We are happy to announce the start of a new series where you will get to know the people who make our events possible. They are extraordinary people who work hard so you can worrilessly enjoy the events you attend at EMBL. They are the superheroes behind the show who keep everything running smoothly, but they are also people like you and me who, after a long day at work, want to put up their feet and enjoy Netflix.
So let’s get started! Meet María Bacadare – course organiser and occasional conference organiser. She is from Venezuela, always has a smile on her face and is constantly running around (seriously María, be careful!).
Number of organised events: 2014 – 2017 EMBL- EBI: 38
2017 – present: 32
Favourite place in Heidelberg:
I love to walk around the Philosophenweg as it is very relaxing and you can get a super nice view of Heidelberg from there. My favourite part is the ice cream you can get on the way down at Amami Gelato!
First thing you do before an event starts and first thing you do after it finishes:
On the first day COFFEE! Coffee keeps me going with the running up and down the building to make sure everyone is fine and has found their way to the training labs/auditorium.
Once everyone has left the building the fun part starts with the tidying up of the rooms, taking down the signage and so on to start getting ready for the next meeting… but not before walking the participants/speakers down to the bus to wave goodbye!
If you weren’t an event organiser what would you be?
I would definitely be working at a bank and spending hours on excel sheets.
What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened at an event?
The fun never ends in the ATC! We’ve sometimes found ourselves running down the helices or down the hill to get participants to the bus on time. But I think the funniest thing that ever happened on one of my shifts was the time a participant thought he had locked himself in the toilet as the sensor lights went off, and we could hear him screaming for help at the registration desk. We had to calm him down and ask him to wave his arms in the air to activate the lights. He was fine and we were all laughing afterwards.
If you were a superhero what power would you like to have?
I wish I could fly so I could be home with my family more often.
Arepas! Easy, simple and delicious and not a single Venezuelan can live without them.
Anyone who has ever set foot in the EMBL Canteen is sure to go away wanting more. It’s no coincidence that the canteen has a reputation for serving some of the best food in the Heidelberg area.
So what is their secret?
Head chef Michael Hansen’s team of 29 (23 people in the canteen and 6 in the cafeteria) work tirelessly to cater for over 800 members of staff daily and over 6000 conference and course participants annually. Besides the great dedication of his staff – which involves regular evening and weekend shifts – he places great emphasis on the quality and freshness of the groceries they use.
“We buy our meat, fruit, vegetables, bread and eggs from local suppliers. For us it is important that the groceries have the shortest route so that they are as fresh as possible when they get to us. Our furthest supplier is 90 km away. For food that is not produced in Germany, such as olive oil, we do have to order from abroad, but we do that directly with the producers without going through a distributor.”
Everything is then freshly prepared and cooked before it is served, with close attention paid to nutritional value. This is especially important for the EMBL kindergarten, which caters for over 100 children of staff.
In 2018, the EMBL Canteen cooked for 6430 course and conference participants, and for this purpose used:
32 crates of salad
160 kg onions/garlic (imagine how many tears must have been shed!)
225 kg fish
225 kg potatoes
290 kg meat
803 kg fruit
935 kg vegan/vegetarian dishes
1,607 kg vegetables
1,376,020 l coffee was served
“In the EMBL spirit, the canteen team is truly international, employing people from 12 nations who, despite their differences, have one thing in common – their love for cooking! One of the reasons I became a cook is because of food’s power to unite people. And here I see this every day. Preparing one meal requires real team work. Everybody gets together and takes one step of the process so that all is done in the most efficient way, but still has great taste.”
Here is one of the canteen’s most popular recipes, named after Thomas Graf, EMBL Alumnus (1983 – 1998) and currently Senior Scientist at the Centre for Genomics Regulation in Barcelona, Spain:
Thomas Graf potatoes
100 ml oyster sauce
1 clove of garlic (pressed)
1 tsp honey
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp oil
Wash the potatoes and cut them into wedges without peeling them. Add all the ingredients and mix well. Preheat the oven to 180°C, place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 40 min.
Guest blog post by Jürgen Deka, Head of External Scientific Training, EMBL
The International Day of Friendship (annually on 30th July) got me thinking about our friends in the scientific training field, and our collaborations with them which enable us all to deliver our high-level scientific conferences and courses.
