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ASU names Hao Yan as inaugural Glick Chair

Scientist Hao Yan
February 15, 2012

Arizona State University has named Hao Yan the Milton D. Glick Distinguished Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The award is named for chemistry professor Milton Glick who passed away last year. Glick came to ASU in the early 1990s and worked as a provost and executive vice president before serving as president of the University of Nevada Reno from 2006 until his death.

“Milt Glick understood the potential of science to solve some of our societal challenges,” said ASU President Michael Crow, who created the award to honor exceptional professors who will have dramatic impact on their areas of science and beyond. “Hao Yan’s inspiration of students and break-neck speed in developing new technologies that may spark entirely new solutions in medicine and energy make him the appropriate inaugural recipient.”

Yan is a recognized leader in the fast-moving field known as structural DNA nanotechnology, or DNA origami. His research team at ASU’s Biodesign Institute was the first to successfully construct closed 3D DNA nanoforms.

The innovation of building closed structures out of DNA provides a type of basket made from the building blocks of life that opens doors to a wide array of future applications. Such DNA containers may be the lynch pin for developing ultra-tiny computing components and nanomedical sentries used to target and destroy aberrant cells or deliver therapeutics at the cellular or molecular level. Yan’s string of discoveries in DNA origami included constructing a DNA Mobius strip and programming an autonomous molecular robot made from DNA to start, move, turn and stop while following a DNA track. Such robots may one day be used for medical therapeutic devices.

“Hao is remarkably bright and energetic with a fantastic record of innovation,” said Stuart Lindsay, director of Biodesign’s Center for Single Molecule Biophysics, where Yan conducts his research. “It is fitting that at 40 he is now probably one of the youngest holders of an endowed chair in the United States. This award is both a tribute to Hao and a sign of how much ASU values its star faculty.”

As a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Yan has created an interactive environment in undergraduate and graduate courses that allows students to participate in class discussions, developed graduate courses that integrate research advances in cutting-edge interdisciplinary classes, and mentored and inspired students to be original thinkers in both research and the classroom.

“Professor Yan has produced a rapid and constant stream of innovative ideas and patents, an extreme rate of first-rate publications, impressive new approaches to teaching and training, and an astounding rate of winning research funding,” said nominator William Petuskey, chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

Since coming to ASU in 2004, Yan has been a blur of activity. Of the 101 peer-reviewed publications and nine book chapters he has published since his graduate school, 80 publications and five book chapters are based on the work he has done at ASU. Yan’s research has been cited more than 4,000 times – an average rate of 35 citations per publication. Yan’s research enterprise is externally funded at a rate of $1.6 million a year. After just four years as assistant professor at ASU, Yan was selected by Crow for tenure faculty exemplar – a promotion to full professor with tenure, and a feat almost unheard of in academia.

Before spending three years at Duke University as an assistant research professor in the Department of Computer Science, Yan completed a doctorate in chemistry at New York University. He earned a bachelor’s in chemistry at Shandong University in Jinan, China. Other honors for Yan have included an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2008-2010), National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2006-2011), Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award (2007-2010), and the Arizona Technology Enterprise Innovator of Tomorrow Award (2006).