June 27, 2015

Emphasis on Outreach

From holding a training workshop at a high-profile conference in Israel to running educational events at home in Melbourne, we are engaging with a broad spectrum of people at the Imaging CoE.

Entitled ‘Deep Sequencing Meets Structural Biology’, the International Conference on Structural Genomics 2015 was hosted by the Weismann Institute of Science, Israel, on 7-11 June, and sponsored by our partner Field Emission Inc. (FEI).

Speakers at the workshop included Centre Director Professor James Whisstock and Professor Patrick Cramer from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany. The talks focused on the new technical challenges facing crystallographers using Electron Microscopy (EM) in structural studies, and sparked lively discussion and debate. The serious shortage of EM experts was mooted – an issue that we are aiming to tackle head on at the Imaging CoE over the coming years.

A second key discussion triggered by the workshop centred on the throughput of EM experiments. Although deep sequencing and protein crystallography have both entered the ‘high throughput’ arena, their contrast with the field of EM more generally – where structural biology experiments typically take many months or years to come to fruition – could not be more dramatic. Two particularly urgent needs were flagged up: first, the need to improve sample preparation and the routine preparation of high-quality grids in order to more rapidly generate higher quality data; and second, the need to monitor the success of EM experiments as data is collected. Future issues of this newsletter will report on our own efforts in this area, particularly focusing on the work of Hans and Dominika Elmlund.

In addition, we recently took part in The Light in Winter, an annual programme in Melbourne’s Federation Square. Held on 1-21 June, this year’s event featured a range of free light-based activities, performances and exhibitions. It celebrated the newest and oldest sources of light, both of which have a profound influence on human lives across the globe.

This year, the celebration was part of a bigger picture. 2015 has been proclaimed the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies by the UN General Assembly – and The Light in Winter was one of many global efforts to boost public and political understanding of the vital role of light in the modern world.

At the Imaging CoE, we seized the opportunity proffered by this event to educate the public about lasers capable of printing jet engines, boring holes in the hardest of diamonds and performing complex surgical procedures. Two of our PhD candidates – Hannah Coughlan and Nicholas Anthony – participated in the creation of a video. Entitled ‘This is Laser’, the video was projected across Federation Square and gave a fascinating insight into how laser technologies work. The exhibition further showcased Molecule of Light, a dramatic laser installation created especially for the Melbourne-based festival by the world-renowned UK artist Chris Levine. Finally, Professor Whisstock spoke in an evening educational forum that highlighted the importance and utility of all wavelengths of light in understanding biological processes.