Yunjie Xu studies chirality, a property of the structure of molecules where they cannot be stacked on their mirror images, important to the chemistry of life. Photo credit: John Ulan
A physical chemist working in the field of molecular chirality, University of Alberta scientist Yunjie Xu’s outstanding accomplishments and contributions to chemistry have been recognized this year with induction as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Xu, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, studies chirality, a molecular property which underpins the chemistry of life. Her research has made her a world leader in the field.
“I am most grateful to my colleagues for their support and encouragement, especially those who put much work into nominating me,” said Xu of her induction into the Royal Society of Canada.
Reflecting on success
Chirality is a property linked to the three-dimensional structures of molecules, where chiral molecules cannot be superimposed on their mirror image. Nearly all biomolecules exhibit a specific form of chirality in living systems, meaning that Xu’s research on chirality also brings us closer to understanding the biochemistry of life.
“As a kid, I was fascinated with biology but not with memorizing all the facts,” said Xu. “I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to bring a rigorous physical sciences approach to decoding chirality in order to build predictive models.”
Xu has advanced the field by developing new tools to better understand chirality in chemical processes and to identify chirality of new compounds quickly and accurately. An efficient and precise method of chirality determination is crucial in every step of drug development, as the three-dimensional structure greatly influences drug effectiveness.
Of course, Xu’s research doesn’t stop here. She reflects on how chemistry, and science, are an ongoing journey.
“I love what I do because I get to share the excitement of discovery with my students and postdocs and watch them grow as scientists,” said Xu. “Every day there are new challenges; it’s never boring.”
Want to hear more about the award-winning research and teaching at the University of Alberta? Read about the recognition and awards our faculty have earned on our Recognition and Awards page, including the four members of the Faculty of Science inducted in 2017.