A Woman In Science, The Profile of ...

Sandra Ritz – Head of Microscopy Core Facility

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Sandra Ritz/ Picture from Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH

On October 15th, NGC hosted a seminar on a non-academic scientific career: Sandra Ritz - head of the Microscopy Core Facility at IMB - was our invited speaker. During the meeting, she informed us about the working life of the core facilities personnel. In this profile, she is sharing more about her history, her passion for science and what she likes the most in her job.

What raised your interest in Science?

The beauty of Nature!
In school, my chemistry teacher shared with us his enthusiasm about the topic. This was more or less the reason why I decided to get formal training to become a chemistry assistant at the age of sixteen. Along the way, I realized how clever Nature is when dealing with the synthesis of complex molecules (in comparison to synthetic chemistry): catalysis of enzymatic reactions; formation of reaction containers - vesicles, subcellular organelles; orchestration of space and time through the transport of molecules between organelles. Later, during my diploma thesis in biotechnology, I saw for the first time the beauty of mammalian cells under the microscope.

Why did you choose to be a core facility coordinator?

It happened by chance. Since my diploma thesis, I have been highly interested both in the visualization of cellular processes - like the localization of molecules, the movement of receptors, calcium imaging, the effect of antifouling surfaces on bacteria or the transport of nanoparticles into mammalian cells - and the technical equipment. I never had the vision of becoming a professor, which I guess is a prerequisite for choosing the academic route or else it'll be difficult to inspire students. During my post-doc time, I was looking for alternative positions in companies, ideally connected with microscopy. Meanwhile, the IMB was founded and Prof. Niehrs together with Dr. Korn established the Core Facility concept. In October 2013, I applied to become a staff member in the Microscopy Core Facility, which was an important opportunity to learn about the needs and tasks of such a facility. In 2016, the microscopy core facility head position became free because Dr. Vonderheit, the former head, became the director of all core facilities.

What do you love and don’t love in your job?

Love: The versatility. First of all, you are performing a service for customers. You sit with users in front of the microscope and dive into a nanoworld of color and structures in order to solve a scientific question. You also optimize sample preparation techniques, image processing, and analysis. Secondly, you can still acquire new cutting-edge knowledge. Not only you give lectures and courses, but you also visit conferences and workshops to stay up to date. Thirdly, you develop management skills. Part of the job involves keeping the facility running, writing grants for new instruments, accounting, networking, and maintenance.

Don't love: Writing reports, accounting. And the typical situation in which one or two instruments are out of order.

What do you suggest to students who want to work outside Academia?

Find the topic you are really fond of and try to match it with a job description or product/service of a company or institution.

What do you think is the most exciting discovery in science these days?

Difficult question. I'm still thinking…
In the field of Microscopy, the super-resolution techniques together with the development of new probes like DNA PAINT or nanobodies are exciting, as well as the re-invention and further development of light-sheet microscopy together with tissue clearing. In terms of image analysis, machine learning is on the rise.
More in general, I hope that targeted therapies, e.g. in oncology, will improve the prognosis and living conditions of patients.


Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by Chiara Galante. Picture from Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH/ courtesy of Sandra Ritz. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

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