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Martin Karplus Lecture and Discussion on Life and Science

SEP . 17 2015
Peking University, Sep. 17, 2015: On September 9, 2015, Professor Martin Karplus was invited to deliver a lecture with the topic of “Motion: Hallmark of Life. From Marsupials to Molecules”. The lecture was held at the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering Lecture Hall.


Professor Martin Karplus is the Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry, emeritus at Harvard University. He is also Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory, a joint laboratory between University of Strasbourg, France and the French National Center for Scientific Research. He was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.

During the lecture, Professor Karplus shared the findings of his research team, in particular, the models of molecular motion and dynamics between different systems. Through animated graphics and explanation, Professor Karplus provided an engaging explanation of the nature of such motion.


One particular example that Professor Karplus utilised was on the process of oxidation of glucose to obtain energy, which is a key biochemical process in all living organisms. His model allows the student to obtain a deeper understanding of this process.

The lecture took a lighter turn toward the end, when Professor Karplus shared photos from his previous visits to China, including one that was taken at Kowloon nearly five decades ago, which showed Hong Kong with only a few skyscrapers. Professor Karplus also took questions from the floor, where students from the College of Chemistry and Molecular En-gineering took turns to learn more about his passion in the field.


On the following day, September 10, a conversation was held between three distinguished scientists, including Professor Karplus. The other two scientists are Professor Gao Yiqin and Professor Xie Xiaoliang (Sunney Xie), both from Peking University. Professor Gao is currently Dean of the College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, and Prof Xie is the Founder and Director of Biodynamic Optical Imaging Center.

Professor Xie is colleague of Professor Karplus as they are both professors of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. Professor Karplus was the academic advisor to Professor Gao during his postdoctoral research. As September 10 was National Teachers’ Day in China, so Professor Gao first paid tribute to his former advisor.

The talk was entitled “From Atom to Life”, and indeed, a wide range of topics were discussed. Students’ questions covered scientific research, as well as the scholars’ life experience. Since the scholars all work in interdisciplinary sciences, questions have been raised on the lack of general principles in biology. The three scientists all agreed that detailed biochemical information have been indispensable, while fundamental questions concerning the guiding physical principles need to be answered. Professor Xie stressed the importance of quantitative approaches for further understanding biology. “We need to find simplicity in complexity”, concluded Professor Karplus.

After being asked about how his family affected his career in science, Professor Karplus shared his childhood experience and his life attitude that he had learnt from his father. He also emphasized that his interest in science was ignited by his parents. The parents of Professor Xie were both eminent chemists, who had shown him the magic of science since he was very young, and he told students about the joy of discovery he witnessed from his father, which encouraged him to be a scientist.

The talk lasted for more than one and a half hours with various questions raised by students from different disciplines. The scientific insights and life experiences shared by these scientists were thought-provoking, which impressed and inspired the audience.

Background Information:
Under the Peking University Global Fellowship program, distinguished scholars from all over the world are invited to Peking University to deliver lectures to PKU students in order to inspire them to seek further knowledge in their respective field.

Written by: Heng Kang Wei & Bai Luolan

Edited by: Zhang Jiang

Source: Office of International Relations