Qian Chen named as Racheff Faculty Scholar


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Qian Chen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Grainger College of Engineering, has been named an Racheff Faculty Scholar.

Chen runs the Active Soft Matter Research Group that focuses on imaging, understanding, and manipulating the organization of complex materials and biological systems in space and time at the underexplored nanoscale. 

The specific systems and the associated relevance her group studies are diverse, ranging from ion-oxide intercalation in batteries, crumpled polymer films for water filtration, phase-changing nanoparticle ensembles as adaptive devices, ion channels gating cells, amyloid aggregation prevention for curing disease, to machine learning based data mining of electron microscopy data. 

These efforts, despite the remoteness of topics, are all unified by one common framework of advanced, in-situ liquid-phase transmission electron microscopy imaging (TEM), where a tiny “aquarium” of liquids can be inserted into TEM to observe and decipher fundamental rules of organizational dynamics of the constitutes at the nanoscale.  Such experiment data have been previously elusive; thus, they have the sheer power to fill critical gaps in condensed matter physics, materials science, therapeutics and biophysics, when coupled with the toolkit and concepts in deep learning, mathematics, and statistical mechanics.

Her research has already earned her numerous accolades, including; the Victor LaMer Award in ACS, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Science List, the AFOSR YIP award, an NSF CAREER award, a Sloan Research Fellowship in Chemistry, and the 2020 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research. 

Her high-risk and high-profit research includes the work supported by the AFOSR YIP award (the Biophysics Program, Program Manager:Dr. Sofi Bin-Salamon). It focuses on the frontier of molecular videography of soft, deformable and ever-fluctuating protein molecules in its native or perturbed liquid environment, which encodes the function and malfunction of living life but otherwise remains the crux of fundamental gaps. 

Chen has been a member of the MatSE faculty since 2015. She also holds affiliations with the Department of Chemistry, the Materials Research Laboratory, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. More about her research group can be found at chenlab.matse.illinois.edu

Chen received her PhD from The Grainger College of Engineering in 2012 after completing her thesis “Synthesis and self-assembly of multiblock Janus particles.” She went on to serve as a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley before returning to Illinois.

The Racheff Faculty Scholarship is a five-year appointment that provides a generous allowance in discretionary funding research and educational activities.

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This story was published April 2, 2021.