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Speech by Professor Yan Nieng at the 26th L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards Ceremony

May 28, 2024

Vow! I’m deeply honored. I’m truly grateful to UNESCO, to the Foundation L’Oréal and to all the jury members for this recognition. It is not just a testament to my own efforts, but also a recognition … a celebration of countless individuals who have supported and inspired me along this remarkable journey.

I regard myself incredibly lucky to have had an inspiring role model at a young age. It is my chemistry teacher in high school. Her name is Ms. Guan Yi. She’s not very tall, with short grey hair and a pair of glasses. She always had a confident smile. She always told us, “Girls are good at science. Believe in yourself.” And she was right!

And another person who has inspired me throughout these years is Professor Shi Yigong, my Ph.D. advisor. I still remember the first time I met him in Princeton University, we had a long conversation. Two sentences from him have determined my odyssey in science: “Nieng, aim high! The sky is the limit!” This spirit has really inspired me. And with this spirit, I decided to choose work … to work on the most challenging projects when I was a trainee in his lab, and later on, when I established my own laboratory in Tsinghua University.

Our research aims to reveal the atomic structures of membrane proteins that take sugars, calcium ions and sodium ions into our cells. We try to find out how these proteins are regulated by different drugs. Based on this, we will be able to develop new drugs for pain management. And we hope to help address the opioid crisis.

Aside from the discoveries, it is truly gratifying to witness the growth of young scientists in my lab. I’m so proud of my fabulous team members in the past 17 years. Without them, I would not be able to stand here today. Thank you for being here with me.

And speaking of support, I am truly, truly grateful to my family, to my beloved grandma, parents, my sister and her family. In particular, my little niece suggested me to wear flats today because she wants me to feel comfortable anytime to be myself. Thank you for being the pillars of my strength. Your unconditional love and support have made me who I am.

Finally, I have a message to all the girls and everyone watching this: it can be challenging to be a female scientist, but not to the extent that anyone should be stopped. So, be brave; be yourself.

Thank you!

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