Ying Wai Li

Graduate Student Excellence-in-Research Award 2013
Robert C. Anderson Memorial Award 2013

Ying Wai Li, a doctoral graduate in physics, was an outstanding graduate student researcher while at UGA, and her many accomplishments led to her current postdoctoral fellowship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For her PhD research project, Li worked at the interface between physics, computational science and biochemistry. She carried out very detailed simulations of the hydrophobic-polar protein folding model, which examines how proteins become functional in space. Her painstaking work led to the identification of a small number of “universal classes” of protein folding behavior. Understanding the folding behavior of proteins under diverse conditions is key to interpreting their functional properties, and Li developed a number of novel approaches to speed up the simulations and to permit her to access system sizes necessary to reveal the relevant physics. Her work explores and maps new territory, and the conclusions she has drawn may lead to new design principles for proteins or peptides used in nanotechnology and a range of real-world applications.