Principal Scientist and Founding Executive Director, William Shilts

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William W. Shilts, Institute Executive Director

Dr. William W. Shilts is Principal Scientist and Founding Executive Director of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Institute houses five state scientific surveys addressing archaeology, biology, geology, water, atmospheric sciences, and sustainable technology, and employs over 1000 scientists and support staff. A native of Hudson, Ohio and graduate of Western Reserve Academy, Dr. Shilts received his undergraduate degree in geology from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, his Master of Science in geology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his Ph.D. in geology from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

Dr. Shilts successfully lead the effort in 2008 to transfer the scientific surveys from a state agency to the university, creating a major research institute. Other notable accomplishments under his leadership include doubling grant funding; maintaining stable core state funding; promoting inter-survey scientific collaboration; working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to bring the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) into the Institute; changing the process for the transfer of Institute funding from the state to the university; leading efforts to pass legislation in 2013 recognizing ISAS and creating seven state scientist positions; and creating the Prairie Lighting Symposium for Institute staff to share their work with colleagues in a day of lightning talks. He also changed the Institute’s original name to the Prairie Research Institute, creating a strong identity.

From 1995 to 2008, Dr. Shilts was Chief of the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS). During that time he made detailed, three-dimensional geologic mapping a priority and strengthened efforts to create an energy program, ensuring that Illinois’ abundant coal, oil, and biofuel resources can be utilized in an environmentally benign way.

Prior to becoming ISGS Chief, Dr. Shilts worked for 30 years as a research scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, leading studies in the fields of exploration and environmental geochemistry, glacial sedimentology and stratigraphy, permafrost and patterned ground, atmospheric contaminants (mercury and acid rain) in lakes, and the impacts of historic and prehistoric earthquakes on lakes.

He has supported and advised theses of more than 30 graduate students in the U.S. and Canada and is presently an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, and the University of Quebec at Montreal. He has been a member of the US National Committee of the International Geological Union and of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Shilts has been a proponent for providing clear explanations of science to the lay public and for the importance of utilizing earth science as an important component for assuring responsible economic development and environmental security in modern societies.

You may download Dr. Shilts' curriculum vitae here.

Updated 07/28/15 AW

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