2020 Postdoctoral Research Awards

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Postdoc Award

Four talented UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry scientists have been selected for the department’s 2020 Postdoctoral Research Awards.

Dr. Qin Cao (Eisenberg group), Dr. Lucía Fernández del Río (C. Clarke group), Dr. Chuancheng Jia (Duan group), and Dr. Dennis Svatunek (Houk group) were chosen for the award from a highly competitive group of nominations. The awardees will be honored at the 2020 Departmental Awards Ceremony in the future.

Cao Photo SmallDr. Qin Cao was nominated for the award for his 2019 determination of four polymorphic structures of fibrils of the pathogenic protein TDP-43 (Cao et al. Nature Structure and Molecular Biology). (He was in the postdoctoral series while this work was accomplished and published.) These are the first, and so far only molecular structures of this protein, found in fibrous form in the brains of patients with ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. “Qin is both an extremely talented structural biologist and bench biochemist,” Professor David Eisenberg wrote in his nomination letter. Cao received his B.Sc. in Bioengineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University (2008) and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (2013) with Professor Xiao-Dong Su. He joined Eisenberg’s lab as postdoctoral scholar in 2013. He was recently promoted to Assistant project scientist and is currently applying for positions as assistant professor.

LuciaDr. Lucía Fernández del Río was nominated for the award for her research on Coenzyme Q Transportation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. “Lucía is an incredibly important member of my group,” wrote Professor Catherine Clarke in her nomination letter. “I particularly value her interactions with the graduate and undergraduate students in my group because she is scientifically curious, brings great energy and optimism to every problem she tackles, and inspires the students she mentors.” Fernández del Río received her B.Sc. in Biology (2011), M.Sc. (2012) in Molecular, Cellular and Genetic Biotechnology, and her Ph.D. in Biomedicine (2017) from the University of Córdoba, Spain. Fernández del Río first came to UCLA in the summer of 2016 when she visited Clarke’s lab as a graduate student. She then returned in 2017 as a postdoctoral scholar. She recently received the Molecular Biology Institute’s 2020 Boyer/Parvin Postdoctoral Award.

Jia ChuanchenDr. Chuancheng Jia was nominated for the award for his important contributions to physical chemistry, molecular electronics, and nanotechnology. “Jia is a highly motivated young scholar who has demonstrated an exceptional productivity in his postdoctoral career and made extraordinary contributions to molecular based electronic devices,” wrote Professor Xiangfeng Duan in his nomination letter. “I believe he will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community with his work.” Jia received his B.S. in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from Shandong University (2009), his Ph.D. in Chemistry and Molecular Engineering from Peking University (2014) and he was a Postdoctoral Researcher in Institute of Chemistry Chinese Academy of Sciences until 2016 when he joined the Duan group.

Dennis%20Svatunek SmallDr. Dennis Svatunek is in his second year conducting research in Professor Ken Houk’s group on a Schrödinger Fellowship from the Austrian Science Foundation. During that time, with the Houk group, Svatunek has published five excellent papers that advance the understanding and utility of bioorthogonal reactions. The group also has one other paper submitted and four now in preparation. “Dennis is an extraordinarily creative and productive computational and experimental chemist who has made immense contributions to science and UCLA in the last two years,” wrote Houk in his nomination letter. “He has been great at mentoring and contributing to the research progress of younger postdocs, grad students, and undergrads in my group too.” Svatunek obtained his Ph.D. training as a synthetic organic chemist from Vienna University of Technology (2016) (with distinction) and did international stays at University of Delaware (Joseph Fox, 2014) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Matthias Bickelhaupt, 2018) before coming to UCLA in October 2018.

Previous Postdoctoral Research Award Recipients:

Since 1999, our postdoctoral researchers have been recognized with the annual MBI Boyer/Parvin Postdoctoral Awards.  In 2018, the department established the UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry Departmental Postdoctoral Research Awards to further honor and recognize the tremendous work performed by our postdoctoral researchers.


Evan Darzi (Garg group)

Zhaoyang Lin (Duan group)

Julia Stauber (Spokoyny group)

Yaqiang Wang (Feigon group)


Jonathan Axtell (Spokoyny group)

Marc Garcia-Borràs (Houk group)

Steven Jonas (P. Weiss group)

Yuan Liu (Duan group)

Duyoung Min (Bowie group)

Stefan Schmollinger (Merchant group)

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.