Chun (Tracy) Liu *17 didn’t have one set dream as a child. She developed an interest in art early in life. Her father was an antiques dealer and aesthete. He taught her how to paint. Liu was also interested in chemistry and had dreams of becoming a doctor. She had yet another talent: figure skating. She began training at age 6. Her multitude of interests has informed her journey through the arts and sciences.
Liu majored in chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She fell in love with organic chemistry and decided to continue her studies at Princeton. She worked in the lab group of David MacMillan, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2021 for his groundbreaking work in the field. Despite her passion for science, Liu still felt drawn to the arts. After earning her Ph.D. from Princeton, she began a master’s in art conservation at the University of Delaware.
It was the perfect blend of art and science. She actually had her sights set on the program for some time, but it’s a tough field to break into. There are only a few programs in art conservation in North America, Liu says, so it’s common to apply multiple times before acceptance. This precarity marks the professional field too. As part of her application to the program in 2017, Liu began a project conserving a painting by the French artist Paul Signac. His work features pointillism — using small dots of color to create a pattern that the human eye blends into a smooth and coherent image. Although she enjoys conservation work, Liu notes the paradox. “Anytime you do a treatment, it actually does damage the object because you’re always introducing some chemical solvent [or] mechanical action, very delicate, but on a micro scale there’s damage that’s done to the original layers.”
Figure skating continued to be a major part of her life. She was a competitive figure skater for seven years, reaching the novice level by the time she left the sport at 14. Liu trained alongside Olympian Sasha Cohen, and with the coach of Tonya Harding and Lu Chen. It taught her “resiliency to push through really tough events,” Liu says. Being in such an intense atmosphere “sets a high bar,” she adds. Liu still enjoyed the sport and joined the skating teams at UC Berkeley, Princeton, and Delaware.
Liu decided to leave art conservation. She loved the work, but didn’t feel aligned with its purpose. Last year, she took a job with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, owned by Johnson & Johnson, and moved to Belgium. She focuses on organic synthesis, developing methods of bond formation to create new molecular bonds to generate libraries of compounds differing from one another by “small structural changes.” The goal of this work is to find cures for various diseases. Liu describes this work as “forward-looking,” and finds it rewarding.