Left to right (standing): Mohan Balasubramanian, Tauqeer Alam, Irene Stefanini, Rob Cross, Masanori Mishimi , Andy Blanks, Andrew McAinsh, Sunish Radhakrishnan, Darius Koester. Seating: Karuna Sampath, Erin Gorsich
At school I was keen on running and watching tv. I wondered about becoming a designer, but ended up scraping into university, running some more, and having it gradually dawn on me that I wanted to be a scientist. The little flame of my enthusiasm was ignited by working in the lab as a final year undergraduate, doing my own experiments in pursuit of my own, in retrospect ill-conceived, scientific questions. My now-self profoundly agrees with my then-self, that doing good experiments is at the very heart of science.
My early years were spent near Manchester, mostly playing football and riding bikes whilst quietly wondering how the universe works. School science just didn’t seem to focus on the big science questions, but once at university and seeing what was possible with molecular biology, I realised that this was all I wanted to do. From there I have worked with amazing people in amazing places and now have the privilege of spending my days discovering how the machinery inside a cell works (whilst still riding my bike). It’s clear we'll need to combine the powers of molecular biology, physics and chemistry to really figure out how life works. This course will set you on the path to do just that.
I wanted to be everything from an engineer, and a cricket player, to a classical music singer. I didn't make it into engineering in the brutally competitive entrance tests and got admission to college through my cricket skills. Once in college, I knew I wanted an academic career, in chemistry I thought then. I loved the way that the same molecule could be synthesised in a number of ways, if you thought hard and experimented fearlessly. My research interests evolved gradually from organic chemistry to biotechnology to microbiology to cell and synthetic biology now. Research is a lot of fun, gripping, exciting, and I am amazed we get paid to do what we really enjoy doing!
I grew up in a village in north India (Bihar) with my six siblings. I was crazy about cricket, just like millions of other Indians. For my early education, I went to an Urdu (year1-7) and a Hindi (year8-10) medium schools. I enjoyed Mathematics a lot. There, I also developed a passion for Urdu poetry. Later, I enrolled in a Bachelors in Computer Science because of the boom in IT industries and ended up doing a PhD in Bioinformatics and Systems Biology. In my research now, I build in silico organisms defining their metabolic system as a set mathematical equations and doing experiments on the computer that would be too expensive or too time-consuming, or altogether impossible in a wet-lab.
From a young age I just enjoyed learning about anything and everything. My first ambition was to be a fighter pilot in the RAF, but I began to gravitate towards the sciences because my father was a pharmacist. I did well at school but in my late teens tragedy struck and my mother fell ill with terminal cancer. For years I lost all interest in study preferring parties, pool and generally dropping out. I was rescued by a final year undergraduate lab project and a very understanding course tutor. I followed this with a year of post-graduate research in Cambridge and never looked back (though I still play a mean game of pool). My own research bridges from computation to biophysics to molecular biology. How cool is it to have all these things in one course?
I grew up one of five kids in a tiny council house in Ipswich. My parents were devout Christians, but they were generally supportive of my interest in science, although any talk of evolution at the dinner table was, and still is, frowned upon. I didn't really have any plans to be a scientist. I chose Biology as an A-level because I had a friend doing it. However, by the time I finished my A-levels I was pretty much gripped: even before I started my undergraduate degree I knew I wanted to do a PhD and work in a research lab. My one bugbear with current science degrees is too much emphasis on memory and regurgitation and not enough real-world problem solving. Why play for fun when you can play for keeps?
I grew up in a family of builders and decorators and my mother (a language teacher) was the only other person to have any higher education so university and an academic career was a bit of an unknown. Inspiration in my childhood came from involvement with the Scout organisation; being outside and ‘actually doing something’ was always important. I decided to pursue chemistry due to an A-Level teacher (Mrs Roche) who made it really engaging. After doing a Degree and PhD in chemistry I learnt to embrace how chemistry really is central to biological and medical questions and I now lead a team who ‘poke at biology’ with new chemical tools. Coming from a practical background really helps me have a healthy disregard for traditional disciplinary boundaries.
From childhood on I wanted to know how things work, often annoying my parents with constant questions. In school, I could express my curiosity in subjects I felt most passionate about – natural sciences and sports, both being things I imagined pursuing later in life. Rather than being focused on one particular thing, I much more enjoyed exploring different options and directions. Consequently, I was fairly decent in a variety of sport disciplines, but was not good enough in any particular one to become a professional. Similarly, in science I studied diverse subjects, at first biochemistry and microbiology, and later cell and developmental biology. During this time I followed manifold questions in biology such as how molecules act on the DNA to generate tumour cells, how cells communicate with each other by holding on tightly and what processes shape the embryo during development. Retrospectively, I can say that these constant changes kept me going and happy as a young scientist and nowadays help me to keep an open mind to explore different directions. If you are connecting dots without following the strict sequence of numbers, you might discover something even more interesting. Today I really enjoy working in collaborations with scientists from different disciplines; it never gets boring and frequently opens up new perspectives!
I was all set on a career in music technology until my sixth form college abruptly pulled the A-level just before I started. This fortuitously led me to study Physics instead, which showed me how beautiful and connected the laws that govern our world are, and to appreciate that biological systems must also play by these “rules” in spite of their astounding complexity. After initially studying the biophysics of immune cell activation, I have now begun to use engineering approaches that rely on chemical and optical control over cellular function to understand how intracellular signalling networks are capable of decoding information. This has allowed me to combine my childhood interest in computing with the lab; maybe someday I’ll even get my cells to make music…
After graduating from Novosibirsk State University, Russia, I obtained my PhD degree from Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. During these early years of my research I was fascinated by fluid dynamics of lipid vesicles, which are model systems for living cells. In my postdoc years at the University of Cambridge, I started working on biofluids, particularly suspensions of swimming cells such as green algae, spermatozoa or bacteria, as well as intracellular cytoplasmic streaming in plant cells. Now, my research combines versatile microfluidics and optical video microscopy techniques to study physical phenomena in biological systems.
