The Sweet Side of Science

Xi Chen

Xi Chen

Professor, Chemistry

Impact: Inspiring young scientists while uncovering new knowledge about sugars in human biology to develop future therapies that manage and prevent disease

Growing up on the poor side of Jiangxi Province, China, Xi Chen and her school friends clubbed together to save money for a microscope so they could start their own laboratory.

Now, Chen has her own laboratory in the UC Davis Department of Chemistry, where she studies how sugars are involved in health and disease — as markers for cancer, as vaccines or for how they can be manipulated to prevent rejection of organ transplants. And she's still bringing young people together, nurturing their aspirations to become scientists.

“To be part of a guiding team for students — helping them excel in science, shaping their attitude toward life and science — is quite exciting, and a big responsibility," she says. "It's hard to see them graduate, but rewarding to see them well prepared to go on to their next journey.”

In her 11 years on campus, Chen has built up collaborations from food and wine science to biochemistry and medicine. “Chemistry is the core of life science and medicine," she says, “and sugar is related to everybody's life.”

Just as Chen's sugars play many different roles, many individuals on campus have supported her passion for research and teaching. Chemistry professors Gang-yu Liu and Susan Kauzlarich in particular have served as role models, and Chen appreciates that they always make time for colleagues and students.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with many teams at UC Davis that inspire me to identify my own strengths and explore new territories in science,” Chen says.