Terry Hwa is the Presidential Chair and Distinguished Professor of Physics at UC San Diego, with joint appointment in the Division of Biological Sciences. Hwa develops theoretical and experimental approaches to gain quantitative, predictive understanding of living systems. He is particularly known for quantitative studies of bacterial physiology, and formulation of growth control theories that predict bacterial behaviors and gene expressions. Hwa grew up in Shanghai, China, received his B.S. degree in Physics, Biology, and Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1986, and Ph.D. in Physics from MIT in 1990. He continued his post-doctoral research in statistical physics and superconductivity at Harvard University, and went on to the Institute for Advanced Study as a long-term member before joining the faculty at UC San Diego in 1995. Hwa is a champion of interdisciplinary research. In 2001, he initiated a 5-month program at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara that has since been regarded as a watershed event in bringing physicists to post-genome biology. He is also the founding director of the Ph.D. Specialization Program in Quantitative Biology at UC San Diego.

Research Interests

Trained in statistical physics, Hwa entered biological physics initially to study genomics, biomolecular interactions, and combinatorial gene regulation. He subsequently launched a biology wet-lab and developed a unique quantitative approach to study bacterial physiology. In the 2010s, the Hwa lab established a number of bacterial growth laws and formulated a principle of proteomic resource allocation. This line of studies culminated in a theory of bacterial growth control, quantitatively predicting bacterial behaviors and gene expression for a variety of environmental and genetic perturbations, elucidating a number of long-standing mysteries in microbiology. The Hwa lab is continuing to extend their physiological approach to characterize bacterial species singly and in consortium, to uncover underlying principles governing the spatiotemporal dynamics of microbial communities, and to apply these principles to synthetic biology applications.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 13: Physics

Secondary Section

Section 29: Biophysics and Computational Biology