Let’s stay home…

Warning: this is NOT a fun blog post.

I’m doing my PhD at EMBL Rome, but I’ve lived most of my life in Milan, and I have family, friends and acquaintances a bit everywhere in Northern Italy. I know that many people out there, in Italy, but especially in other European (and non-European) Countries which haven’t been affected as much as we have yet, still don’t believe that the Covid-19 pandemic is a serious issue. Many people still take it lightly, many people still think we are exaggerating, they still go to concerts, parties, pubs, to dinner with their friends, and even to the lab (J’accuse! some very work-obsessed PIs for this).

Well, to these people, I want to say: I get it, because so did we.

EMBL Rome students Yasmin and Chrysi serenade you to stay at home

Continue reading “Let’s stay home…”

Reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic

Part 2: COVID-19 and me living the biggest pandemia since 1918

Two weeks ago, EMBL Rome was shut down. Not long after, the whole city followed. This means I cannot leave my home in Monterotondo except for doing groceries or going to the doctor or a pharmacy. Since a couple of days, I cannot even go running. How do I feel about this?

In terms of adapting to ‘smart-working’ from home, I have always liked working in a quiet place. Furthermore, thanks to modern technology, we can continue to be in contact with our colleagues for virtual lab meetings, one-on-one meetings and journal clubs. As Cornelius Gross wrote in his latest post on this blog, for now the general atmosphere among EMBL Rome scientists seems vibrant and creative. It is possible that we will experience frustration or a lack of motivation at some point, but it does not seem to have happened yet.  Continue reading “Reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic”

Reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic

Part 1: COVID-19 and me as a scientist (and scientists in general)

Some days ago a friend and colleague told me that in situations like the COVID-19 emergency she would like to be more ‘directly useful’ as a scientist. Like the doctors who are saving lives every day. Or the virology labs that are trying to find a vaccine or an effective treatment as fast as possible.

Just a couple of weeks before, my dad posed me a very interesting question: why are scientists not speaking more loudly as a single ‘scientific community’, and therefore giving a more united view – one based on scientific data – that could fight the fake news and encourage fast and correct actions by people and politicians?  Continue reading “Reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic”

Lab life under lockdown

Played this with my kids last night.

EMBL Rome sent all its non-essential personnel home at the beginning of this week. One day later the Italian Government imposed a blanket shutdown across all Italy. We are now in lockdown.

People are at home and go out only to shop for food, take out the trash, or buy medicine. Maybe to sneak a short walk to the local park to stretch your legs, but always crossing the street when someone approaches. Restaurants, pubs, bars, and all non-essential shops are closed. To wait to enter the supermarket one-by-one, people stand ten feet apart making lines that snake down the streets. But, in fact, there is a sense of relief in Rome after two stressful weeks of indecision.  Continue reading “Lab life under lockdown”

The perks of being a science intern

There is no stage of a scientific career more glorious than being an intern. It’s a truly brilliant time – having the opportunity to engage in science with a fresh mind and unrestrained enthusiasm, unspoiled by the hardship of rejection or the torture of self-doubt. An internship is a relationship with no strings attached, where you are curious about the field, not quite ready to commit, but won’t mind having a fling.

Walking into a lab as an intern for the first time, I felt like Alexander the Great walking before his army. I felt the imaginary wind playing in my hair, excited to touch every piece of equipment and devour the knowledge thrown at me. Each of my supervisors seemed like Master Yoda from Star Wars, dedicated to educating me, just another student.  Continue reading “The perks of being a science intern”

On my way to EMBL Heidelberg

Today I woke up and followed my usual routine. I caught the train from Rome to Monterotondo, albeit a bit earlier than usual. But my final goal was not to arrive at the lab – it was to make it to EMBL Heidelberg by hopping on a few more trains. As an EMBL PhD student, I have the chance to travel around the world to attend courses and present my research. But this great opportunity for my scientific and personal development comes with a price for the environment. Have you ever wondered how much carbon dioxide (CO2) you’re putting in the air every time you take a plane? Each one-way plane trip to Heidelberg emits approximately 152 kg of CO2 and 640 g of nitrogen oxides. Flights produce greenhouse gases – mainly CO2 – from burning fuel. These contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere. Planes release 2% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). By choosing to travel by train rather than plane today, I am emitting 74% less CO2 to the environment.

Graph obtained from EcoPassenger

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Horst Hamann captures EMBL Rome

Horst Hamann with one of his signature triptych images.

Horst Hamann recently visited EMBL Rome. Horst is an artist and photographer who has published a highly successful series of black and white art books, several of which use his signature vertical and triptych formats. He is passionate about football, and has published several photo books of famous footballers and stadiums. Fortunately, he is also passionate about Rome, and on the occasion of our 20th anniversary we invited him to capture the atmosphere at EMBL Rome in the form of still images and a short promotional film – all in black and white. The results are exciting and will be out shortly. Here is just a short teaser. 

Tara sails to Ostia

by Sara Formichetti

It took me a while to metabolise the last two days I spent at the Porto Turistico of Ostia, close to Rome (the city where I was born and raised). We – Italian-speaking volunteers from EMBL Rome – took part in an outreach event organised by the educational association Adamas Scienza and EMBL Rome on the occasion of the Italian stopover of the boat Tara. Why is this boat so special? Because it’s a private boat at the service of the international scientific community. The crew of researchers are studying the global oceanic ecosystem and the impacts of ongoing climate change and plastic pollution.

My role as a volunteer was to guide organised tours of the boat (which were fully booked a month in advance!) for the general public. I will explain some of the reasons why this experience was so motivating for me – both as a scientist and as a citizen of the world.  Continue reading “Tara sails to Ostia”

EMBL vs. EMBO – What’s the difference?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear, so I thought there should be a place on the web to explain. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) runs six research sites across Europe where it carries out fundamental research and service in molecular biology. The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) is an academy for the life sciences, provides funding, and publishes five scientific journals. In short, EMBL is a research institute, while EMBO is an academy, funder and publisher. Admittedly, the organizations are related. Both are international organizations funded by member states. Both have their headquarters on the same site in Heidelberg, Germany. Just to complicate things, the Director of EMBO has a lab at EMBL and is considered part of the Director’s Research Unit of EMBL, even though the organizations are administratively and legally separate.

In short, EMBL is a research institute, while EMBO is an academy, funder and publisher

The birth of a beer: EMB aLe

Mukkeller Brewery

The 20th anniversary celebration of EMBL Rome will be soon upon us and the preparations have already begun! On the 16th of May, Alex Young and I traveled with our collaborator for this project, Valentino Roccia, to the Italian brewery Mukkeller, located approximately 275 kilometers from Rome in Sant’Elpidio, just south of Ancona.  The next morning we started brewing at 8:00, finishing around 17:00. I designed this beer to be in the style of a Belgian Pale Ale: characterized as an easy-drinking, moderately malty, somewhat fruity, copper-colored Belgian ale. The bitterness should be moderate and complementary to the malt and fruitiness. Using a traditional Belgian yeast adds a bit of spiciness which we blended with some freshly ground coriander. I chose to add some lemon peel to accent the citrusy fruitiness from the citra hops we used. The beer will be around 6.5% alcohol.  In summary, a full flavored and interesting beer, but well balanced – good for a hot Roman summer day!

Continue reading “The birth of a beer: EMB aLe”