School of Molecular Sciences welcomes eclectic new faculty

February 2, 2023

The establishment of Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences in 2015 was an important step in that it was the first public declaration by any department of chemistry or biochemistry in the U.S. that a focus purely on the academic disciplines of those subjects was no longer consistent with societal demands for scientific enterprise in the 21st century.

The school is not discipline-focused but has a mission of addressing societal problems from an atomic and molecular perspective, and advancing research and discovery of public value in accord with the ASU Charter.  Professor Xu on a research field trip with two others studying a piece of earth. Associate Professor Jie Xu on a research field trip with colleagues. Photo credit Jie Xu Download Full Image

In support of this mission, School of Molecular Sciences recently welcomed two new faculty who exemplify this approach and use atomic- and molecular-level thinking to work on important problems that historically would not be considered mainstream chemistry or biochemistry.

Associate Professor Jie (Gail) Xu, who arrived last semester, is busy building a laboratory specialized in microbiology and nanoscience. Xu has developed a unique research program that focuses on understanding the origins, properties and transformation of naturally occurring inorganic nanoparticles and their roles in relaying nutrients and energy among associated microorganisms. The philosophy behind Xu’s research program is well aligned with that of the School of Molecular Sciences in that the ultimate control of environmental or engineered processes converges on the mechanistic understanding at the molecular, atomistic or electronic levels.

Headshot of  in an outdoor setting.

Liza Roger

Assistant Professor Liza Roger, who is affiliated with ASU's new School of Ocean Futures, joined the School of Molecular Sciences this semester and is excited to set up a one-of-a-kind lab growing corals, in vitro and in vivo, and other marine organisms. Roger’s research takes a biochemistry perspective to study the impacts of environmental change on marine organisms involved in symbiotic relationship with microscopic endosymbiotic algae such as corals, giant clams, anemones and upside-down jellyfish from a variety marine ecosystems. Her recent efforts have been concentrated on developing coral via in vitro methodologies to better understand cellular physiology and symbiosis, and unlock the next level of coral research.

Roger’s research interests also focus on understanding the pathways of physiological stress in reef-building corals and other symbiotic marine invertebrates. She is especially interested in developing approaches to make these organisms more resilient in the face of climate change-induced perturbations such as thermal stress. Her background in geochemistry and marine biomineralization also means she is interested in characterizing coral calcification at the cellular level in relation to known seawater properties and coral carbonate records (coral skeleton).

Headshot of Professor Jie Xu in an outdoor setting.

Jie (Gail) Xu

Xu’s research group is named “NanoGeoBio,” and she envisions recruiting a team with diverse backgrounds, including microbiology, geochemistry, nanoscience, biochemistry, biophysics and inorganic chemistry at ASU. Currently, there are three major themes in Xu’s research: metal-sulfur system geochemistry, mineral nanoparticle-enabled microbial metabolisms and habitability of sulfate-rich environments.

The major goal of the NanoGeoBio Laboratory is to leverage the understanding of the smallest components (nanoparticles and microbes) and their connections in nature to obtain a bigger picture of geochemical cycles and to develop new strategies for energy harvesting and resource recovery. 

The research areas being pioneered by professors Xu and Roger are more than just interdisciplinary. In many ways they represent a post-disciplinary approach to research, one that is based on the mission of solving societal problems rather than being connected to any specific discipline.

Ian Gould contributed to this story.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


Professor partners with Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics to bring ASU Worldbuilding Initiative to life

February 2, 2023

In her 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech, acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.”

Le Guin’s charge that we become “realists of a larger reality” — and the similar charges of other science fiction writers and futurists who dream of better futures for our planet and the life it supports — lies at the heart of the new ASU Worldbuilding Initiative. Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Matt Bell smiling for the camera in an outdoor setting. Matt Bell is a professor for ASU's Department of English and a published author. Download Full Image

Masterminded by Matt Bell, a professor of creative writing in Arizona State University's English department and author of "Appleseed" (a New York Times notable book), the ASU Worldbuilding Initiative invites all members of our community — at ASU and beyond it — to come together in mutual inspiration, communal thinking and imaginative play. As the latest initiative incubated by the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, this narrative experience will kick off in the spring. 

“My goal for the Worldbuilding Initiative,” Bell says, “is to make it a home for like-minded thinkers, artists and other people to inspire each other to think about our place in our world, our relationship to others and how the choices we make in the present inevitably affect the choices we leave to the those who follow us. The stories we tell each other are part of what sets the bounds of the future; the more varied positive, inclusive possibilities we imagine, the easier it might be to realize those futures in the real world.” 

Bell describes the initiative as an endeavor to multiply the possibilities we have available to us by giving students and faculty a chance to participate in a narrative experience built around wonder, collaboration, curiosity and problem-solving, putting into practice the modes of inquiry, thought and imagination that will be essential to the envisioning of our future ways of life. 

The project partnered with the Lincoln Center in the fall of 2022 as part of its investigation into ways we can reimagine our futures and relationships with technology. 

“We are excited to be the home at ASU for Matt Bell’s Worldbuilding Initiative, and to be able to contribute in some small way to his remarkable work,” said Gaymon Bennett, associate director of the Lincoln Center. “The question of worldbuilding and the vital work of the imagination in creating more ethical futures go to the heart of our mission at Lincoln. With Professor Bell, we’re convinced that while our lives today can be riddled with uncertainty, there is enough collective wisdom and good will around to realize a more positive and inclusive future — if we’re willing to multiply the accounts of the future that get to count.” 

The Worldbuilding Initiative will consist of multiple hybrid and virtual workshops, bringing together speakers from a broad range of disciplines and exploring topics from artificial intelligence to constructed languages. 

The series will culminate in a special keynote speaker event and reception at the end of the semester, then return next fall with a full year of programming. 

“The Worldbuilding Initiative invites every humanities discipline, from philosophy and creative writing to media studies, history, religious studies, linguistics and languages, to imagine more humane arrangements of the world we have inherited and inhabit,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “(It) is a community effort inspired by the ASU Charter and our mission of access and inclusion. We are fortunate to have the celebrated author and extraordinary thinker Matt Bell at its helm.”

Students and community members are invited to register for the first workshop, “Constructed Languages, Box-Words, and Neologisms: Ways of Naming (and Making) the World,” on Monday, Feb. 13, which will take place at ASU’s Tempe campus and also available to livestream via Zoom.

For more information on the initiative and to sign up for future events, check out the Lincoln Center website.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics