International Activities, recently traveled back to her native
China to help teach students about neuroscience career development
and opportunities for international research collaboration. Her
trip was sponsored by the International Brain Research Organization
(IBRO) as part of its Visiting Lecture Team Program (VLTP), which
provides basic neuroscience training to students in economically
developing countries and features intense 10-day lecture courses
on various neuroscience topics.
"The purpose of the program is to plant seeds in these countries
to help develop the next generation of neuroscientists," said Liu,
who not only lectured the students but also donated 100 copies
of a textbook to them.
||Drs. John Nicholls and Yuan Liu (r) sign copies of From
Neuron to Brain during the Visiting Lecture Team Program course in China.
The textbook, a Chinese translation of From Neuron to Brain,
by renowned neuroscientist Dr. John Nicholls, is one of the best
textbooks for neuroscience, according to Liu. Nicholls, who served
as director of the VLTP group from 1994 to 2002, also traveled
to China with Liu and other VLTP members. "If you can have a version
in your language along with the original text, it's much easier
to absorb and understand," said Liu.
She speaks from experience as she was once a student from the
economically developing China 20 years ago when she enrolled in
a neurobiology course taught by Nicholls. Although she was already
interested in science, neurobiology in particular, she remembers
that the course had a profound effect on her.
"I feel like my participation now is in some sense a repayment
because I was the beneficiary of a similar program," said Liu,
who is considered one of the program's role models. "Although I
am an American citizen, in my heart I still love my home country.
I hope Chinese science can blossom and grow."
Born in Tianjin, China, to intellectual parents, Liu grew up with
a love of books and knowledge and an appreciation of education.
Her mother was a language scholar who maintained shelves of foreign
language books, and her father studied mathematics and engineering
in the United States with the goal of bringing Western science
and technology back to China. His plans were derailed, however,
as he was later accused of being a "counter-revolutionary" and
was put in jail when Liu was only 3 years old.
At a young age, Liu's mother encouraged her to read, and eventually
to establish a children's library to share her books with friends. "She
even taught me how to catalog the books according to subject," said
Liu's own formal education was abruptly halted in October 1966,
after she completed 5th grade, when the whole country of China
fell into turmoil due to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
According to Liu, the revolution, which was begun by Communist
Party leader Mao Zedong, was actually an anti-revolutionary movement
against all previous human cultures — including traditional Chinese
and Western cultures. "For 10 years, there were no schools at all.
All the schools were closed and there was no intellectual stimulation," said
Her home was invaded and all of the family's books were thrown
onto the front lawn and burned by the Red Guard, a group of students
who violently carried out the revolution. "They burned every book,
every volume. They took away literally everything — all of our furniture
and even our house," she said. "Even today the smell of burning
paper brings back terrible memories."
Liu and her mother were forced to live in a basement and Liu was
later required to work in a factory. Still her desire to read and
study continued. She borrowed things to read including an old English
textbook that she was only allowed to keep for a few days. Knowing
this, her mother borrowed a typewriter as well and hand-typed the
textbook so Liu could continue to study. This, of course, got her
mother into a great deal of trouble.
In 1976, after the revolution ended, Liu became a college student
at age 24 upon receiving one of the highest marks on a nationwide
college exam. She then enrolled in Peking University and was placed
in the department of biology. "I was very lucky and motivated," she
said. "I had a good mother who encouraged me to study."
Liu went on to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees in neurophysiology
at Peking University. It was during this time that she took Nicholls' neurobiology
course and was later invited to join his laboratory in Switzerland.
She went on to earn her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Biozentrum,
Universitšt Basel in Switzerland while working in Nicholls' laboratory.
She later accepted a postdoctoral position at the State University
of New York at Stony Brook, and from there she came to NIH as an
intramural scientist for NICHD. Soon after, she moved to an NINDS
laboratory, studying synaptic transmission and plasticity.
In 1995, she became a program director for the Basic Neuroscience
Program at NIAAA. She was recruited back to NINDS in 1999 as a
program director in the channels, synapses and circuits cluster,
and became chief of the newly established Office of International
Activities in 2004.
Liu strongly believes in IBRO's mission to promote neuroscience
and encourage communication and collaborations among brain researchers
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