When I was growing up, my first passion was dance, especially Tap dance. Starting from the age of five, I enrolled for a weekly dance school where I was trained in Ballet, Jazz and Tap dance, and I adored Tap for its combination of physical movement and rhythm. But towards the end of high-school, I found a second passion in physics and loved how much insight one can gain about the inner workings of this world by breaking down a complex process into its parts that can be analysed one by one. This is in fact not very different from the process in dance as well, and, I guess, my fascination of the complexities that can arise from a combination of simple processes that arise to one big choreography is what keeps me going.
In my first year of university, I took an optional module that combined lectures about cell division and the experiments at the marine biology station using sea urchins. The cleavage of the sea urchin embryos in real time under the microscope was so beautiful - it fascinated me. The module was led by Dr. Issei Mabuchi, who had discovered ~10 years previously that the cleavage of the animal cell at cell division is driven by a similar mechanism to muscle contraction. He told me that I was watching the real scientific problem, i.e., regardless of accumulating anatomical knowledge such as which part of the mitotic spindle positions the site of cleavage, almost nothing was known about the mechanisms at a molecular level. I somehow believed that this is something worth spending many years of my life trying to solve. I hope you, in this course, find something that might keep you inspired through your life, or at least learn the skills that will help you to do so in the future.
I grew up in a small town in the Italian alps and, despite always being very curious, I was mostly preoccupied with having fun with my friends. Things changed in high-school. I was lucky to have a superlative literature teacher, who worked his magic and managed to show me how rich and beautiful is the world of ideas that the great minds of the past left us in their writings. I was totally sold. From art to science is a short step, and I decided to try my luck with a Physics MSc. It was a tough and exhilarating four years, but the effort paid off and I made it through and into graduate school in the US (serendipitously, but that’s another story), where I moved from theoretical particle physics, to mathematical physics, to experimental soft condensed matter. After some time, though, I had enough of squidgy and inanimate. That’s when I (re)discovered biology. Looking at biology from a quantitative physics background one can really start to appreciate that the elegant and fantastically complex world of living matter in fact “makes sense”, physically speaking. I really believe that an integrated point of view on biology is the correct way to advance our understanding of life, and that’s precisely what our course aims to provide. I’m really excited to be part of it!
Coming from a system wherein becoming a medical doctor or an engineer was the norm, it was challenging to break away from the crowd and pursue my interest in science. After dabbling around with physics, chemistry and biology, at college I chose to major in biology after getting excited by the challenges biological systems posed with numerous variables. During my research career, the elegance of genetic methods to solve challenging questions in biology attracted me the most. Using the power of genetics in combination with biochemistry and image analysis, I continue to figure out signalling mechanisms that bacteria use to orchestrate growth and development in a tiny volume of less than five femtolitres.
When I was young, I secretly wanted to be a librarian (the possibility of having endless books to read was tremendously appealing), while my family wanted me to be a doctor. But when I was at high school, my aunt who is a biochemist, introduced me to biological research and as much as I loved reading, I found research much more exciting. When I started out I was not really sure whether I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, but now I can’t really see myself doing anything else. On an average day I switch between doing experiments and reading or bits of writing, so while it can get stressful, it never gets boring. My primary research interest is in understanding how cells migrate. One of the things that I find especially fascinating about cell migration is that cells continually communicate with each other and their surroundings while they are busy moving about, and I am currently studying cell migration in fruit fly embryos to understand this complex behaviour further.
My first bit of luck was accidentally taking an entomology-focused course rather than an oncology-focused course in my undergraduate degree. The professor, who taught with a deep passion for biology and insects, inspired us to develop our own interests. My second bit of luck was being directed to apply for a PhD studying infectious disease in wildlife. At the time, I knew little, but I was motivated by my advisor's ability to ask important ‘big questions’ on parasites and health. My final bit of luck occurred when trying to balance a personal relationship with an academic one. A person I met at a conference asked me to apply for a position at the institution where my partner was located. This fortuitously put me in a leading theoretical biology lab, and I again switched fields to model disease spread. I am excited to be part of a programme designed to teach a love for asking questions and the tools to answer those questions from across disciplines.
In high school, I had two major interests: sciences and arts. I was equally fascinated by the rigour required in the scientific approach and by the possibility to freely express my creativity in art. I had an epiphany when I understood that studying sciences requires a great creativity effort, from the identification of relevant questions to the ideation of approaches to address them. I ended up studying biotechnology because it allowed me to span a range of subjects, from biology to chemistry, with a bit of physics and mathematics. Despite my interests and researches bringing me to specialise in yeast genetics, I still cannot avoid being intrigued by other scientific and non-scientific fields, and I sometimes let this cross-contamination drive the progression of my investigations. "The important thing is not to stop questioning" (A. Einstein). Seeing things from many angles often raises more questions and, at the same time, gives you a broader catalogue of ways to answer them.
Growing up in small towns across India, I first wanted to be a classical Indian dancer and subsequently, in high school, athletics was my primary interest. I meandered into Zoology for my undergraduate degree, and it was during my masters degree that I got hooked onto developmental biology - and have been ever since. I could watch cells dance their way to form tissues, organs and a whole organism all day long and never get bored! I hope you get hooked onto science as well.