What comes to mind when you think of EMBL? As the Lab turns 40, and with the help of staff and alumni, here is an unofficial and by no means complete list of what it is about our institution that gets people excited, energised or enthralled. In no particular order, we continue the list of 40 things that make EMBL, EMBL.
21. Think pink
Group leader seminars (coded pink in the calendar) feed us the latest research hot out of the lab, just as we like it.
22. How we move
Packed buses, gruelling cycle rides, or long treks through the forest – there are plenty of memorable ways to get to and around the EMBL sites. But it is the structural biologists at EMBL Hamburg who really know how to pull out the moves – using two wheels to navigate synchrotron rings on scooters. “It is by far the most effective and efficient way of getting from one side of the PETRA III hall to the other – and it keeps you fit as well!” explains Daniel Passon, a postdoc at EMBL Hamburg.
The libraries on EMBL sites provide the perfect place to contemplate, read, browse, peruse, or camp out for a night working on the thesis.
24. PhD Symposium
Organised by first-year PhD students, the EMBL PhD Symposium has attracted big name speakers for the past 15 years to discuss forward-looking subjects such as science fact to fiction, cycles in biology and overcoming chaos. “It was an invaluable and unforgettable experience – an opportunity to develop new skills, contacts and friendships,” says Simone Li, who was among the organising committee of last year’s conference.
25. Creative young thinkers
Average age of an EMBL employee: 39.6 years young
26. Our ‘wildlife’
There are life-forms just outside EMBL labs, too: ducks paddle in the East Wing water feature at EMBL-EBI, friendly cats slink around the courtyard area in EMBL Monterotondo, and some very hungry sheep ‘mow’ the lawn at EMBL Heidelberg.
27. Open doors
From an open-door culture in the Lab to the world’s most comprehensive range of freely available and up-to-date molecular databases.
28. Food for thought
Whether it’s the scones at EMBL-EBI, the pretzels at EMBL Hamburg, or the kaiserschmarrn at EMBL Heidelberg, there are mouth-watering offerings to be had. In Heidelberg, for example, amidst the chopping, sizzling, steaming and pureeing is a team of more than 20 led by head chef Michael Hansen, who prepare food in the canteen and cafeteria for armies of hungry scientists and sell-out conferences.
29. Family friendly
They work hard, play hard, and can even bake a mean cake… no, not EMBL’s workforce, but their children! Family-friendly activities take place across EMBL sites throughout the year, from barbeques, to excursions, to summer parties. And EMBL Heidelberg and EMBL-EBI even host on-site kindergartens.
30. Away days
A change is as good as a rest – so they say – and retreats and meetings away from the Lab are an important way to renew, reflect and rediscover.
31. Friends in the right places
If you need spare parts for your microscope, an old style of centrifuge, or even a Mongolian wine to impress guests, it’s easy to find someone to help out. “Our friendly mailing list community is capable of advising on virtually any aspect of life – from car repairs to finding a person to bring something back from Moscow,” explains Vladimir Volynkin, a software engineer at EMBL-EBI. Now that is what international research is all about!
Our mailing list community is capable of advising on virtually any aspect of life
Should auld acquaintance be forgot… get down to an EMBL party! Burns’ Night – a supper in celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns – is just one of the many themes chosen for parties across EMBL sites, providing staff with a chance to share cultures, connect, unwind and dance the night away.
33. Support staff
Whether it is clearing snow at four o’clock in the morning, designing and constructing custom-made animal facilities or sample changers, working out why your beamline is not firing, or printing the poster you’re presenting at that important conference, EMBL’s many support teams are always on hand to help.
Close collaborations with institutes in EMBL member states who would like to adopt aspects of our culture such as time-limited contracts for young group leaders, international recruitment, and external scientific reviews. This provides opportunities to share expertise, resources and projects. These can be in research areas that are complementary to EMBL’s own, such as molecular medicine or marine biology, or synergistic, such as structural biology or systems biology.
35. Our neighbours
Amongst the prestigious institutions with whom we share a campus are EMBO, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the Institut Laue-Langevin and the Consiglio Nazionale delle Richerche’s Institute of Cell Biology. “It enhances the intellectual working environment and presents tremendous opportunities to combine expertise and resources in achieving mutually beneficial research goals,” says Matthias Wilmanns, Head of EMBL Hamburg.
36. Courses and conferences
• 60 courses and conferences a year • 5 000 delegates a year • 82 000 users of the Train Online e-learning resource last year • 800 young scientists awarded fellowships from Corporate Partners • 20 years of the longest-running conference, Transcription and Chromatin • 70 000 coffees served at EMBL Advanced Training Centre last year • 300 posters at largest ever conference • 250 EMBL-EBI training events taken to 28 countries in 2013
37. Stunning imagery
Science or art? Seen under an electron microscope, one of a yeast cell’s energy factories – mitochondria – appears to be perfectly heart-shaped. This image by Charlotta Funaya and Pedro Machado, both technical officers in the Electron Microscopy Core Facility at EMBL Heidelberg, was one of a flood of entries submitted for a competition organised by EMBL’s communications department last year. The winning images were featured in a calendar commemorating the Lab’s 40th anniversary year, which highlights the huge depth, diversity and creativity of research happening across the EMBL sites.
38. The LAByrinth
“After more than ten years at EMBL Heidelberg, I explored parts of the Lab I had never seen before – and trying to tell people who are not familiar with the building where to go is a major challenge, if not impossible!” says alumna Gerlind Wallon, now Deputy Director of EMBO.
Trying to tell people who are not familiar with the building where to go is a major challenge, if not impossible!
EMBL’s 6000 international alumni are a body of highly trained scientists, communicators and administrators based predominantly in Europe, and are connected to the Lab and one another through a lifelong network of friends and collaborators. More than one-third hold senior positions as professors, directors, group leaders and managers. “We are ambassadors for the Lab and play a major role in its reputation, growth and continued success,” says alumnus Giulio Superti-Furga, who combines his commitments as Scientific Director and CEO of CeMM in Vienna, with chairmanship of the EMBL Alumni Association board. “And as ambassadors we carry out critical objectives for EMBL in passing on our knowledge and expertise, and exporting concepts of the EMBL model and culture to our institutes.”
EMBL and its Alumni Association work together to highlight the impact alumni are having worldwide via EMBL news channels, online resources, events and prizes. Two examples are the John Kendrew Award, which recognises outstanding science communication and research, and the new Lennart Philipson award, which recognises translational research and technology innovation. “Both return alumni to the Lab to share their success with EMBL Fellows,” explains Superti-Furga. “Our most ambitious project to date – the EMBL Archive – is being launched this year on EMBL’s 40th birthday following five years of planning. It will organise, preserve and make accessible EMBL’s extraordinary history and will be a valuable resource for the Lab, the community, and the public.”
40. Services to scientists
EMBL-EBI services averaged almost 9 000 000 web hits per day in 2013
And at EMBL Grenoble and EMBL Hamburg, services for structural biology users range from sample preparation to data analysis, including almost 3000 beamline user visits last year.
To study the effect of commonly used drugs on bacterial envelopes, EMBL scientists applied a biochemical assay using a colour reaction. The deeper the red, the stronger the disruptive effect of the drug.