Nieng Yan

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Nieng Yan
Laiwu, Shandong, China
Alma materTsinghua University (B.S.)
Princeton University (Ph.D.)
Scientific career
FieldsMembrane protein

Nieng Yan or Yan Ning (simplified Chinese: 颜宁; traditional Chinese: 顏寧; pinyin: Yán Níng; born November 1977) is a structural biologist and the Shirley M. Tilghman Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. Her laboratory currently studies the structural and chemical basis for membrane transport and lipid metabolism.


Yan was born 1977 in Laiwu, Shandong.[1] She received her B.S. degree from the Department of Biological Sciences & Biotechnology, Tsinghua University, in 2000. She then studied molecular biology at Princeton University, under the supervision of Shi Yigong, and received her Ph.D. degree in 2004. She was the regional winner of the Young Scientist Award in North America, which is co-sponsored by Science/AAAS and GE Healthcare, for her thesis on the structural and mechanistic study of programmed cell death. She continued her postdoctoral training at Princeton, focusing on the structural characterization of intramembrane proteases, until 2007.[2]

In 2007, she returned to Tsinghua University with an invitation by Zhao Nanming, director of the Department of Biology at the time. At the age of 30, she became the youngest professor and Ph.D. advisor in Tsinghua.[3] Her research focused on the structure and mechanism of membrane transport proteins.[4] She won the Bei Shizhang Award, China's top award in biophysics, in 2011.[5] In 2014 her laboratory successfully solved the structure of GLUT1, a key protein in facilitating the transport of glucose across the plasma membranes of mammalian cells whose structure is particularly difficult to determine because it readily changes its shape.[6][7]

In 2017, Yan decided to leave Tsinghua and join Princeton University. The move gained widespread attention in China and led to a national discussion both within the science community and the general public.[8] The cause was widely speculated to be the difficulty to do what she wanted to do under China's academic system, as she had criticized the China National Natural Science Foundation's reluctance to support high risk research in a series of blogs.[9] However, Yan dismissed this claim later, and stated "changing one's environment can bring new pressure and inspiration for academic breakthroughs".[10]

Yan was elected a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in April 2019.[11][12]


  1. ^ 颜宁:不一样的学术女神! (in Chinese).
  2. ^ "Yan Nieng: The Shining Star of Biophysics". Women of China. 9 October 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  3. ^ Zhu, Mengqi (14 November 2016). "Yan Nieng: Young Pioneer Who 'Enjoys the Purity and Eternity' of Science". Women of China. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Ning Yan". Tsinghua University. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Institution of Biophysics, CAS 2012 Yearbook" (PDF) (in Chinese).
  6. ^ Hayden, Erika Check. "Science stars of China". Nature. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  7. ^ Deng Dong; et al. (2014). "Crystal structure of the human glucose transporter GLUT1". Nature. 510 (7503): 121–125. doi:10.1038/nature13306. PMID 24847886.
  8. ^ Chen, Stephen (9 May 2017). "Top Chinese researcher's move to US sparks soul-searching in China". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  9. ^ Wu, D. D. (19 May 2017). "Why Does a Top Scientist's Move to US Strike a Nerve in China?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  10. ^ Shan, Jie (16 May 2017). "Top researcher sparks debate by moving from Tsinghua to Princeton". Global Times. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  11. ^ "2019 NAS Election". National Academy of Sciences. April 30, 2019.
  12. ^ "Historic number of women elected to National Academy of Sciences". EurekAlert!. Retrieved 2019-04-30.

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