The School of Molecular & Cellular Biology and Department of Biochemistry are pleased to welcome Chang Cui as an assistant professor of biochemistry. She joins us in November 2023 from Harvard University, where she conducted her postdoctoral research. We recently spoke with Professor Cui about her research and teaching interests and how she enjoys spending her time outside the lab. 

Tell us about your lab and your research focus, including how you came to choose or specialize in this area.

We study the mechanism and regulation of human ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), which is an essential enzyme in almost all organisms, from some DNA viruses to bacteria to human, because this enzyme makes deoxynucleotides as the building blocks for DNA. During my postdoctoral training, I worked with E. coli class Ia RNR in my mentor's lab and realized that there are many unknown aspects of the mammalian counterpart, especially the human enzyme. All my previous studies were conducted in vitro, but the future of RNR research lies in vivo. Our generation has access to better tools in both analytical chemistry and molecular biology, which positions us well to start revealing these details in the cell.

What is especially exciting about this particular area of research, at this time?

Generate the radical within the cell while keeping its activity under control.

What interested you the most about becoming a faculty member in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Illinois?

The people. The strength of the University of Illinois lies in its people - the renowned faculty, smart and driven trainees, and supportive staff.

What are your teaching interests?

I have an interest in learning and sharing my knowledge related to enzymes by a broad definition. Engaging in this will not only help me refresh my existing knowledge but also motivates me to stay current in this field.

If any students (undergrad or grad) are interested in working in your lab, what’s your advice or how can they get in touch with you?

Please feel free to send me an email at Even if you decide to join other labs, I still enjoy discussing science with young people.

Tell us about someone who made a difference in your life, such as someone who sparked your interest in biology, encouraged you to pursue a career in academia, or challenged your thinking about a topic.

My undergraduate mentors inspired my interest in electron spin and introduced me to the field of bioinorganic chemistry. Initially, I was a synthetic inorganic student interested in the magnetic properties of metal complexes, which reflect the spin states of the molecules. Although I am not closely monitoring that field anymore, electron spin still holds a special place in my heart and directly led to my current research in radical enzymology.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Food preparation, for both physical and mental nourishment. To pursue inner peace, I have started learning about Eastern philosophy, although there is a real journey in front of me before I can peek into the essence of it.

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