UIC scientist named 2022 Searle Scholar

Ruixuan Gao, UIC assistant professor of biological sciences and chemistry
Ruixuan Gao, UIC assistant professor of biological sciences and chemistry

A University of Illinois Chicago scientist’s early-career research of nanoscale imaging of biological ultrastructure has earned him distinction as a 2022 Searle Scholar.

Ruixuan Gao, UIC assistant professor of chemistry and biological sciences, is the second UIC scholar to receive the award, which supports ground-breaking research in chemistry and the biomedical sciences, and the first in 35 years.  

He is one of only 15 researchers named to the 2022 class. This year, 186 applications were considered from nominations by 176 universities and research institutions.

Gao will receive $300,000 over three years in support of his work directed toward establishing an imaging technique that will enable nanoscale molecular imaging of minute biological structures. The project seeks to use this technique to answer some of the most critical questions associated with replication of enveloped viruses, which may lead to the discovery of potential therapeutic strategies for HIV and COVID-19.

“I am extremely grateful to the Searle Scholars Program and UIC for their support of my lab’s research. I am excited to develop new imaging modalities with the potential to visualize biological structures and processes at the molecular level,” Gao said.

His lab at UIC specializes in developing biochemical and bioimaging tools that map and track biomolecules, such as proteins, RNAs and lipids, at their natural spatial and temporal scale. Gao’s research group uses these tools to study biological structures and processes central to life and human health, including synaptic ultrastructure, long-range neuronal connection and pathological effect of misfolded proteins in the brain.

Gao earned his doctoral degree in chemistry in 2015 from Harvard University, and his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2009 from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus.  

Since 1981, 662 scientists have been named Searle Scholars. Including this year, the program has awarded more than $147 million. Eighty-five Searle scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, while 20 have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, and two have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

The Searle Scholars Program is funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation, the private operating foundation that manages the institutional philanthropy of the Searle Family.

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