engineering Hall
Theoretical physicist John Bardeen was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes in the same field. His first, in 1956, shared with Walter Brattain and William Shockley, was for the invention of the transistor, the basic component of electronic information technologies. His second, here at the University of Illinois in 1972, shared with postdoctoral associate Leon N. Cooper and graduate student J. Robert Schrieffer, was for the explanation of superconductivity, a state of matter first observed in 1911 in which materials lose all their electrical resistance at very low temperatures. The BCS theory, announced in 1957 and based on a model in which electrons form bound pairs, explains fundamental processes in solid-state physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics and particle physics.

Quantum-Well Laser
Marker location: Bardeen Quad – West of Mechanical Engineering Laboratory
Nick Holonyak Jr., John Bardeen’s first graduate student at Illinois, invented the first practical Light-Emitting Diode (LED) at General Electric before returning in 1963 to Illinois as a faculty member. In 1977, Holonyak and his students demonstrated the first quantum-well laser, which enabled such advances as fiber optic communications, compact disc players, and new techniques in medical diagnosis and surgery. His awards include the national medals of science and technology, the Japan prize, the Russian Global Energy prize, and the Lemelson-MIT Prize.

Early Computers
Marker location: West side of Digital Computing Laboratory
Combining the administrative and computer experience of Louis N. Ridenour, the mathematical ability of Abraham H. Taub, and the electrical engineering background of Ralph E. Meagher, in 1952 the digital computer laboratory developed Illiac I, the first digital computer built and owned entirely by an educational institution. It weighed five tons and contained 2,800 vacuum tubes. The Illiac series continued with Illiac II, a transistorized computer, and culminated in the mid-1960s with the Illiac IV supercomputer, the largest and fastest in the world.

Web Browser
Marker location: South side of The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)
Mosaic, the first popular graphical browser for the World Wide Web, was created by Marc L. Andreessen and Eric J. Bina at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Upon its 1993 release to the public, Mosaic gave internet users easy access to multimedia sources of information. Web Browsers have transformed the exchange of information.

Multiphase Fluid Dynamics
Marker location: West side of Mechanical Engineering Building
Shao L. Soo’s research at Illinois from 1959 to 1992 helped clarify the intricacies in the physics and equations of motion governing multiphase flows, in particular the electric effects in gas/solid particle flows. Soo’s work allowed scientists to predict the motions of fluids composed of multiple phases, which had a significant impact of energy conversion, combustion processes, and particle transport systems.

Marker location: West side of Loomis Laboratory
Anthony J. Leggett was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work in the theory of superconductors and superfluids. Leggett’s research into zero-viscosity superfluid liquids gave science a deeper understanding of the behavior of matter in its lowest and most ordered state.

Central Campus

Illinois State Water Survey
Marker location: North side of Noyes Laboratory
From 1895 to 1904, Arthur W. Palmer analyzed thousands of Illinois water samples in the newly established Illinois state water survey. He created the first systematic documentation of the quality of Illinois water. These data became the basis for sanitary and public health reform, standards of water quality, and the science of Aquatic Ecology. 

Marker location: South side of Natural History Building
In 1932, Harold R. Wanless introduced the term cyclothem to describe the succession of sedimentary rock layers found in coal-bearing formations. The understanding of cyclothems remains an indispensable tool for predicting the location of coal deposits and for defining the processes by which sea levels change.

Understanding Photosynthesis
Marker location: Natural History Building
Illinois was home to two pioneers of photosynthesis research. Robert Emerson and Eugene Rabinowitch made fundamental discoveries that revealed the mechanisms for converting light to chemical energy in photosynthesis. Rabinowitch applied physical principles to understanding this process. By forging a link between the biological and physical sciences, they helped establish the discipline of biophysics.

Marker location: South side of Burrill Hall
In 1969, Carl Woese began using molecular sequences of RNA to study the evolutionary history of life on Earth, eventually determining the first “Tree of Life.” This project led, in 1977, to the discovery of a third branch of life: the Archaea – microorganisms distinct from Bacteria (which they resemble) and Eukaryotes (plants and animals). The concepts and discoveries emanating from this work have transformed biology, particularly evolution, ecology and microbiology.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
Marker location: North side of Chemical and Life Sciences Laboratory
Paul Lauterbur was a pioneer in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to visualize molecules, solutions and solids. He was the first researcher to produce an image with NMR. His work led to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), one of the most significant medical diagnostic discoveries of the 20th century. Lauterbur was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Beginnings of Computer Music
Marker location: North side of Music Building
Lejaren A. Hiller and Leonard M. Isaacson created the first substantial computer produced musical composition. The premiere of the “Illiac Suite” for string quartet on August 9, 1956 at the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois changed how people thought about music and its relationship to science.

String Project
Marker location: South side of Music Building
Paul Rolland was the first to use science-based research to consider the role of movement in the acquisition of stringed-instrument performance technique. His movement-centered approach has had world-wide influence in the teaching of children to play stringed instruments.