It’s important to have a goal to work towards, and at EMBL Events we generally benchmark ourselves against Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Keystone Symposia in the US, and the Wellcome Genome Campus in the UK. A bit of healthy competition is good for the soul, and I think we all thrive on challenges! It allows all four of us to provide top-class training to benefit as many scientists as possible throughout the world, and in this sense we all have the same aim.
“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
If you are looking to establish and foster friendly collaborations in scientific training, here are 6 tips that can help you achieve your goal:
Keep in regular contact
Align your goals with each other
Be aware of what the other organisations are doing and talk to them openly so you can adapt your plans accordingly
Don’t arrange meetings with the same audiences too close together. If people are going to attend both meetings – either as speakers, participants or sponsors – there needs to be some space in between
Find ways to work together in order to highlight and complement your strengths
Learn from each other, but don’t try to be like the others – work on developing your own strengths
Here’s how we work with our counterparts to allow us all to offer the best science possible worldwide:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: With the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory we have very close ties. We alternate one of our most popular conferences with our friends at CSHL, the EMBO Workshop ‘Protein Synthesis and Translational Control’. We align our programme plans in order to provide added value for our scientific community. Discussion and exchange between the programme heads and other members of staff takes place on a regular basis.
Keystone Symposia: As with the other research institutes, EMBL’s collaboration with Keystone Symposia is a long-standing one. We exchange our thoughts and ideas and align our conference programmes once per year. Our friends at Keystone Symposia have been particularly open and collaborative with regards to the alignment of their symposia taking place in Europe.
In the 21st century, it seems like there is always something to do or some place to be, and the constant enhanced stress levels can sometimes reach boiling point. Often it’s the little things that can help make us feel more balanced, and the EMBL Course and Conference Team have been taking steps to make sure our participants leave our events feeling as relaxed as possible.
Yoga / meditation / prayer room
A couple of years ago we set up a spacious room to provide an oasis of peace and quiet during the sometimes loud and hectic conference environment. The room is equipped with comfortable floor mats as well as yoga and prayer mats. The lights are dimmed to ensure a calm, relaxing atmosphere.
Spending hours on end listening to fascinating scientific lectures is great, but it requires a lot of concentration! Our coffee and lunch breaks have therefore been adapted to include more healthy snacks and brain food such as fresh blueberries, dark chocolate, nuts, pumpkin and chia seeds, as well as a range of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads.
Environmentally friendly catering
Although we have always been very conscious of being environmentally friendly when it comes to catering for our guests, we are striving to further reduce the amount of single use food and beverage packaging at our events. Our catering team has also significantly increased the number of local produce suppliers who provide us with the delicious food loved by our participants.
In order to create a more relaxed atmosphere, a cosy corner was set up in the Advanced Training Centre where participants can sit back, relax and recharge their batteries.
Increased networking opportunities
Because scientific meetings are not just about sitting through lectures, we have a range of networking opportunities to allow our participants to meet fellow scientists, such as speed networking sessions, meet the editor sessions, science slams, gala dinners, conference parties, organised woodland walks and photo booths.
We know that balancing work with family life can be difficult, and as a result EMBL and EMBO are both working to make attending scientific events easier, with EMBL providing onsite childcare at our conferences and symposia in EMBL Heidelberg, and EMBO offering childcare grants to cover the costs of having a child looked after while one or both parents attend an EMBO funded course or conference. More info can be found here.
Help us to continue improving our services to participants – is there something that you’d like to see at our events?! Let us know in the comments below!
10 years after it all started, VIZBI came back to its original stomping grounds, the ATC at EMBL in Heidelberg. As its name suggests, VIZBI “Visualizing Biological Data” is a blend of several worlds. Of biology, with its long history in visualizations that goes back to Ancient Greek text books, and of art and scientific illustration.
VIZBI is also inseparable from computer science and its tools to transform big data into human readable entities. And finally, VIZBI incorporates concepts of design and visual perception to make visualizations engaging and enlightening.
Highlighting spectacular biological images
At VIZBI 2010, microscopic images were omnipresent. Back then, I was embarking on my postdoc project, a large-scale microscopy screen of RNAs in cells. My memories tell me that this was the main focus of the conference. Indeed, a quick check of the 2010 program confirms that almost the entire community of light sheet microscopy and image processing were in attendance at the first ever event.
