This interview is part of a series highlighting exceptional chemists who have shared their conference poster or presentation through SciMeetings. Launched by ACS Publications as a virtual science sharing platform in March 2020, SciMeetings helps presenters increase the global visibility and extend the longevity of the research they present at conferences.
Torsten John is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the MIT Department of Biological Engineering. Below he discusses his presentation ‘Impact of nanostructured surfaces on the aggregation of amyloidogenic peptides‘ from the ACS Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting.
What’s your research focus? What attracted you to this field?
I am a biophysical and computational chemist and study the self-assembly behavior of biomolecules in solution and at interfaces, such as cell membranes or nanoparticles. In my Ph.D. research at the Leibniz Institute of Surface Engineering (IOM) in Leipzig (Germany) and at Monash University in Melbourne (Australia), my studies focused on peptide aggregation processes in the context of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. In particular, I was interested in how nanostructured surfaces influence peptide adsorption and aggregation when they interact. For my Postdoc research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., I apply my knowledge and experience from my Ph.D. to design 2D and 3D self-assembled DNA nanostructures. I have always been excited to understand biomolecules and biomolecular processes at a molecular level and then use that knowledge to design biomaterials or strategies to combat disease.
Who are your mentors? How have they impacted your work so far?
I have been working in several research groups and thus benefited from the mentoring by many researchers. The most important people in my academic career have been my Ph.D. advisors Professor Bernd Abel (Leipzig, Germany), Associate Professor Lisandra L. Martin (Melbourne, Australia), and Assistant Professor Jelger Risselada (Göttingen, Germany). While I was enrolled as a Ph.D. student in Germany, I spent more than one year of my research time in Australia. This trained my communication skills and planning as well as coordination of my project between my advisors. The most helpful advice has been critical feedback on both my ideas and manuscript drafts, as well as the design of future research directions.
Where did you get the idea for the research presented in your talk?
At the ACS Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting, I presented a talk with the main results from my Ph.D. research on the ‘Impact of nanostructured surfaces on the aggregation of amyloidogenic peptides.’ The initial idea for this research was a combination of my interests in studying amyloid peptide aggregation and an existing DFG project that my supervisor (Professor Bernd Abel) was working on. In addition, the research was further specified in collaboration with my advisor in Australia (Associate Professor Lisandra L. Martin), particularly in the direction of peptide-membrane interactions. The goal was to understand how nanoparticles influence peptide aggregation at a molecular level, and thus potentially disease development. Nanoparticles are part of several cosmetics and exhaust fumes, and their impact on health has not been fully understood.
What do you think is the most important unsolved problem in your field right now?
In the context of peptide aggregation, many studies have been performed to study the molecular processes of folding, misfolding, and aggregation into amyloid fibrils, as well as to identify the toxic species. However, it is still very unclear whether amyloid fibrils and amyloidogenic peptides, in general, are the cause of disease or whether their aggregation is a side effect of the disease-causing process.
What advice would you give to anyone presenting a poster or talk for the first time?
I can only advise you to always present your research when you attend a conference or meeting and start doing that early on in your career. Like with many other things in life, it takes time and practice to master your communication skills. Thus, I recommend preparing it several weeks in advance of the first poster talk, even if that means you cannot present the most recent results. This provides enough time to revise it and obtain feedback from colleagues in practice presentations at, e.g., a group meeting. Several resources can be found online.
Is there added value in presenting your research on SciMeetings?
While I value the in-person exchange at physical conferences and meetings, SciMeetings enables researchers from all over the world without the need to travel access to your presentation. Further, it can be viewed at an individual time independent of the time zone, and it is available in the future so that you can direct collaborators or others to your past work.
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