Preschool Learning
Marker location: North side of Child Development Laboratory
Joseph M. Hunt was a pioneer in the study of child development. He provided experimental evidence for the powerful and lasting effects of early experience on the development of intelligence and personality. Hunt helped to convince the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to develop and extend the national Head Start program for preschool children.

Public Broadcasting
Marker location: West side of Gregory Hall
In 1949, Wilbur Schramm organized a conference of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, which laid the philosophical basis for public broadcasting in the United States. From that beginning, grew both National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 

Freedom of the Press
Marker location: East side of Gregory Hall
Theodore B. Peterson, with Fred Siebert and Wilbur Schramm, wrote Four Theories of the Press (1956), a book that applied classical philosophical principles to understanding the role of the press in modern societies. Peterson introduced students to the historical and philosophical meanings of freedom of the press. His work helped transform how journalism and media ethics are studied.

Lincoln Scholarship
Marker location: North side of Gregory Hall
James G. Randall raised the study of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era to a new level and changed the direction of Lincoln biography through research analysis of primary sources, and rigorous scholarly standards. His multi-volume Lincoln the President (1945) established Randall as the “dean” of Lincoln studies in his time.

Anthropology and Society
Marker location: West side of Davenport Hall
During the mid-twentieth century, two anthropologists made landmark contributions to their field. Julian H. Steward developed cultural ecology, a method for studying cultural change by analyzing the interaction of social life, environment, and technology. Oscar Lewis created innovative methods for community and family studies and published influential oral histories of the poor to document the human costs of poverty worldwide.

Illini Supersweet Corn
Marker location: West side of Davenport Hall
In 1953, John R. Laughnan discovered that kernels of a mutant corn were “unusually sweet.”  Within eight years, Laughnan had developed the “Illini Supersweet” hybrid that revolutionized the sweet corn industry. Supersweet, now a dominant variety internationally, is higher in protein and lower in calories than conventional sweet corn.

Lifesaving Antibiotic
Marker location: North side of Chemistry Annex
In the late 1940s, plant pathologist David Gottlieb isolated a strain of streptomyces, a soil bacterium. This bacterium produced an antibiotic compound that was developed into chloramphenicol, which helped save countless lives as one of the most important antibiotics of the “Golden Age of Antibiotics.”

South Campus

Illinois Historical Collections
Marker location: North side of Main Library
In the early 20th century, Clarence W. Alvord gathered sources for Illinois history, directed the Illinois Historical Survey, edited the collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, wrote histories of colonial Illinois and the Mississippi Valley, and for years edited the Mississippi Valley Historical Review. He planned the six-volume Centennial History of Illinois and wrote one of the volumes himself.

Creation of the Research Library
Marker location: Education Building
Under the administrations of Phineas L. Windsor (1909-1940) and Robert B. Downs (1943-1971), the library grew from fewer than a million volumes to nearly five million volumes and became one of the world’s great libraries. Windsor aggressively built the holdings to meet the scholarly needs of leading departments and researchers. Downs added significant special collections of interest to scholars around the world while also achieving an international reputation for his extensive studies of library resources.

Physical Fitness Research Lab
Marker location: West side of Huff Hall
In 1944, Thomas K. Cureton became the director of the physical fitness research laboratory, one of the first of its kind in the nation. He developed methods to test motor and cardiovascular fitness and aquatic performance and to appraise the human physique. Cureton played a major role in the development of the fitness movement in America.

Culture of the Prairie
Marker location: South side of Krannert Art Museum
Allen S. Weller led the Urbana campus to a period of great artistic growth and innovation from 1954 to 1971. His imagination and efforts were the force behind experimentation in the visual arts, dance, and music. Also, he was the guiding force for the development of Krannert Art Museum, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and the Festival of Contemporary Arts.

Special Education
Marker location: North side of Education Building
In the late 1950’s, Samuel A. Kirk established the Institute for Research on Exceptional Children, the first multi-disciplinary research unit of its kind in the world. Kirk’s research and his development of the Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities led to the concept of “learning disabilities” and to new techniques of remedial education.

Architectural Education
Marker location: South side of Architecture Building
Nathan C. Ricker, the first person to graduate in architecture in the United States, established an architectural program here at his alma mater in 1873. Ricker emphasized the application of science and technology to design. He strove to create an indigenous American architecture, and his students were recognized as among the best in their field. He was largely responsible for the first Illinois Licensing Law for architects.

Modern Pork Industry
Marker location: South side of Animal Sciences Building
Today’s swine industry was fundamentally changed by the animal nutrition research of D. Eugene Becker. In the 1950s, he demonstrated that it was possible to ensure swine growth with a simple combination of corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals. This discovery of a diet formulated without animal protein was rapidly adopted worldwide, benefiting both consumers and producers.

Modern Protozoology
Marker location: East side of Veterinary Medicine Basic Sciences Building
From the 1930s through the 1980s, Norman D. Levine conducted research on Protozoa and other parasitic organisms that cause disease and can be transmitted from animals to humans. His work resulted in advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of parasitic diseases, including malaria and toxoplasmosis.