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Michelle Chang Joins Princeton Chemistry

Announcements- - By Wendy Plump

The Department of Chemistry is pleased to welcome Michelle Chang as the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Chemistry, effective Jan. 1, 2024.

Chang, who comes to Princeton from the University of California, Berkeley, utilizes the approaches of mechanistic biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology to address problems in energy and human health.

Princeton Chemistry’s new A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Chemistry, Michelle Chang.

Photo by David Kelly Crow

“I’m very excited about the opportunities at Princeton,” said Chang, who is currently a Professor of Chemistry with a joint appointment in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Berkeley. “The department and the area are really perfect for me because I work in biocatalysis. On the chemical biology side, Tom (Muir), Mo (Seyedsayamdost), Josh (Rabinowitz) and Ralph (Kleiner) are doing a lot of things that intersect in different ways, so it really feels like a place that we could fit in.

“We’re all thinking about how to make molecules and catalyze reactions, and that is really attractive to be part of that. I appreciate the collaborations the department has established in the area that will help us translate what we do in the lab to real-world problems to see if we can make a difference.”

The appointment was approved by Princeton’s Board of Trustees this weekend. Also newly hired by the Department is Christopher Chang, the Class of 1942 Chair in Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry. He is married to Michelle Chang.

The successful recruitment of Michelle and Chris represents a huge coup for our department,” said Muir, the Van Zandt Williams Jr. Class of 1965 Professor of Chemistry. “Bringing these world class scientists, both of whom are at the top of their game, to Princeton truly moves the needle for us.

“In addition to being movers and shakers in their respective fields,” Muir added, “Michelle and Chris are really wonderful people and will bring many leadership qualities to Frick, strengthening the entire enterprise here.”

In addition to her STEM background in biochemistry, engineering, and chemistry, Chang also has a B.A. degree in French Literature.


Here at Princeton Chemistry, her lab will focus on designing new biosynthetic pathways for in vitro and in vivo production of chemicals. Essentially, this means making new molecules but by using enzymes.  

“We’re interested in discovering new enzymes and how they generate complexity or new functional groups and chemical entities, all the way from discovery to mechanism and then onto their application and engineering, both for single transformations—one reaction—as well as multi-step reactions,” said Chang. 

“A lot of the enzymes we study have metals in them, so we also work in bioinorganic chemistry with a focus on elucidating the mechanism of metalloenzymes.”

"I appreciate the collaborations the department has established in the area that will help us translate what we do in the lab to real-world problems to see if we can make a difference.” -- Michelle Chang

Chang will bring a number of her graduate students and postdocs to Princeton Chemistry and will also participate in the spring graduate student recruitment season. 

Chang grew up in San Diego, California, earning her undergraduate degrees in 1997 in biochemistry and in French literature from the University of California, San Diego. Her advisor was Don Helinski and her research was in the field of microbiology. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned her Ph.D. in 2004, Chang studied in the Biological Chemistry division jointly advised by Daniel Nocera and JoAnne Stubbe.

Chang did her postdoctoral work at Berkeley from 2004 to 2007 as a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellow with Jay Keasling, a chemical engineer.

Her awards include an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation award, a National Science Foundation CAREER award, a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar award, a DARPA Young Faculty Award, and an Arthur Cope Scholar Award.

Chang looks forward to a new proximity to New York City and one of her favorite museums, The Met Cloisters: “I really love medieval art.” She also enjoys taking ballet classes. Chang is hoping to get recommendations on Mexican restaurants in the Princeton area.  

She and her husband, Chris, have a daughter, Emmeline, and will reside in Princeton.