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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

In Memoriam

Pien-Chien (P.C.) Huang (1931-2020)

PC Huang

Pien-Chien Huang, PhD, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, passed away August 3, 2020.

P.C., as he was known, was one of the Bloomberg School and the University’s great scholar-statesmen and served on the faculty for 55 years.

P.C. charmed students and colleagues alike with his buoyant personality. “Every interaction with him made me smile, every email he sent was pure poetry, and his brilliance and kindness shone through everything he did,” said Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, the current E.V. McCollum Professor and Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

An expert on stress-inducible genes, P.C. studied the metallothionein family of proteins, which bind transition metals and are thought to regulate metal homeostasis and detoxification in the body. These proteins play important roles in carcinogenesis.

Born on July 13, 1931 in Shanghai, China, P.C. earned a BS in genetics from National Taiwan University. Later, he would forge ties between NTU and our School. P.C. earned an MS in genetics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a PhD in genetics and biochemistry from Ohio State University.

At Virginia Polytechnic, he met another Chinese student, Ru Chih Chow. On their graduation day in 1956, the couple married in the university president's office, with just the president and two witnesses, since they knew no one else in the U.S.

P.C. and Ru Chih, both geneticists, had tandem academic careers: They completed PhDs at Ohio State University and postdoctoral fellowships at the California Institute of Technology before joining the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1965. Ru Chih was appointed to the Department of Biology at Homewood and P.C. to what was then the Department of Biochemistry in our School.

The late BMB chair Roger McMacken, PhD, once described P.C. as a “hotshot” who wowed his colleagues in his first decade at the School with seminal papers on DNA analysis and replication, use of plant model systems, and DNA interactions and chromatin structure. Former BMB chair Pierre Coulombe observed, “The depth, the breadth, and the quality of the work P.C. was doing is just sort of mind-boggling.”

P.C. authored more than 170 peer-reviewed articles and edited or co-edited six books. With colleagues Abraham M. Lilienfeld and Bernice H. Cohen, P.C. co-edited the field-defining 1978 text Genetic Issues in Public Health and Medicine. The book gave medical and government decision makers the first overview of the impact of genetics on social, political, legal, economic, and ethical questions.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, P.C. guided Taiwanese students at the Bloomberg School in devising a novel preventive protocol that involved temperature monitoring and achieved an 82% participation rate among the populace.

PC Huang sitting in front of a computer

Rarely without a student in his office, P.C. was renowned across Hopkins for his mentoring and teaching skills. Madhura Shah, a Hopkins neuroscience alumna, credited P.C. with teaching “the most unique class at Hopkins, using his uncanny intuition for predicting future Nobel laureates to bring undergrads face to face with them across dinner.”

The BMB Department sends our heartfelt condolences to P.C.’s colleagues, students, and family.

This page will be updated with additional information, and a more complete memorial page is forthcoming. If you would like to share your memories of P.C., click here to send us an email.