Spotlight on new faculty: Sangjin Kim, Biological Physics

Jessica Raley for Illinois Physics

The Department of Physics at Illinois welcomes an extraordinary set of ten new faculty members this year. Eight of them have arrived on campus and have begun setting up their labs and settling into life in Champaign-Urbana. Two more faculty are set to arrive in January. We will feature each of them here over the next couple of weeks. Check back regularly to learn more about the exciting work these new faculty members are doing.


Professor Sangjin Kim (center) works with undergraduate students Zach Wang (left) and  Kavya Vaidya.
Professor Sangjin Kim (center) works with undergraduate students Zach Wang (left) and Kavya Vaidya.

Professor Sangjin Kim

Sangjin Kim is a biological physicist who brings both graduate work in single-molecule biophysics and postdoctoral research in microbiology to her research plan at Illinois. She developed the first study to establish that DNA has an allosteric property, which is a term used for long-distance transmission of atomic-level changes within a macromolecule (like proteins), allowing for critical regulation of the macromolecule’s function. She now hopes to extend that work by building a new microscope that would allow her to twist individual DNA molecules to see how the coils propagate along the DNA. This research would shed new light on our understanding of how many RNA polymerases move on DNA simultaneously. Sangjin says, “We can see how cars are moving on the highway, right? We can install a camera and we can see how the traffic changes over time at that location.” Currently, we don’t have a traffic camera for RNA polymerases. This new microscope would allow us to finally see how these motor proteins move along the DNA and simultaneously affect its mechanics, while discovering answers to fundamental questions about gene expression.

To learn more about Sangjin's research, or to inquire about working in her lab, please visit her lab website.

Recent News

  • In Memoriam

Jim was widely viewed as one of the best teachers in the Physics Department. He was frequently listed in the University’s roster of excellent instructors and won awards for his classroom skills. In 2012, he received the Arnold T. Nordsieck Physics Award for Teaching Excellence for his “patient, insightful, and inspiring physics teaching, one problem at a time, that encourages undergraduate students to take their understanding to a new level.”

  • Research

Now a team of theoretical physicists at the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory (ICMT) in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by Illinois Physics Professor Philip Phillips, has for the first time exactly solved a representative model of the cuprate problem, the 1992 Hatsugai-Kohmoto (HK) model of a doped Mott insulator.

  • Alumni News

How do cells use physics to carry out biological processes? Biophysicist Ibrahim Cissé explores this fundamental question in his interdisciplinary laboratory, leveraging super-resolution microscopy to probe the properties of living matter. As a postdoc in 2013, he discovered that RNA polymerase II, a critical protein in gene expression, forms fleeting (“transient”) clusters with similar molecules in order to transcribe DNA into RNA. He joined the Department of Physics in 2014, and was recently granted tenure and a joint appointment in biology. He sat down to discuss how his physics training led him to rewrite the textbook on biology.

  • Quantum Information Science

The Grainger College of Engineering’s Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center (IQUIST) will launch a National Science Foundation Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN). The collaborative institute spans three Midwest research powerhouses, all of which are members of the Chicago Quantum Exchange: The University of Illinois, University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin. HQAN also includes partnerships with industry and government labs.

Established with a $25 million, five-year NSF award, the HQAN institute will be one of only three Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes in the country. Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes will bring together multidisciplinary researchers and diverse partners to advance scientific, technological, and workforce development goals.