Four talented UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry scientists have been selected for the department’s 2022 Postdoctoral Research Awards.
Dr. Cheng-Wei Lin (Kaner group), Dr. Baocheng Liu (Feigon group), Dr. Huaying Ren (Duan group), and Dr. Aneta Turlik (Houk group) were chosen for the award from a highly competitive group of nominations.
The 2022 Chemistry & Biochemistry Postdoctoral Awards were presented to the recipients at our annual departmental awards ceremony on May 13, 2022. Congratulations to all the recipients listed below!
2022 Postdoctoral Research Award Recipients
Dr. Cheng-Wei Lin (Kaner group)
Dr. Cheng-Wei Lin joined Professor Richard Kaner’s group in 2019. In the Kaner group Lin has focused his research in two different areas, the first being energy storage and the second being membrane separations.
“Cheng-Wei has been a phenomenal postdoctoral fellow in my lab co-authoring six papers in top journals during the past year and a half with another recently receiving excellent reviews and a couple more in draft form,” said Professor Richard Kaner. “He has been an excellent mentor to both graduate students and undergraduates.”
According to Kaner, if renewable energy is going to replace the burning of fossil fuels, we need to be able to effectively store large amounts of energy for different periods of time. To this end Lin has demonstrated that the lifetime of conducting polymer electrodes can be dramatically improved if one uses the basic building block of the conjugated polymer polyaniline which is the tetramer. This avoids the major degradation mechanism which is chain scission. By combining tetra-aniline with graphene, Lin has helped develop more energy dense supercapacitors with dramatically enhanced cycle life as described in a paper entitled “Three-dimensional graphene network with covalently-grafted aniline tetramer for ultra- long-life supercapacitors” published in the high impact factor journal Advanced Functional Materials. Lin has shown that adding in multivalent ions can further enhance the energy density of supercapacitors as reported in “Facile fabrication of multivalent VOx/graphene nanocomposite electrodes for high-energy density symmetric supercapacitors” published in another very high impact factor journal Advanced Energy Materials. Lin recognized that his nanostructured tetra-aniline is biocompatible and therefore he helped develop a supercapacitor that is flexible and non-toxic as described in “Crystalline tetra-aniline with chloride interactions towards a biocompatible supercapacitor” published in Materials Horizons.
In a second research area, Lin realized that the conjugated polymers he was working on when made in a nanostructured form could be used to create membranes that separate pollutants from water as he reported last year in a paper entitled “Conducting Polyaniline for Antifouling Ultrafiltration Membranes: Solutions and Challenges” Nano Letters. Most recently he demonstrated controlling the pore size of his membranes to separates dyes of different diameters in a paper entitled “Ultrapermeable nanofiltration membranes with tunable selectivity fabricated with polyaniline nanofibers” Journal of Materials Chemistry A. To further enhance permeability, he helped developed a TiO2 coating as reported in “Thin-film composite membranes with a hybrid dimensional titania interlayer for ultrapermeable nanofiltration” Nano Letters. Lin helped develop membranes that can concentrate flue gas.
“This was part of a project with my colleague in Civil Engineering, Professor Gaurav Sant,” Kaner said. “Cheng-Wei was part of the team that won the $7.5M Carbon XPrize for demonstrating how CO2 from flue gas could be used in cement!”.
Kaner notes that all of Lin’s papers have been published in high impact factor journals including Nano Letters impact factor = 11.2; Journal of Materials Chemistry A impact factor = 12.7; Materials Horizons impact factor = 13.3; Advanced Functional Materials impact factor = 18.8; and Advanced Energy Materials impact factor = 29.4.
In addition, Lin worked with one of Professor Paul Weiss’ students to develop nanostructures silver particles as reported in a coauthored paper entitled “Effective Seeds for Silver Nanovines” that recently received excellent reviews.
Dr. Baocheng Liu (Feigon group)
Dr. Baocheng Liu joined Professor Juli Feigon’s group in November 2018 as a postdoctoral fellow. In the Feigon group, Liu has been working on determining the structure of human telomerase and its recruitment to telomeres by cryo-EM.
“Liu is a kind and gentle person who never hesitates to help others in the laboratory, and has made major contributions to running of the lab as our laboratory safety officer,” said Professor Juli Feigon. “In recognition of his accomplishments, which for human telomerase fulfilled a goal I have had for more than 15 years, Liu deserves to be honored with a postdoctoral award.”
