Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Before joining Westlake University Prof. Jianjun is the Hans Thurnauer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research group has published more than 200 articles and currently holds over 40 U.S. or internationally approved patents.
It has been over 32 years since he started his freshman year at Nankai University. Except for the three years after his Ph.D. where he joined a startup company called Insert Therapeutics, he has never left the university campus. Insert Therapeutics was a company focused on developing drug delivery system. It was started by Mark E. Davis. Davis at that time was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine, and the Chair Pro
fessor of Chemical Engineering at the Caltech. In those three years, Jianjun participated in the designing of multiple nanomedicines in which one cancer-targeting nanomedicine made it to Phase II of clinical trials. He also met with Chemistry Nobel Prize Winner Robert Grubbs and the current Provost of Caltech David A. Tirrell.
Jianjun said, “In the short course of these three years, my greatest achievement was understanding exactly how to do research. When I stood shoulder to shoulder with these academic giants, I saw a world of science through their eyes. The chance to see that kind of perspective is once in a lifetime. Not only did they teach me research techniques but showed me a more macroscopic view of science.” This experience let Jianjun truly understand the importance of “working with others better than himself.”
Jianjun did his postdoc with Robert S. Langer in Langer Labs at MIT for about a year before starting his own independent research group. “Prof. Langer was one of those professors that would give so much support that it made you feel embarrassed to do any “low-level” project.” Jianjun says. In 2005, Prof. Cheng left MIT and established his own research group at UIUC. The lab focused on polymer chemistry, peptides, nanomaterials, nanomedicine, drug delivery, and cancer targeting technology. In 2019, Cheng research group designed the first method of creating polypeptides directly without purification, greatly simplifying the synthesis process.
In academic research, Jianjun believes that before research one must first dare to think and challenge. "When researching, you must have a goal, and then move towards this goal. This goal may be considered impossible in this lifetime, but if you won’t dare to even think about it then then your research lacks challenge. Without challenge there will never be breakthroughs. Like Dr. Jonas Salk, despite the disparagement by his colleagues, Dr. Salk continued to challenge the impossible. Dr. Salk held on to his beliefs even when his mentor said it was impossible. Dr. Salk once said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those to dare to make dreams into reality.”” In 2019, the World Health Organization announced all but one strain of polio had been eliminated. Dr. Jonas Salk passed away in 1995 at the age of 80.
One of reason why Jianjun decided to join Westlake University was because of the PIs. They are a group of young people who dares to challenge the limits of science. At the same time, he also believes in the ideal of “small but sophisticated”. He believes that a research-oriented platform that does not set limits for scientists can attract the truly talented to work together and achieve top-notch results. He hopes that “One day the student will surpass the mentor and become an expert in their own respective field.”
We would like to officially welcome Prof. Jianjun Cheng to Westlake University. May his guidance allow others to explore and challenge their own “no man’s land”.