Liu Yanlu was a 16-year-old preparing for university life when, on May 12, 2008, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck Sichuan in southwest China, killing more than 70,000 people, including more than 5,000 schoolchildren.
Like many young survivors, the disaster shaped her working life. Some chose architecture to design buildings that would survive the region's quakes, while others, like Liu, from the provincial capital Chengdu, decided to study medicine.
The girl had who started primary school a year early and was fast-tracked into high school because of her academic achievements chose cutting-edge medicine.
After five years of training in biomedical science at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, she graduated and went to the University of California, Los Angeles. By 2018, she had earned a doctoral degree in the subject.
In March, the 27-year-old left the United States to return to Zhejiang University as an assistant professor and is its youngest principal epigenetics investigator.
Now she tries to explain the chemical building blocks of life and how they work. She has also become a mentor to other scientists.
"In the future, perhaps we can safely and effectively use stem cells for organ regeneration and treatment," Liu was quoted by the Qianjiang Evening News on Wednesday as saying.
She described scientific research as "something that she can't stop thinking about", keeping her up at night. Although the job was high pressure, it also brought her happiness and satisfaction, Liu said.
A senior colleague said Liu's work was highly regarded.
"It is very rare in China for someone with a medical background to mentor doctoral candidates at such a young age," Ouyang Hongwei, dean of the University of Edinburgh Institute at Zhejiang, was quoted as saying. "She has fitted into the position well and acted like a professor."
Ouyang said it typically took a postdoctoral student three to five years to become a principal investigator but Liu did it in one because "her research involves several fields with rich academic achievements".
Liu has published the findings of her prolific research work into epigenetics, stem cells and genetic engineering in several journals, including the US National Academy of Science's PNAS, Nature Plants, and Cell. She was credited as the lead author on several articles.
"These papers in international journals take three to five years," Liu said. "I often have several projects going on at the same time."
Liu said that her discipline and focus made teaching difficult at first. "It takes a lot more time to help students and to adapt to their work pace," she said.
Liu said that each week she wrote letters for her students to share her career, research and life experience in the hope they would inspire her students.
She said that on September 10, Teachers' Day in China, one of her doctoral students responded with a moving 10,000-word letter.
"It made my efforts worthwhile," she said.
Liu is among a number of high-achieving young women forging a path in academia.
In 2012, Fang Lu became an associate professor at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, southeastern Anhui province, when she was 26.
She had graduated from that university in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in electronic engineering and information science before taking her doctoral degree in electronic and computer engineering at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. in 2011
Yang Shu studied at Fudan University in Shanghai, and then obtained the doctoral degree in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2014.
She spent two years as a postdoctoral research associate with the University of Cambridge before joining Zhejiang University, at 26, as an associate professor.
In 2016, Han Chunmiao, 29, became associate professor in chemical engineering and materials at Heilongjiang University in northeastern China. She began mentoring doctoral students a year later.
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