José Onuchic is the Harry C & Olga K Wiess Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and Biosciences at Rice University and the co-Director of the NSF-sponsored Center for Theoretical Biological Physics. His research looks at theoretical methods for molecular biophysics, chromatin structure/function and gene-networks with applications to cancer. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. He received the ICTP Prize in honor of Heisenberg in Trieste, Italy (1989) and the Beckman Young Investigator Award (1992). He is a fellow of the American Physical Society (1995), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2009), the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (2009), the Biophysical Society (2012) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017). He received the Einstein Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2011), the Diaspora Prize from the Ministry of Foreign-Affairs and the Ministry of Industrial Development and Foreign Trade from Brazil (2014, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Medal (2015) and the National Order of Scientific Merit by the Brazilian National Council in Science and Technology (2018). He received the 2019 American Physical Society’s Max Delbruck Prize in Biological Physics and was elected to Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2020.

Research Interests

Onuchic's main goal is to lead the biological physics community as it attempts to devise an integrated picture of a variety of biochemical and biological systems. His research has expanded across many scales from molecular-level interactions to cellular systems to organized multi-cellular structures. At Rice he moved towards medical applications focusing on cancer. In protein folding, he has introduced the concept of protein folding funnels as a mechanism for the folding of proteins. Convergent kinetic pathways, or folding funnels, guide folding to a unique, stable, native conformation. Energy landscape theory and the funnel concept provide the theoretical framework needed to pose and to address the questions of protein folding and function mechanisms. He also works on the theory of chemical reactions in condensed matter with emphasis on biological electron transfer. He is also interested in stochastic effects in genetic networks. His research has shown how each bacterium performs a sophisticated decision process by using a network of genes and proteins. Connections between bacteria decision-making in a colony with cancer are being explored. Further expanding ideas coming from energy landscapes for protein folding, his group is now exploring chromatin folding and function and therefore modeling the 3D structure of the genome.

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Primary Section

Section 13: Physics

Secondary Section

Section 29: Biophysics and Computational Biology