Zhiyu Zhao is a doctoral student in biophysics and quantitative biology, who is a graduate research assistant at Beckman. Zhao works in the Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group with Professor Emad Tajkhorshid at the Beckman Institute.
He has also collaborated with Claudio Grosman’s lab in the UI Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, as well as Eric Gouaux’s lab at Oregon Health and Science University.
Hometown: Wuhu, China
What kind of research are you working on?
I mainly study the mechanism of membrane transporter using molecular dynamics simulation. I've also been developing computational tools to help experimentalists in structural biology study ligand-protein interactions.
Why is this important and why do you find it interesting?
The importance of membrane transporters can never be overemphasized. Membrane transporters are proteins embedded in the cell plasma membrane. These small but delicate machines act as valves that accurately control material in and out of the cell, which amazed me when I first learned about it. Membrane transporters are also prominent and important drug targets, as the malfunction in many of them directly impacts human health and disease.
How has your affiliation with the Beckman Institute helped you?
My affiliation with the Beckman Institute provides an invaluable interdisciplinary environment for collaborative work. The seminars organized here are always inspiring. Beckman Institute's cutting-edge hardware also facilitates our computational work significantly.
What are your career plans?
I am planning to purse a postdoc position after graduation.
What do you like to do outside of the classroom or lab?
I used to enjoy running, but I have dropped that due to stay-at-home orders.
How did your work change during the stay-at-home order over COVID-19 concerns?
As a member of a computational group, we experienced the least perturbation from the stay-at-home order. With remote visualization tools, we can still carry on our work as usual. I do miss my large-screen monitors in my office, though.
What has been the hardest adjustment for you during the pandemic?
With everything shifted online, it is less efficient to communicate with my colleagues. A Zoom call is never as productive as a face-to-face talk.
What has been an unexpected benefit of the stay-at-home order?
I used to be a loyal customer of Beckman Cafe for lunch. Since I stay-at-home, I now have the opportunity to cook for myself and try various recipes. And it turns out that I'm not too bad at it.