Margaret Cheung, an associate professor of physics in the University of Houston (UH) College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics has been named a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), a non-profit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research. Dr. Cheung’s award was presented March 4 at the annual meeting of the APS Division of Biological Physics in Denver where almost 10,000 physicists, scientists, and students have this week met to discuss groundbreaking research from industry, universities, and major labs worldwide.
A UH release notes that with her research of new therapies to target cancer and Alzheimer’s, Dr. Cheung strives to understand the physics that govern how ordinary matter becomes life-like.
“If we can understand how life functions at a molecular level in the clutter of a cellular environment, then we can use this knowledge for drug design to intercept pathways of biological processes inside cells at a nano level before symptoms develop,” Dr. Cheung comments, noting that “Understanding the structures and enzymatic activity of proteins inside a cell is important to shed light on preventing, managing or curing certain diseases at a molecular level.”
Dr. Cheung has been performing research in the field of biophysics since 1997, studying the behavior of biological molecules in cells. Honoring her years of hard work and dedication, the APS citation commends her for contributions to modeling and simulations necessary to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the folding, structure and function of protein in a cellular environment. Her research examines the travels of proteins and how their actions inside a cell may impact the development of disease, using computer simulations and physics modeling. She also collaborates with experimentalists in the Texas Medical Center to probe, detect and predict the behavior of these proteins.
“When strategies to manipulate signaling proteins become available, there is hope in being able to control cell growth and cell death by appropriately disordering the cellular environment, thereby directing the activation or suppression of certain signaling pathways,” Dr. Cheung observes. “This is important to making advances in novel therapeutic strategies associated with the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells, such as those found in cancer and Alzheimer’s.”
The UT release notes that Dr. Cheung has been fascinated by how things work since childhood, and that she knew by the age of 15 she wanted to be a scientist and considers physics a wonderful tool to understand functional concepts. She decided to join UH in 2006, explaining that the physics department there was just starting to become involved in new research areas, such as biological research. Additionally, she notes that Houston area resources and facilities such as the Texas Medical Center make UH a great environment for innovative research.
At UH, Dr. Cheung initiated a research and education program in theoretical biological physics and soft matter, and she believes knowledge gained will impact disease-related research, enabling scientists to detect how symptoms develop at an early stage, using computer simulations and modeling to try to understand and predict the behavior of diseases inside a cell under both normal and disease conditions.
“It is entirely appropriate that Margaret Cheung’s highly creative research be recognized through the APS fellowship program,” says Dr. Gemunu Gunaratne, chair of UH’s Department of Physics. “She is not only a superb scientist, but also performs her other duties diligently. She participates in developing new approaches for undergraduate education and is an active member of several departmental committees. She also impacts physics education in local schools as the principal investigator of a program funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to introduce new teaching tools to Houston-area high school teachers.”
The APS has more than 50,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories and industry in the U.S. and throughout the world. APS fellows are selected for their exceptional contributions to physics, and election is limited to no more than one half of one percent of the membership. Cheung’s nomination was recommended by the APS Division of Biological Physics, which is composed of individuals who are interested in the study of biological phenomena using physical techniques.
The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 39,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.
The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with 193 ranked faculty and nearly 6,000 students, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics conduct internationally recognized research in collaboration with industry, Texas Medical Center institutions, NASA and others worldwide.
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