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Liu selected a 2008 Sloan Fellow

Tianbo Liu

Tianbo Liu, assistant professor of chemistry, has been selected as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. Liu joins a prestigious list of 118 outstanding young scientists, mathematicians and economists representing 64 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada who were named fellows for 2008.

The fellowship, awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, recognizes early-career scientists who are conducting research at the frontiers of physics, chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics and neuroscience.

“The Sloan Research Fellowships support the work of exceptional young researchers early in their academic careers, and often at pivotal stages in their work,” says Paul L. Joskow, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“The Sloan award is only given to the best young faculty in science and is clear recognition of the impact and importance of Tianbo’s work,” added Robert Flowers, professor and chair of chemistry.

Liu’s research, which focuses on hydrophilic macroionic solutions, is expected to provide fundamental understanding on mysterious but universal solution behavior of macroions—large, soluble ions. Through this research, Liu’s group found that soluble macroions like to come together even though they carry the same type of charge, and form a type of new structure: single-layer, hollow, spherical structures (which he named a “blackberry”).

This work has allowed Liu to discover how these macroions are really unique. They do not behave like small simple ions such as the table salts; instead, they represent a new area connecting the traditional areas of simple ions and large, suspended particles (usually called colloids or nanoparticles). Some interesting questions, such as, “What happens when soluble ions reach the size of nanometer scale?” can now be addressed.

Part of the fellowship is a two-year grant which Liu can use to support his research. Liu plans to use this opportunity to expand his study from inorganic macroions to biological macroions, in order to understand some intriguing biological processes.

“Many important biomolecules like proteins and DNAs are also macroions and therefore they should follow the same rules,” says Liu. “The unique behavior of macaroions might be critical for many biological functions, even the evolution of the lives.”

Results of his work have been published in a series of papers in Nature, The Journal of the American Chemical Society and Physical Review Letters, and have been introduced to public readers through New Scientist, Scientific American, Materials Today and Popular Mechanics.

“While this award is great for Tianbo, it is also recognition of the Department and will help us to recruit the best faculty,” said Flowers. “His ability to succeed at such a high level shows that first-rate science is being done at Lehigh.”

Liu, who joined Lehigh in 2005, was named the 2006 recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which is given in support of the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education. A native of Beijing, China, Liu received his B.S. in chemistry from Peking University and his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

--Tricia Long

Posted on Monday, February 25, 2008

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