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Meet Our Speakers: Shixin Liu

November 30, 2023
by Avinash Kumar

Dr. Liu will be visiting us on December 12th.

Early life:

Prof. Liu grew up in China, where he did his undergraduate degree at the University of Science and Technology of China. At USTC, he attended the Special Class for the Gifted Young, which is specially designed for students entering college under age 15. He came to the USA twenty years ago to attend graduate school at Harvard University and finished his PhD under Prof. Xiaowei Zhuang. He conducted his postdoctoral work with Prof. Carlos J Bustamante at University of California, Berkeley.

Inspiration behind pursuing science:

From a young age, Prof. Liu harbored a deep curiosity for nature and science. He attributes his passion for science, especially biology, to the influence of both his parents, who were middle school biology teachers. In the early 2000s, with the emergence of single-molecule techniques uncovering biological intricacies at the molecular level, he chose to embark on a career in single-molecule biophysics.

Major research direction in the lab:

The major focus in Prof. Liu’s lab is to understand the molecular machines responsible for gene replication and transcription at the single-molecule level. The significance of this topic lies in the need for genes to be accurately expressed and inherited, yet at the nanoscale, the processes become stochastic and noisy. Exploring how these molecular mechanisms operate with such precision amidst this inherent randomness as well as the physical constraints present in DNA and chromatin is a compelling and intriguing inquiry. To understand the underlying dynamics, Prof. Liu uses single-molecule fluorescence microscopy to visualize and optical tweezers to mechanically manipulate molecules. In the future, Prof. Liu wants to develop techniques in his lab where he can study molecules in systems that would more closely mimic the physiological environment.

Major awards:

Prof. Liu has received many awards both in research and teaching, including the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the Pershing Square Sohn Prize, and the Rockefeller University Distinguished Teaching Award. Recently, he received the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science. The Vilcek Prize is awarded to immigrants to the US whose work has a significant impact on their field.

How would you describe your research to the general public?

Prof. Liu says, “We create movies of biomolecules that are fundamental to life and record their dynamics at high resolution to understand their working principles. Our explorations focus on how such molecules are coordinated at the nanoscale to fulfill their function.”

What is your advice for young scientists?

Prof. Liu believes in the philosophy that no two individuals (just as molecules) are the same. It is not necessary to follow the trend. Embrace your own uniqueness. If you are persistent and motivated towards your work, it will pay off sooner or later.

A one-sentence quote:

“We are both scientists and artists.”

Lab page:

Twitter: @InLiuOfBulkExps

Submitted by C. Patrick Lusk on December 01, 2023