Song Tan awarded Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Song Tan, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, has been selected to receive the 2015 Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Life and Health Sciences. Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of faculty peers selects candidates after reviewing nominations together with outside evaluations from peer institutions.

Tan’s research uses structural and biochemical methods to understand how genes are switched on and off in our cells. He uses X-ray crystallography to determine the three-dimensional structures of large chromatin complexes — the assembly of proteins and DNA that make up chromosomes — that are involved in cellular differentiation and cell division. Tan’s lab was the first to determine the atomic structure of a chromosome-regulatory protein bound to the nucleosome, the fundamental component of chromatin, and also was the first to determine the crystal structure of a chromatin enzyme in the act of regulating a gene’s expression on a nucleosome. Misregulation of gene expression caused by errors in the interaction between chromatin enzymes and the nucleosome can cause cancer and other diseases. Tan’s groundbreaking work not only provides insight into a fundamental genetic process, but also provides a framework for understanding human diseases and for modeling new medicines to fight those diseases.

Tan’s previous awards and honors include the C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society in 2014, the Penn State Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Tershak Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award in 2002, and being named the first Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences at Penn State in 2001.

Tan joined the faculty at Penn State in 1998 as an assistant professor and earned promotion to associate professor in 2004 and professor in 2011. Prior to his arrival at Penn State, Tan pursued postdoctoral work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at Cornell University in 1985 and his doctoral degree in molecular biology as a Marshall Scholar at the University of Cambridge, England, in 1989.

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