Hao Wu

Born: May 23, 1964 | Beijing, CN
Photograph of  Hao Wu

Hao Wu grew up in China, during which time her family was separated and forced to relocate to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Despite this turmoil, Wu excelled in school. She enrolled in Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, a highly selective, combined eight year bachelor's and medical degree program founded by the Rockefeller Foundation, where she took courses taught in English and a semester of Immunology research which piqued her interest in laboratory work. At an international biochemistry meeting, Wu discovered the structural biology research of Michael Rossmann, and after some difficulty obtaining her visa, Wu began the PhD program at Purdue University joining Rossmann's laboratory. She ultimately joined the faculty at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0402
No. of pages: 169
Minutes: 237

Interview Sessions

Karen A. Frenkel
30-31 January 2008
Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, New York

Abstract of Interview

Hao Wu's oral history begins with a discussion of her childhood in China, during which her family was separated and forced to relocate to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Despite the difficulties associated with such turmoil, including the death of her father, Wu excelled in school. She consistently ranked highest in her class, and on the National College Entrance Exam she ranked fifth of all test-takers in the city of Beijing. Wu enrolled in Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, a highly selective, combined eight year bachelor's and medical degree program founded by the Rockefeller Foundation. While there she took courses taught in English and a semester of Immunology research which piqued her interest in laboratory work, leading her away from the clinical world of medicine. At an international biochemistry meeting, Wu discovered the structural biology research of Michael Rossmann, research that would ultimately bring her to the United States. After some difficulty obtaining her visa, Wu began the PhD program at Purdue University joining Rossmann's laboratory. Her research on canine parvovirus crystals brought her to the University of Kentucky and also to Norwich, England briefly. Additionally Wu worked on a Fortran computational modeling program during her graduate studies. While at Purdue, Wu met a colleague she later married, though she quickly discovered that he did not share her views about science or appreciate the difficulty of balancing family life and research. Wu chose her postdoctoral position at Columbia University with Wayne A. Hendrickson because her partner's job was in Connecticut. Wu's research on CD4 and HCG led to multiple publications including a 1997 Nature paper. Although Wu considered becoming a Research Assistant instead of a PI, after she solved the structure of CD4 she decided to test the job market and ultimately joined the faculty at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Staying in New York City did not disrupt her children's education and allowed Wu to take advantage of the large structural biology community within the city. Shortly after beginning at Cornell, Wu received the Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences Award. This fellowship helped her solve structures and perform the initial work necessary in order to receive a National Institutes of Health grant. During the oral history, Wu discussed her research group's work on TRAF and AIF and the difficulties associated with the funding of crystallographic research. She also touched on the current struggle between basic and translational science; competition from other laboratories; the complexities of balancing family and work; and the difficulties women in science face. At many points throughout the interview Wu returned the discussion to China and its ascendancy with respect to science, her own educational experiences there, and the teaching she now does in China.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1985 Peking University and Peking Union Medical College BS Biology
1988 Peking Union Medical College MD
1992 Purdue University PhD Biochemistry

Professional Experience

Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences

1987
Research Assistant

Columbia University

1992 to 1997
Aaron Diamond Postdoctoral Fellow, with Wayne A. Hendrickson

Weill Medical College of Cornell University

1997 to 2001
Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
2003
Professor, Department of Biochemistry
2001 to 2003
Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1981

International Math Olympiad

1982 to 1988

Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement, Peking Union Medical College (First in GPA for the entire period)

1989

Member, Gamma Sigma Delta

1989 to 1992

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Pre-doctoral Fellowship

1993 to 1996

Aaron Diamond Foundation, Postdoctoral Fellowship

2000

Junior Committee Award, Weill Medical College of Cornell University

2000 to 2004

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

2000 to 2004

Rita Allen Scholar Award

2003

Margaret Oakley Dayhoff Award in Biophysics, The Biophysical Society

2003

[New York City] Mayor's Award for Excellence in Science and Technology

Table of Contents

Childhood in China
1

Parents teachers. Relocation to countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Separation from family. Father's early death. Education and interest in math and science.

Medical Education
21

Peking Union Medical College. Pre-medical studies at Peking University. Fifth highest ranking student in Beijing. International Math Olympiad 1981. Marine Biology documentaries with professor. Courses in English. Immunology research. Interest in American PhD programs.

Graduate Education
36

Interest in x-ray crystallography. Research with Michael Rossmann at Purdue University. Tiananmen Square. Amnesty. Difficulties with research related to urea. Canine parvovirus crystal research at University of Kentucky and Norwich, England. Transition to computational research.

Science and Art
48

Interest in photography. Relationship between art and crystallography

Crystallography Theory
51

Leaving China for the United States. Some family in the United States. In depth study of crystallographic theory. Research at MRC with Max Perutz as a guide.

Reflections on China and Science
58

Tiananmen Square. Political Situation. Teaching a graduate course in China. Many Chinese scientists returning.

Women and Science
64

Experience as a foreign woman. Women in crystallography. Max Perutz, Michael Rossmann, and the structure of hemoglobin. Publishing. Difficulties with husband not understanding her career goals.

Postdoctoral Research
80

Wayne A. Hendrickson at Columbia University. Research on HIV binding molecule CD4 and human chorionic gonadotropin. Children. Balancing research with family life.

Principal Investigator
85

New York Structural Biology Group. Considerations to extend postdoc and postpone principal investigator search. Choosing Weill Medical College at Cornell University.

Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences
91

Importance for establishing the laboratory. Pew Scholars community. Funding led to NIH funding.

Funding
93

NIH R01 Funding. Grant writing. Funding climate after 2000. George W. Bush administration. Shrinking her laboratory. Expansion of science and scientists. Basic science versus translational science.

Current Research
108

Research on TRAF and AIF. Large structural genomic centers. Translational research. Private funding versus government. Publishing. Competition. Principal investigator style. Balancing work and family. Teaching.

Crystallography and Biomedical Science
129

Future of biomedical science. Targeted medicine. Technology and the impact of high level computation. Synchrotrons.

Family life, Women, and Science
140

Family life. Attrition rates of female scientists. Prizes and awards.

Biomedicine
147

Scientific literacy. Education. Government oversight of science. Globalization and science. China.

Index
166

About the Interviewer

Karen A. Frenkel

Karen A. Frenkel is a writer, documentary producer, and author specializing in science and technology and their impacts on society. She wrote Robots: Machines in Man’s Image (Harmony 1985) with Isaac Asimov. Her articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including The New York TimesCyberTimesBusiness Week, Communications Magazine, DiscoverForbesNew Media, Personal Computing, Scientific American, Scientific American MIND, The Village Voice, and Technology Review. Ms. Frenkel’s award-winning documentary films, Net Learning and Minerva’s Machine: Women and Computing aired on Public Television. She has been an interviewer for Columbia University’s Oral History Research Center’s 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, The National Press Foundation’s Oral History of Women in Journalism, and the International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research’s Oral History. Professional memberships include: The Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers, Writer’s Guild of America East, and New York Women in Film and Television: Past Member of the Board and Director of Programming. Her website is www.Karenafrenkel.com.