Focus on Faculty

Yajun Yan

Yajun Yan (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Yajun Yan, a professor in the College of Engineering, conducts research that leads to the development of new technologies to solve real-world challenges in energy, the environment and health.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I joined UGA in spring 2010 as an assistant professor, when UGA started to expand its engineering programs and search for faculty members in the area of engineering biological systems. During my interview, I was impressed and attracted by the vitality of the students and faculty at UGA and the unique lifestyle of the college town of Athens, Georgia. So here I am.

What are your favorite courses and why?
I enjoy teaching our biochemical engineering elective, “Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology,” because the course involves the knowledge and techniques of biology, chemistry and engineering. The course consists of both lecture and laboratory sessions and is offered to upper-level undergraduate students and lower-level graduate students. The students work as a team to learn the basic lab skills and techniques needed by the biotechnology industry and are exposed to the most recent research advances in engineering biology, which demand extensive communications and interactions among students and me. It is always my joy to see the improvements of the students in team collaboration, problem identification and critical thinking.

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
To people outside of my field, I always tell them that my research is about developing enzymatic and microbial approaches for the green manufacturing of fuels, chemicals and pharmaceutically important compounds from renewable carbon sources. By introducing genetic modifications to microorganisms, we engineer them to have new functions and capabilities to do good things. As for the impact, my research leads to the development of new technologies to solve real-world problems in energy, environment and health, as well as contributing to our fundamental understanding of the science of cellular metabolism and regulation.

Professor Yajun Yan works with graduate student Chenyi Li in his Riverbend Research Lab South. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
As a faculty member with efforts in both research and teaching, I see my research and teaching benefit from each other. My research helps me integrate the emerging concepts and technologies into my teaching materials and inform students of the most recent progress in our field. The interactions with students during my teaching also inspire me to get new ideas and approaches to address many research problems.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
In addition to gaining the knowledge in textbooks, I hope my students develop the ability to apply that knowledge to solve real-world problems, which requires critical thinking, teamwork, life-long learning, etc.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
I have been a faculty member at UGA for over nine years. There are many memorable experiences. However, if I need to name only one UGA experience I always remember, it ought to be the experience of walking into my office on my first day of work. It was so exciting and joyful, because it meant the beginning of my career.