Significant Science

Chongzhi Zang, Steven Lerman and Weiqun Peng
November 11, 2010

Nov. 11, 2010

A George Washington University Ph.D. candidate has received a prestigious science award for his research in computational biophysics.

Chongzhi Zang was awarded a $4,000 Dimitris N. Chorafas Foundation Prize. The science awards are given to doctoral students under the age of 30 with a 3.5 or higher grade-point average doing dissertation research in engineering, computer science, medicine and the natural sciences. The awards aim to reward exceptional research performance and to encourage significant future contributions to science.

While at GW, Mr. Zang has researched epigenomes – factors that help regulate a body’s DNA. Mr. Zang specifically examined how chromatin (a tangle of DNA and proteins that make up chromosomes) affect the expression of genes, a mechanism that also plays an important part in diseases like cancer.

“The epigenome is one of the critical ingredients underlying the differences in different cell types, and a number of diseases have been found to have a direct link with the defects in the epigenomes”, says Weiqun Peng, an associate professor of physics in the Columbian College of Arts and Science and Mr. Zang’s dissertation adviser. “Fueled by advances in next generation sequencing technology, epigenomics has become one of the most active areas in biomedical research. Computational analysis, like what Mr. Zang and other members in my group have been doing is indispensable and a lot of fun.”

Dr. Peng says Mr. Zang’s research might be able to help create drugs to attack diseases like cancer.

“Chongzhi’s research not only deepens our understanding of the fundamental principles of gene regulation but also broadens the horizon in our search for biomarker and therapeutic targets for human diseases,” he says.

Mr. Zang grew up in China and completed his undergraduate education in physics at Peking University in Beijing. He decided to attend graduate school in the U.S. and chose GW because of its “great reputation.”

“We have a relatively small department here at GW, and we’re all kind of like a family,” said Mr. Zang, who is continuing his research now in a post-doctoral position at Harvard University. Mr. Zang expects to graduate from GW in December.

In addition to Mr. Zang’s dissertation, six other dissertations in areas like biology, electrical engineering, chemistry and molecular medicine were submitted as nominees for the Chorafas Foundation Prize.

“His work has already appeared in a number of significant scientific journals, and he holds great promise to make future transformative contributions to science and technology,” says Dianne Martin, GW’s associate vice president for graduate studies and academic affairs.

Mr. Zang’s research in biophysics and computational biology has been published in nine publications, including Cell, Science, and Nature Genetics, and he received the Best Poster Award in the 7th Asia-Pacific Bioinformatics Conference.

“Chongzhi is one of the best graduate students our department has seen in terms of academic performance,” says Dr. Peng.

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