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Peng Chen

Peter J. W. Debye Professor

Olin Chemistry Research Wing, Room 280A

Educational Background

  • Postdoc, Harvard University
  • PhD, Stanford University
  • BS, Nanjing University



Professor Chen's Group develops and applies single-molecule approaches to interrogate and understand the function and dynamics of nanomaterials and biomacromolecules, with the goal of acquiring fundamental chemical knowledge for developing better strategies for energy conversion as well as for curing and preventing diseases.


Single-molecule super-resolution imaging, nanoscale (photo)(electro)catalysis, solar energy conversion, bioinorganic/biophysical chemistry, live cell imaging


  • Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Graduate Fields

  • Chemistry and Chemical Biology
  • Biophysics


Our research focuses on developing and applying single-molecule techniques to solve scientific problems of physical, bioinorganic, and biophysical in nature. Compared with traditional ensemble measurements, single-molecule approaches remove ensemble averaging, so that transient intermediates and heterogeneous subpopulations can be captured and characterized. Current projects are divided into two main areas:

  1. Single-molecule catalysis. Here we study the catalytic, electrocatalytic, and photoelectrocatalytic properties of nanoscale materials at the single-turnover temporal resolution and nanometer  spatial resolution. The goal here is to acquire chemical knowledge for developing better catalysts for chemical processing, fuel generation, and (solar) energy conversion.
  2. Single-molecule bioinorganic/biophysical chemistry. Here we study the dynamics and mechanisms of the protein machineries involved in cellular metal regulation, trafficking, and efflux both in vitro and in living cells, as well as of molecular processes related to protein folding in living cells. The goal here is to acquire chemical and biological knowledge for developing strategies to cure and prevent diseases.



A. G. Santiago, T.-Y. Chen, L. A. Genova, W. Jung, A. M. G. Thompson, M. M. McEvoy, P. Chen* “Adaptor protein mediates dynamic pump assembly for bacterial metal efflux” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2017, 114, 6694-6699.

J. B. Sambur, T.-Y. Chen, E. Choudhary, G. Chen, E. J. Nissen, E. M. Thomas, N. Zou, P. Chen* "Sub-particle reaction and photocurrent mapping to optimize catalyst-modified photoanodes" Nature 2016, 530, 77-80.

D. J. Martell, C. P. Joshi, A. Gaballa, A. G. Santiago, T.-Y. Chen, W. Jung, J. D. Helmann, P. Chen* “Metalloregulator CueR biases RNA polymerase’s kinetic sampling of dead-end or open complex to repress or activate transcription” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2015, 112, 13467-13472.

T.-Y. Chen, A. G. Santiago, W. Jung, L. Krzeminski, F. Yang, D. J. Martell, J. D. Helmann, P. Chen* “Concentration and chromosome-organization dependent regulator unbinding from DNA for transcription regulation in living cells” Nature Commun. 2015, 6, 7445. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8445.

N. M. Andoy, X. Zhou, E. Choudary, H. Shen, P. Chen* "Single-Molecule Catalysis Mapping Quantifies Site-specific Activity and Uncovers Radial Activity Gradient on Single 2D Nanocrystals" J.  Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, 135, 1845-1852.

C. P. Joshi,D. Panda,D. J. Martell,N. M. Andoy, T.-Y. Chen, A. Gaballa, J. D. Helmann, P. Chen* "Direct Substitution and Assisted Dissociation Pathways for Turning Off Transcription by A MerR-family Metalloregulator" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2012, 109, 15121-15126.

A. M. Keller, J. J. Benitez, D. Klarin, L. Zhong, M. Goldfogel, F. Yang, T.-Y. Chen, P. Chen* "Dynamic Multi-Body Protein Interactions Suggest Versatile Pathways for Copper Trafficking" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 8934-8943.

K.-S. Han, G. Liu, X. Zhou, R. E. Medina, P. Chen* "How does A Single Pt Nanocatalyst Behave in Two Different Reactions? A Single-Molecule Study" Nano Lett. 2012, 12, 1253-1259.

X. Zhou, N. M. Andoy, G. Liu, E. Choudhary, K.-S. Han, H. Shen, P. Chen* "Quantitative Super-resolution Imaging Uncovers Reactivity Patterns on Single Nanocatalysts" Nature Nanotech. 2012, 7, 237–241.

X. Zhou, W. Xu, G. Liu, D. Panda, P. Chen* "Size Dependent Catalytic Activity and Dynamics of Gold Nanoparticles at the Single-Molecule Level" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2010, 132, 138-146.

W. Xu, H. Shen, Y. J. Kim, X. Zhou, G. Liu, J. Park, P. Chen* "Single-Molecule Electrocatalysis by Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes" Nano Lett. 2009, 9, 3968-3973.

W. Xu, J. S. Kong, Y.-T. E. Yeh, P. Chen* "Single-Molecule Nanocatalysis Reveals Heterogeneous Reaction Pathways and Catalytic Dynamics" Nature Mater. 2008, 7, 992-996.

J. J. Benítez, A. M. Keller, P. Ochieng, L. A. Yatsunyk, D. L. Huffman*, A. C. Rosenzweig, P. Chen* "Probing Transient Copper Chaperone-Wilson Disease Protein Interactions at the Single-Molecule Level with Nanovesicle Trapping" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2008, 130, 2446-2447.

S. K. Sarkar, N. M. Andoy, J. J. Benítez, P. R. Chen, J. S. Kong, C. He, P. Chen* "Engineered Holliday Junctions as Single-Molecule Reporters for Protein-DNA Interactions with Application to a MerR-Family Regulator" J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2007, 129, 12461-12467.