“Although my laboratory has extensive experience with Tetrahymena telomerase structure and functional studies, cryo-EM studies of human telomerase are at least an order of magnitude more challenging,” Feigon said. “Previous work on human telomerase in my laboratory had been largely limited to NMR and computational studies of the telomerase RNA. Baocheng took on this challenge with great determination and courage. By himself, he developed protocols for purification of telomerase from human cells, learned how to do activity assays, obtained a complex with a protein that recruits telomerase to telomeres, and optimized the samples for cryo-EM studies. He and another postdoctoral fellow (Yao He) then worked together in equal partnership to acquire and analyze the cryo-EM data and model the structure. The resulting structures and analysis were published on-line in Nature in April 2022, “Structure of active human telomerase with telomere shelterin protein TPP1”.
According to Feigon, telomerase is recruited to telomeres and activated for telomere repeat synthesis by the telomere shelterin protein TPP1. Human telomerase has a bilobal structure with a catalytic core RNP and an H/ACA RNP. Baocheng determined cryo-EM structures of human telomerase catalytic core of telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and telomerase RNA (TER) at 3.3Å and the first structure with the shelterin protein TPP1, at 3.5Å resolution. TPP1 forms a structured interface with the TERT-unique TEN and TRAP domains and conformational dynamics of TEN–TRAP are damped upon TPP1 binding,
defining the requirements for recruitment and activation. The structures further reveal that elements of TERT and TER involved in template and telomeric DNA handling, including TEN domain and TRAP–thumb helix channel, are largely structurally homologous to those in Tetrahymena telomerase, and provide unique insights into mechanism. The binding site of telomerase inhibitor BIBR1532 overlaps a critical interaction between TER pseudoknot and TERT thumb domain. Numerous mutations leading to telomeropathies are located at the TERT–TER and TEN–TRAP–TPP1 interfaces, highlighting the importance of TER–TERT and TPP1 interactions for telomerase activity, recruitment, and as drug targets.
In the words of one of the reviewers of the manuscript: “This is a landmark paper, revealing the structural basis of human telomerase recruitment to telomeres, fascinating details of protein-RNA interactions at the active site, and a comprehensive mapping of human disease mutations on the structure. This work will be an essential reference for the diverse group of scientists working on human telomerase, and it will be of great interest to the broader communities of those working on other protein-RNA interactions and nucleic acid enzymes.”
In addition to his project on human telomerase, Liu has made significant biochemical contributions to and is a co-author on our Nature (2021) paper on Tetrahymena telomerase mechanism “Structures of telomerase at several steps of telomere repeat synthesis” as well as another just published paper in Nature, “Structure of Tetrahymena telomerase-bound CST with Polymerase a-Primase”.
Dr. Huaying Ren (Duan group)
Dr. Huaying Ren joined Professor Xiangfeng Duan’s group in 2018. In the Duan group, Ren’s research has primarily focused on the synthesis and fundamental investigation of a new family of chiral molecular superlattices. According to Duan, the discovery of chiral induced spin selectivity (CISS) has inspired a new wave of in interest in molecular chiralities, which is gaining steeply increasing momentum recently in the context of quantum information science. Although many approaches have been explored for introducing molecular chirality into solid-state materials and devices, the resulting systems to date are generally plagued by high inhomogeneity, low spin selectivity, and poor stability, and difficult to be integrated into robust spintronic devices. To address this critical challenge, Ren has taken initiative in developing a totally new class of chiral molecular intercalation superlattices (CMIS) consisting of alternating layer of two-dimensional atomic crystals (2DACs) and self- assembled chiral molecular layers. With highly ordered chiral molecular layers sandwiched between stable inorganic 2DACs, the CMIS offers an intrinsically more robust material platform for exploring CISS effect in solid- state devices. Her studies to date have successfully demonstrated a series of CMIS with tailored interlayer distance and designed chiralities and chiral optical properties. Using the resulting CMIS as the spin filtering layers, she and colleagues demonstrated robust spin selective tunneling junctions with a distinct chirality dependent tunneling current, achieving a record-high tunneling magnetoresistance ratio >300% and spin polarization ratio >60%, substantially larger than those achieved previously in CISS-based tunneling devices (<10%). With a large family of 2DACs of widely tunable electronic properties and a vast selection of chiral molecules of designable chiral optical properties, the CMIS defines a rich family of artificial chiral materials for fundamental investigation of the CISS effect and capturing its potential for novel spintronic devices. The conceptual design and the results from the initial studies are highly acclaimed by the community during the proposal or manuscript peer review process, with comments such as: “If the work is successful in making such materials it will be truly ground-breaking”, “Success in this project would open a whole new direction in materials science”; and “The material opens the way for new class of spin filtering devices that are stable, reproducible and very efficient”. A first paper on this topic was just published in Nature, “Chiral Molecular Intercalation Superlattices“, and it has drawn considerable interest and received substantial positive feedback. “Huaying’s study opens a new pathway to incorporate molecular functionality into solid-state materials and solid-state devices, and could inspire a rich family of artificial materials with designable structural motifs and tunable electronic properties beyond the reach of conventional crystalline solids”, said Professor Xiangfeng Duan. “She is extremely collegial, and never hesitates to share her ideas and her expertise with others in the lab and beyond. Huaying has made important contributions to other research projects in my lab including the recently development a stretchable bioelectronic membrane (Science, “Highly stretchable van der Waals thin films for adaptable and breathable electronic membranes“).”
