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Karl Hess

Karl Hess

Swanlund professor emeritus | Beckman Institute

A walk to remember, by Swanlund professor emeritus Karl Hess ...

“My favorite walk during lunch hour was from the Beckman tower via the Illini Union to Smith Memorial Hall and back. This was memory lane and reminded me of all my different stations of work at the University of Illinois,” says the world-renowned scientist, who colleagues credit with the success of the Beckman Institute as much as anyone who’s ever stepped foot in campus.

“I arrived with my family in August 1973 as a post-doc-immigrant from the University of Vienna, Austria and the dean of the faculty had told me as a farewell warning: ‘They may not even like Mozart there.’

“Indeed, the inscriptions on Smith Memorial Hall do not mention Mozart and I often wondered why. However, proceeding toward the Illini Union and walking through it, one finds the paintings of so many famous alumni that any doubt about the greatness, significance and importance of this place immediately dissipates. 

“The electrical engineering research lab was the second building to the right after crossing Green Street and walking to the north. Here, I spent my postdoctoral years and worked and published with John Bardeen, Nick Holonyak, C.T. Sah, Greg Stillman and Ben Streetman. They taught me wisely and contributed much to what I know about science and engineering. Streetman and Ken Jenkins also taught me about life in America and became my best friends. 

“Further north, crossing Springfield Avenue, there are many stories that come to my mind about my work with Microelectronics and the Coordinated Science Laboratory.

“Walking up to the Beckman Tower, I am reminded of my work with Ted Brown and many moving moments — for example, the topping-out ceremony of 1987. The last steel-bar was ready to be heaved to the Tower-top and I had the honor to put my signature on it, right next to that of President Stanley Ikenberry and Chancellor Morton Weir and a lot of graffiti from Uni High students.

“This walk brings back to me the best years of my life and I cannot thank the University of Illinois enough for the honor of having accepted me as faculty. I wish I could walk through the years again.”