Dr. Hao Zhu’s love of science started at an early age. His mother was a high school chemistry teacher and his father a physics professor; both encouraged their son to follow his passion, which led him to make chemistry his lifetime career path. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Inorganic Chemistry at Jilin University in China, he enrolled at Peking University and received a master’s degree in Biochemistry. While developing his advanced research skills, Hao became interested in the new field of Cheminformatics, which utilizes a computational modeling approach to virtually construct scientific models for chemicals and drugs and analyze their effects mathematically with hypotheses.
With high enthusiasm, Hao left China to study Computational Chemistry at Case Western Reserve University with Dr. Klopman as his advisor. He earned his doctoral degree with a focus on computational toxicology. During his training and research activities as a post-doctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University and as a research assistant professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he published sixteen papers on cheminformatics, medicinal chemistry, and computational toxicology.
In 2011, Hao joined Rutgers-Camden’s Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor and was appointed as a core member of the newly developed Center for Computational and Integrative Biology. “It’s a wonderful program,” Hao says. “The center allows a great platform to collaborate with professors in different disciplines and generate big ideas.” Through the center, Hao has connected and worked with Dr. Desmond Lun, Associate Professor of Computer Science; Dr. Joseph Martin, Professor of Biology; and Dr. Benedetto Piccoli, Professor of Mathematical Science and Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair in Mathematics. The small size of the campus has also allowed Hao to easily meet faculty in other schools, and to facilitate research opportunities with them, as well.
Since coming to Rutgers-Camden, Hao has initiated an ambitious research program and established his lab with one post-doctoral student, two Ph.D. students, and five master’s students from different departments. Recently, Hao was awarded a $464,983.00 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his project “Predictive Computational Acute Toxicity Modeling by Profiling Chemicals with Public Bioassay Data.” The project is aimed to understand if the toxicity response of chemicals at cell level could be viewed as signals of the chemical toxicities in animals, or even in humans. Hao is the sole principal investigator on this three-year project, but will educate several graduate and undergraduate students during the whole project. The first part of the project will be gathering all public available toxicity compounds. These compounds were tested using animals during the past fifty years and the cost of the testing is over two billion U.S. dollars. Once the first part of the project is completed, Hao explains that the next step is to find how to use the massive knowledge available to us, such as those existing internet biological data or even the structural information of these compounds, to help the prediction of toxicity. Solving complicated biological problems, such as toxicity, with a quantitative computational method, Hao’s research can help reduce or even replace animal testing and save great resources in future research studies.
In addition to his research, Hao is passionate about teaching and loves interacting with students. “I really enjoy teaching and watching my students grow and progress,” Hao says. While he’s also happy to see his students earn their degrees at Rutgers-Camden, he also makes sure that they well-prepared to enter the workforce after graduation. Hao emphasizes the importance of learning useful skills that are in high demand, and also of being well-educated in a variety of disciplines. He helps them fine-tune their interview skills and provides any extra help they may need to succeed.
Clearly, Hao’s enthusiasm for his research is only matched by his dedication to his students. His zeal for science, which started many years ago, is sure to have a lasting influence at Rutgers-Camden.
About Dr. Hao Zhu
Rank: Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Hometown: Beijing, China