VIZBI 2019 continued to highlight spectacular biological images. A phenomenal augmented reality installation showed them in 3D, EM-tomography simulations by Peijun Zhang animated the 64-million atoms assembling into HIV particles, and Lucy Collinson shared the high numbers of high-resolution EM data collected at the Francis Crick Institute. This large amount of data is annotated with the help of amateurs, for example in their citizen science project at the Zooniverse “Etch a cell”.
Colourful confocal images or images of tissues also provided the inspiration to many works of illustrators on display that combined science and art, for example the double win of best poster and best art to a depiction of tubulin in a mitotic spindle by Beata Mierzwa @beatascienceart, a hugely talented artist and scientist (who also sells cool cytoskeleton-printed leggings and mini-brain organoid dresses).
At VIZBI 2019, visualizations of data – as opposed to images – gained a much more prominent spot. All keynote speakers were from the technology side. Hadley Wickham presented the history of ggplot2. Ggplot2 (and yes, there once was a ggplot1!) is the R universe for visualizing pretty much everything that comes in numbers and is now merged into the tidyverse. Being a visualization talk, all slides were themselves beautiful, I love the tidyverse playfully represented as stars of our universe! The second keynote was by Janet Iwasa who presented her animation work that heavily relies on 3D and computer graphics software used for animation films. Instead of earning her money in the film industry, she decided to put it to good use for biology. Janet first used her skills in her PhD project to visualize motor proteins “walking” along the cytoskeleton, and these days produces Oscar®-worthy movies showing biology, such as the origin of life or the life cycle of HIV. And everyone take note: all her films start as a storyboard on paper, which is what I teach as good practice for all visualization designs.
Making the invisible visible
The third keynote was by Moritz Stefaner, a data designer who is enticed by biological data but appalled by the time-scales in biological projects (too long!). Luckily, he hasn’t given up on us just yet, and keeps producing phenomenal visualizations. For example, showing absence and loss is notoriously hard, but Moritz found a beautiful way to make the invisible visible in his designs for “Where the wild bees are” with Ferris Jabr for Scientific American.
Moritz left us hungry for more when also showing his data-cuisine project, that visualizes data about food and turns food into data: the number of berries picked in Finland become a layered dessert, and common causes of death are encoded as praline fillings – you never know which one you’ll get! (Luckily this was with Belgium pralines, so all deaths are sweet.)
Visualizations of data were in the spotlight of many other projects too. This is of course owed to the many possibilities of large-scale methods that swamped biology with data in recent years: RNAseq, inexpensive genome sequencing, mass-spec at fantastic scales, robotics driven biochemistry and medicine, image processing that turns images into insights by quantifying signals and so on. RNA sequencing, for example, fuelled Susan Clark’s project tracing methylations in cancer, Phillippe Collas’ ambitious endeavour to understand 3D genome architecture, and is empowered by Charlotte Soneson’s “iSEE” software to interactively analyse data from high throughput experiments and the project of Kirsten Bos tracing human pathogens back thousands of years by sequencing tiny dental samples. And of course, of the biggest data projects in biology is the ENSEMBL genome browser, which was officially released as pre-alpha version VIZBI (check it out: 2020.ensembl.org), the very approachable Andy Yates and his team are looking for feedback!
Visualizations of high-dimensional datasets are not without problems. The technical challenges were addressed by David Sehnal who showed computational infrastructure to visualize protein structures (MolStar). The mathematical problems of dimensionality reductions were a topic of Wolfgang Huber’s talk, and a tool to visualize, and thereby find(!), batch effects, “proBatch”, was presented in the flash talk by Jelena Čuklina (they welcome beta-testing by users!). Teaching science visualizations, I often see a great need to discuss ethical and practical aspects. Critically assessing limitations and challenges of scientific visualizations might be a topic to be expanded in future, when VIZBI enters its second decade. This should be coupled with visual perception research, after all, we are no longer limited by computational power, but rather by what our eyes and brains can comprehend (see Miller 1956).
Speaking of flash talks: the conference organisers did such a great job in highlighting every single one (!) of the posters by one-minute talks. I tremendously enjoyed them, admittedly in part because I have a short attention span. Among the talks and art was also “Data dancing” by Alex Diaz. He showed that art and beauty can also be found in statistics and numbers blossoming like flowers across the page. On that note: see you next year in San Francisco!