Nicholas Wu, PhD

Assistant Professor, University of Illinois

Dr. Wu received the Michelson Prize: Next Generation Grant for: ”Systematic identification of antibody sequence signatures for epitope prediction.”

Dr. Wu’s research attempts to interpret the complexity of the human antibody repertoire by establishing a sequence-based approach for epitope prediction. Dr. Wu’s research sits at the convergence of high-throughput biology, molecular biology, structural immunology, and bioinformatics and has the potential to shift the paradigm of antibody discovery and characterization.

Dr. Wu studied Biochemistry at the University of Virginia and completed his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2015. After a postdoctoral fellowship in Structural Chemistry at Scripps Research Institute, he is now an Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What drew you to the field of immunology?

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Hong Kong, a city in Southeast Asia that is under constant threats from emerging viruses. In 1997, when I was in elementary school, there was an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in Hong Kong. This outbreak has led to the closure of live-poultry markets, which were part of everyday life for many residents. In 2003, when I was in secondary school, there was another deadly outbreak caused by SARS-CoV. All schools were shut down for several months and everyone put on a mask, just like what we are experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic at the moment. These unforgettable experiences have made me wonder how viruses can be defeated, and eventually drew me to the field of immunology.

Can you share a defining moment as a researcher?

Having my first first-author manuscript accepted for publication during Ph.D. studies was probably the most defining moment in my research career. Although the project was far from the best in my career, that was the first time I felt I could contribute to the field. None of the paper acceptance in my subsequent research career gave me the same amount of happiness.

How will the Michelson Prize help you with your future research and career?

I am humbly honored to receive the Michelson Prize. With the recognition of the Michelson Prize, I feel more comfortable to explore high-risk, high-reward projects, both intellectually and financially. Data from these projects will potentially determine the research directions of my lab in the next decade. In addition, the Michelson Prize will help me establish an international reputation, which is critical for my career advancement as a junior scientist.