Dr. Aneta Turlik (Houk group)
Dr. Aneta Turlik joined Professor Ken Houk’s group in 2019 after completing her PhD studies at Yale University in the synthetic organic chemistry group of Professor Timothy Newhouse. “In less than three years at UCLA, Aneta has produced outstanding computations that form the heart of ten major publications and landed an NIH F32 postdoctoral fellowship as well,” Houk said. “A superb synthetic chemist from her Ph.D. training, Aneta has now become a standout computational chemist. Her ten publications, including first author papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and in the Journal of Organic Chemistry, are outstanding achievements depending critically on her understanding of synthesis and ability as a computational chemist. She is brilliant and accomplished and has confidently taken on projects in many areas of organic chemistry. Although restricted by her NIH Fellowship to teach only half of an organic chemistry course, she received rave reviews from her students for her teaching.”
According to Houk, Turlik’s projects have included collaborations with multiple synthetic research groups in the United States, France, Ireland, China, and Japan. She has had major leadership roles in each of these projects, and in each one she has been the only or lead computational researcher collaborating with experimental groups in order to understand the mechanisms of the reactions. As part of the collaborations, she communicates regularly with experimental chemists all over the world to discuss the results of her computations and to get more information from the experimentalists.
Her work runs the gamut of computational methods, from Quantum Mechanics to Molecular Dynamics and the computation of UV and NMR spectra. Her work has involved reaction mechanisms, origins of selectivity, enzyme catalysis, molecular dynamics of organic reactions, and spectroscopic properties of molecules. An example is her collaboration with Gong Chen at Nankai University in China, where Aneta provided quantitative measures through DFT calculations of the thermodynamic favorability and selectivity of the stapling of native peptides with formaldehyde that results in the linking of lysine residues with tyrosine or arginine residues. She also established the mechanism and potential role of a novel biosynthetic enzyme studied by the Bowers group at North Carolina. She published a tour de force in computational chemistry that explained the mechanism and selectivity of palladium-catalyzed reactions discovered in the Blanchard group in France – Turlik is co-first author with the French experimentalist who did the experiments. “
The paper “Interception of the Bycroft-Gowland Intermediate in the Enzymatic Macrocyclization of Thiopeptides” is an example of her brilliant collaborations with experimentalists,” Houk said. “She also guided and outstanding undergraduate, Garrett Kukier, in developing a wonderful JACS paper: “Violations. How Nature Circumvents the Woodward−Hoffmann Rules and Promotes the Forbidden Conrotatory 4n + 2 Electron Electrocyclization of Prinzbach’s Vinylogous Sesquifulvalene,” and she selflessly proposed that Garrett be first author of this landmark paper that has attracted a great deal of attention.”
“I do not attempt here to describe all her papers, but Aneta is a rising star in the computational study of organic chemistry,” Houk said. “Aneta Turlik is one of UCLA’s outstanding postdoctoral researchers, and she richly deserves our department’s Postdoctoral Research Award.” “She will be moving on to teach at Skidmore College beginning in the Fall,” says Houk, proud and happy for her, but sad to lose her, too!
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.
Timothy (Tim) Atallah (Caram group)
Marcus Gallagher-Jones (Rodriguez group)
Yao He (Feigon/Zhou groups)
Manisha (Mani) Swain (Kwon group)
Zhong Wan (Duan group)
Qin Cao (Eisenberg group)
Lucía Fernández del Río (C. Clarke group)
Chuancheng Jia (Duan group)
Dennis Svatunek (Houk group)
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)