MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 2003

Xiaowei Zhuang

Biophysicist

Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA

Age: 31

Published October 5, 2003
Portrait of Xiaowei Zhuang

Xiaowei Zhuang is a young biophysicist who uses optical spectroscopic methods to reveal the behavior of individual molecules. Originally trained in polymer physics, Zhuang made several widely cited contributions to understanding the basic principles of liquid crystal behavior, findings that have direct application to the design of computer displays. She changed her research focus after graduate school to the study of protein folding and enzyme catalysis. Scientists typically study these processes by measuring bulk samples; Zhuang has demonstrated the use of fluorescent labeling techniques to monitor them within single molecules. Her studies verify that a given molecule can take more than one path during folding or catalysis—sometimes measurements from bulk samples mask the less commonly used alternative paths. She also observed that, in reversible processes, individual molecules seem to “remember” their preferred path. Recently, Zhuang has applied single molecule methodology to explore the mechanism of viral membrane fusion with host cells. Understanding this process and its variations at the individual molecule level will provide critical insights into the basic biology of infection and may help to identify possible targets for therapeutic intervention in diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis.

Xiaowei Zhuang received a B.S. (1991) from the University of Science and Technology of China and an M.S. (1993) and Ph.D. (1996) from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a postdoctoral fellow (1997–2001) in the Department of Physics at Stanford. Since 2001, she has been Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Physics at Harvard University.

Photos

Hi-res photos for download. Photos licensed under a Creative Commons license. Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Right-click on the links below to save the file to your computer.

About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

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