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Professor Chen Peng awarded “Beijing Youth May 4th Medal”

MAY . 08 2017

Peking University, May 7, 2017: On May 4th, 2017, Professor Chen Peng, Chair of the Department of Chemical Biology of the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering at PKU cum assistant dean of the Academy for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, was awarded “Beijing Youth May 4th Medal”. Granted by the Beijing Committee of the Youth League and Beijing Municipal Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security, this award is the highest honor to youths under 40 years old in Beijing who have achieved great accomplishments in their careers and serve as good exemplars to society.

Chen Peng was born in the Chinese province of Gansu in 1979. He graduated from the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering at PKU in 2002, and received a PhD in 2007 from the University of Chicago. After that he engaged in postdoctoral research at the Scripps Research Institute in the US as a student of Professor Peter Schultz, the founder of chemical biology.

Chen has always been concerned with the development of his motherland. When he was studying abroad, he witnessed the successful launch of China’s first manned spacecraft Shenzhou five, and excitedly watched the Beijing Olympic Games on TV. When his foreign colleagues congratulated him on the astoundingly rapid development of China, an indescribable sense of pride was aroused within his heart. He realized that the prosperity of his motherland and the happiness of every Chinese are inextricably linked. That was when his patriotic feeling was fully set off. Just as Chen put it, “For most people, the patriotic emotions have always been buried deep within. It only needs a particular environment to bring them out.”

Upon the completion of his postdoctoral work in 2009, Chen was faced with various tempting job offers with very high salaries. Nevertheless, considering that the study of biochemistry in China was still stagnated in a blank stage, he resolved to come back to the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering at PKU and devote himself to the prosperity of his motherland.

According to Chen, the study of biochemistry is of vital significance to the development of life sciences, as it provides important instruments to explain and resolve the mysteries in this field.  Faced with the reality that the researchers of biochemistry in China were still using the instruments created by others to explain some phenomena that had already been elucidated upon, Chen decided to reverse the situation. He set about building a research team targeted at the cutting-edge study in biochemistry in order to conduct its own original research, and try to initiate a road of scientific innovation.

In 2011, Chen developed a genetically encoded, salenium-based cleavable photo-cross-linker, which has become the most widely-applied instrument in the identification of in vivo protein interactions. Using this technology, Chen managed to elucidate the reason of gastrointestinal bacteria’s resistance against stomach acid, successfully resolving the confusion of how bacteria was able to survive in the environment of stomach acid, a mystery that had haunted people for years. His finding was soon published on Nature Chemical Biology, the first article published on this journal written by a PKU faculty member. Soon upon its publication, it drew attention from various scholars worldwide, and Chen received co-operation invitations from more than 50 laboratories. His study became renowned worldwide, and was esteemed as the first choice in this field.

Another significant breakthrough in his biochemistry study was the success in achieving the activation of protein in cells using a method resembling the process of unlocking. Using this technology, some vital protein in cancerous cells could be “locked” inside a “cage”, and would be released within the cells at a particular moment. By observing the changes of the signals in the cells, the secret of the transmission of intracellular signals in cancerous cells could be revealed. This finding was of great significance to the research and treatment of diseases such as tumor.

Chen not only enthusiastically devotes himself to the cause of scientific research, but also actively undertakes the responsibility in teaching and administrative work. He volunteered to double his teaching hours and insisted on offering various courses of high quality, even if such heavy workload put him under more pressure when he was already overexerting himself. In 2010, a sophomore student of his published an article on the most renowned chemical journal worldwide—Journal of the American Chemical Society, which set off a heated discussion at that time. He has also actively prompted the establishment of a biochemistry summer school, and worked as the writer and chief editor of many professional textbooks. Through his perseverance and constant efforts, Chen contributed a great deal to the cultivation of professional talents in the field of biochemistry.

As a professor, Chen has always viewedethics as the paramount principle in the cultivation of students. As for the future development of his students, he always tells them to follow their hearts. Life abroad may be more smooth and steady, but there will be unlimited possibilities after coming back to China. The choice between them certainly differs from person to person, but “no matter where one is,” says Chen, “he should always make contributions to the development of his motherland.”  

Written by: Yin Xin
Edited by: Hu Rong, Xu Liangdi
Source: PKU News (in Chinese)