What is the image of a typical female scientist? Perhaps you imagine a pair of thick glasses, messy hair and a few wrinkles on the forehead? With her high-heeled shoes and graceful posture, Ning Yan (or Nieng Yan), may break that stereotype.
Dubbed “the goddess scientist”, Yan, 42, is a leading biology researcher at Princeton University in the US. On April 30, she was included among 100 new members and 25 foreign associates into The National Academy of Sciences, a famous scientific institution that aims to recognize outstanding research in the US.
You may not know Yan’s contribution to biology, but she is a rising star in the science world and her resume is impressive. After graduating from Tsinghua University and Princeton, she was invited to set up her own laboratory at Tsinghua in 2007. At age 30, she became one of China’s youngest-ever female professors.
It was a long road to get where she is now. She told People magazine that she always believes that scientists need to have a pure mind and perseverance.
Yan likes to work at night. She says it’s because she can focus when the outside is quiet. She also works at least 14 hours a day, but she’s energetic, because research is the most “comfortable” job for her, according to an interview with People magazine.
This dedication to her work probably helped Yan in her research to identify the structures of proteins in cells’ plasma membranes, which puzzled scientists for half a century. Her achievements got her listed among the journal Nature’s Science Stars of China in 2016.
Apart from scientific research, Yan enjoys TV dramas and classic novels. Surprisingly, the novel Journey to the West inspired her to become a structural biologist. In the book, the Monkey King transforms into other animals. She wondered what it would be like to change herself. Luckily, Yan now lives in that world every day, exploring how proteins work at the level of atoms. “It was almost destined that I would become a structural biologist,” she said in an interview with Nature.
As she realizes her own dreams, Yan tries to encourage more women to pursue careers in science. In her eyes, there is no difference between men and women in the scientific fields.
“Women can work as excellently as men and live the way they choose to,” she said in a public interview.
(Translator & Editor: Wang Xingwei AND Luo Sitian)