C. Ron Yu’s first passion was not biology. Growing up in the city of Hangzhou, near Shanghai, Yu was fascinated with quantum mechanics and relativity. He fondly remembers the first experiments he performed in his high school’s physics lab using instruments that dated to the 1940s. “The lab was nothing compared to what you can find in US schools,” he says. As an undergraduate at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Yu worked to embed biosensors into lipid membranes. The project spurred his interest in applying physics to biological systems, and he went on to major in biology and minor in physics. From there, he studied the biophysical properties of nicotine receptors as a graduate student at Columbia University, using an electrophysiology rig that he built from the ground up. Although he contemplated a postdoc in Germany, Yu stayed at Columbia while his wife wrapped up her PhD work in the...

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