Carnegie Mellon University
October 17, 2022

Yunshu Li Receives Robert W. Kraemer Award

By Morgan O'Grady

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Undergraduate student Yunshu Li is the 2022 inductee and inaugural awardee for the Robert W. Kraemer Award. The Robert W. Kraemer Award is named after Professor Robert Kraemer former Head of the Department of Physics at Carnegie Mellon University. Professor Kraemer and his wife maintain a long-standing interest in promoting the success of young scientists from all backgrounds. This award supports an early-career research opportunity for a first-year Carnegie Mellon University undergraduate student who has declared a major in physics. Dr. Kraemer offered that, “What one learns early can only help in the future.”

Yunshu took her first Physics class during the later years of high school. She was exposed to novel topics and new techniques for problem solving that were both challenging yet rewarding, providing a contrast from the courses she had previously taken. Upon matriculation into Carnegie Mellon University, Yunshu had the opportunity to take a variety of classes that allowed her to explore a wide range of interests, including courses in both biology and physics. These were two subjects that Yunshu had always found to be independently very intriguing, and she hoped that she would be able to explore the intersection of biology and physics at CMU.

The chance to realize this aspiration came when Yunshu first met Dr. Stephanie Tristram-Nagle at a Physics Department event. The two later reconnected after Yunshu read a review article published by Dr. Tristram-Nagle, which detailed the pioneering work she and her husband Dr. Nagle had accomplished with their study of the biophysics of lipid bilayers. Dr. Tristram-Nagle’s group is currently working on studying how novel engineered antimicrobial peptides interact with bacterial membrane mimics, with the goal of elucidating the mechanisms of bactericidal activity, which may provide an effective mechanism to curb antibiotic resistance. This is a project that greatly appeals to Yunshu, who is not only interested in studying a problem that incorporates both foundational biological and physics concepts, but also one that would have foreseeable clinical applications. The Robert W. Kraemer award pairs the awardee with a research mentor and Yunshu came prepared with Dr. Tristram-Nagle in mind as her advisor. Dr. Tristram-Nagle feels “lucky to the have mentored the first recipient” of this award. 

One highlight was traveling to Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source with Dr. Tristram-Nagle and a group of student researchers. She shared that this trip was an “extremely educational and enjoyable experience,” where she was excited to both witness a synchrotron in person and be a part of the data collection process. Yunshu shared she learned more research skills and other professional skills such as communication and working on a team. Dr. Tristram-Nagle added Yunshu is “terrific in the lab”.

Beyond developing this special award, Dr. Kraemer has been an unofficial mentor to Yunshu over the summer and into the present. Yunshu expressed, “He is incredibly supportive, always providing insightful and perceptive comments on working in physics research as a beginner and learning as a physics student”. This connection with Dr. Kraemer was one of the most valuable aspects to Yunshu as an early career Physics student. 

What started as a high school interest has now blossomed into so many other opportunities for Yunshu and she hopes to continue exploring the many research opportunities that CMU and Pittsburgh have to offer.