Jun Song, First Founder Professor

Adapted from an article by Siv Schwink, University of Illinois
2/11/2014 2:39:00 PM

Bioengineering at Illinois is pleased to announce the department’s first Founder Professor, Jun S. Song.

Founder Professors are part of the Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative, which was established in the College of Engineering in 2013 to support big data and bioengineering through enhancing facilities, funding student scholarships, and bringing senior faculty to Illinois.

Song holds joint appointments in the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Physics.

As a theoretical biological physicist, he brings strengths in computational biology and biomedicine, leveraging the methodologies and tools of physics and mathematics, to conduct research on gene expression. His ongoing research has implications for prognosis and treatment of cancer, in particular, malignant melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers.

“In my field of research, it’s easy now to produce 40 gigabytes of data from one experiment. Using DNA sequencing techniques, it’s possible to generate several terabytes of data just for one patient,” he said. “I use statistical and mathematical tools to overcome the challenge of analyzing and integrating such large data sets.”

Song looks forward to collaborating with other theorists in both biophysics and physics at Illinois — access to quantitative theorists and the University’s growing strength in bioengineering are largely what drew him to Urbana.

“I am very happy to be here,” shares Song. “Being able to teach and recruit students who are trained in physics will allow me to develop diversity in my research program. That’s very attractive to me, and I like the interactive ‘Urbana style’ approach to collaborative research.”

Prior to joining the faculty at Illinois, Song held an appointment as associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco, where he advised students within the biomedical sciences graduate group, the biological and medical informatics graduate group, and the developmental and stem cell biology graduate group.

Song’s primary laboratory is at the Institute for Genomic Biology, and he already has attracted students to his lab who want to engage in interdisciplinary research. Given his own background, he is very interested in helping young quantitative scientists find their way into biology. Song also puts a high priority on teaching quantitative and computational approaches to students of biology.

“I believe Illinois can lead in this area of research, because it has a very strong presence in computational physics, physics, and biological physics,” said Song.

Song plans to develop an educational program that crosses disciplines. He intends to take advantage of a teaching release this spring to develop new cross-listed courses that will teach state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies in computational genomics and computational biology. He will teach a Bioengineering course beginning in Fall 2014.

“I hope to bring people together from different departments and disciplines, including mathematics, physics, statistics, and biology. I plan to introduce educational research projects for graduate students and upper-level undergraduate students,” he said.

Song received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1996, graduating summa cum laude, and went on to receive a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in 1997, graduating with distinction. He received his doctoral degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001 under thesis adviser Gang Tian of the Department of Mathematics.

Prior to his appointment at UCSF in 2009, Song held a position as a Charles B. Morrey Jr. Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley (2001-2003); held an appointment as instructor and research fellow in medical physics and as research fellow in biostatistics and computation biology at Harvard University (2003-2005); and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study’s Simons Center for Systems Biology (2007-2009).

Song is the recipient of many honors, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2011) and a Sontang Foundation Distinguished Scientist Award (2011). He also was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship (1997).

In addition to his academic research achievements attested by a long list of invited talks and a longer-still list of publications in peer-reviewed journals, Song has shown a strong commitment to service. He served as an expert reviewer for the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (2010-2014) and served as a review panel member of numerous NIH study sections.



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