Chemistry’s You Wins Prestigious Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

Mingxu You
Mingxu You

When Mingxu You, assistant professor of chemistry at UMass Amherst, checked his WeChat messages, the last thing he expected to discover was that he had been awarded one of 16 $100,000 Teacher-Scholar unrestricted awards from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. But when the award e-mail came later that day, he knew it was true. “It was quite an unexpected, and very welcome, surprise” he says. “We are thrilled,” says Ricard Metz, head of the chemistry department, “that Mingxu’s dynamic research and teaching have received this recognition.”

The Dreyfus Foundation’s Teacher-Scholar award goes to a handful of early-career chemists who “have each created an outstanding independent body of scholarship, and are deeply committed to education.” You is clearly both. Though he’s early in his career, he’s already authored or co-authored nearly 80 academic articles, and his lab is a hive of activity: it currently hosts ten graduate and five undergraduate students. In the past four years alone, he’s guided 15 undergrads, two postdocs, and five research fellows through advanced chemistry research, and in doing so is helping to introduce the next generation to the joys of chemistry. “The undergrads are getting real training,” say You. “They quickly learn what we’re doing in our lab, and they make real contributions to our experiments.”

The You Lab is broadly interested in DNA and RNA, the building blocks of life, and the “assembly properties” that characterize them. Assembly properties are simply the mechanical and physical characteristics that govern how cells interact, and You is working to develop highly precise sensors to measure these properties—no small feat given that what they’re measuring is the microscopic fluctuations in a cell’s membrane that occur in a fraction of a second. How cells assemble—or misassemble—themselves is crucial for understanding the behavior of cellular diseases, such as cancer.

For You, there’s a seamless connection between the classroom and the lab. “When I teach undergraduates, I need to revisit the basics of chemistry, and I’m always discovering insights that I had passed over when I was a student.” When one of You’s students joins his lab, they not only bring their classroom education with them, but return to class bearing some of what they discovered in the lab.

“I’d like to thank the hard work of everyone in the You Lab,” says You, for whom UMass has been an ideal research and teaching home. “The environment in the chemistry department is really supportive of early career scholars.”