max bi

For Max Bi, physics + biology = a Sloan Research Fellowship

Dapeng (Max) Bi, a physicist, was initially drawn to biology after his PhD. A dozen years later, his work straddling the two disciplines has earned Bi a Sloan Research Fellowship.

Bi is among 118 early-career scientists and scholars across a wide variety of disciplines to receive fellowships this year from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is the 12th Northeastern faculty member to earn the prestigious award, which has recognized 53 eventual Nobel Prize winners and 17 fellows who have won the Fields Medal in mathematics.

Bi’s multidisciplinary research, which offers insight on the treatment of cancer, asthma, and other diseases, is contributing to the evolution of theoretical and computational physics.

“That’s a strength of Northeastern’s physics department,” says Bi, an assistant professor of physics. “We recognize that modern science is defined by the problem and not by the discipline, and tackling these problems requires interdisciplinarity. I think Northeastern is doing very well in that area.”

Fellows are awarded $75,000 for research-related expenses. Bi plans to use the award to support doctoral students in his research group, enabling them to attend in-person conferences and workshops after two years of remote participation prompted  by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big boost to my own morale, and hopefully to the morale of my group,” Bi says of the Sloan award. “Even though we don’t work in a physical laboratory, the pandemic has hit us quite harshly. I hope this shows them that what we are working on is highly impactful.”

Bi’s interest in the behavior and movement of cells was launched by his PhD study of granular physics.

“I started to work with biological cells, which of course are much more complicated than the nonliving granular materials,” he says. “That was when I started to learn more biology, and to apply the tools of physics to biology.”

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Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.

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