New Group of Natural Science Professors Bring Cutting-Edge Scientific Research and Education to USC Dornsife> News> USC Dornsife

Professors who arrived during the pandemic are studying cell function, genetics and symplectic geometry, among other topics. [4 min read]

The faculties of natural sciences from all departments have welcomed new members who have arrived at USC Dornsife during the pandemic lockdown. (Composite: Dennis Lan.)

A new group of natural science professors arrived at USC Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences in 2020 and did not let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them from setting up labs, engaging with students, and to carry out important scientific research. They recently shared their academic work and personal interests.


Xianrui cheng | assistant professor of Biological Sciences

Academic orientation: I am researching how the spatial model of a living cell is put together and how it contributes to cellular functions. We recently discovered that in a plastic dish, the juice (cytoplasm) of frog eggs can spontaneously reorganize into patterns seen in living cells.

Even more striking, these models summarize cellular functions; they can self-replicate over and over like cells do. My lab uses this egg extract system as a model to study the patterning mechanism in cells.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Gardening and photography.

What inspires you? Nature, people and art.


Pierre Chung | assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy

Academic orientation: I study proteins that do not fold into stable structures but rather behave structurally like spaghetti in boiling water (adopting many conformations over time). Using a framework of polymer physics, I aim to understand the physiological function and pathological dysfunction of these proteins. The latter is particularly important, because almost all major neurodegenerative diseases are unequivocally linked to these unstructured proteins.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Financially support every food truck nearby within a two-block radius of my apartment.

If you could invite someone to dinner, living or deceased, who would you choose? What would be on the menu? Robert Oppenheimer lived a fascinating life that covered theoretical physics and leadership in the Manhattan Project, the government program that led to the deployment of the most terrible weapons that ever existed. Since he loved his home state of New Mexico, I’m sure we both would love to enjoy the tacos.

What inspires you? The students I see at USC. They are bursting with energy and enthusiasm!


Michael “Doc” Edge | assistant professor of Quantitative and computational biology

Academic orientation: I develop and use new ways of analyzing genetic data in order to understand our evolutionary history. The people who work in my lab are also interested in ways in which we can use evolutionary thinking to perform other tasks that require genetic data, such as finding genetic variants associated with diseases or protecting privacy. in forensic genetics.

Where is your favorite place to travel? I didn’t realize my feelings about the American Southwest could be embarrassing until I saw them embodied in the character of Will Ferrell in Office. But I’ve never had a bad trip anywhere.

If you could invite someone to dinner, living or deceased, who would you choose? What would be on the menu? I cannot reduce it. I’ll give you a top three of those who use the first name George: Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans), Saunders, Clinton (the musician, not the American founding father). They can eat whatever they want.

What foods or condiments will we always find in your kitchen? Paprika is my favorite crutch.


Geoffroy fudenberg | Assistant Professor of Quantitative and Computational Biology

My work aims to connect mechanisms at the molecular level with their consequences at the genome level and uses machine learning and biophysical modeling approaches to decode the connections between the organization and function of the 3D genome.


Cornelius Gati | Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Academic orientation: I’m interested in atomic-scale neurotransmission. Our group focuses on determining the structure of membrane proteins involved in synaptic transmission using the powerful technique of electron cryomicroscopy.

What inspires you? I get my best ideas while driving (coincidentally something I spend a lot of time doing).

What do you like to do in your spare time? I like to spend time outdoors; hiking and camping are some of my favorites.

Where is your favorite place to travel? Hawaii.


Kyler siegel | Assistant professor of mathematics

Academic orientation: I work in symplectic geometry, a relatively young branch of mathematics which aims to understand the fundamental properties of various geometric structures from theoretical physics. It sits at the crossroads of a number of subfields of mathematics, including algebraic geometry, topology, and differential geometry, and also has interactions with string theory.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Jazz guitar, climbing, hiking, crafts, reading and exploring cities by bike.

Favorite book you’ve read lately? The code breaker by Walter Isaacson


Harold williams | assistant professor of Mathematics

Academic orientation: I study the geometric and algebraic structures that appear in high energy physics.

What do you like to do in your spare time? I like to play my guitars.

If you could invite someone to dinner, living or deceased, who would you choose? What would be on the menu? Brian May. Whatever happens on the Noma menu that night.

What inspires you? How interesting the universe is.


Learn more about other faculty who joined USC Dornsife in the 2020-21 academic year >>

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