Sofia works at the Institute for Structural Biology (IBS) in Grenoble, France.
Her subject is Crystallization of membrane proteins with an automated microfluidic pipeline
On Twitter: @sofia_et_al
Tell us about yourself
I come from Fier, a small city in Albania but I grew up in Argos, a town in South-East of Greece. While being a high school student, I used to work during summer at different half-time jobs. I studied at the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Patras for 6 years, where I also carried out my master thesis for another 2.5 years. My main scientific domain during my master was ‘Energy and Environment’ and my research was focused on the crystallization of sparingly soluble salts (e.g. CaCO3) in porous media, in the presence of n-dodecane and ethylene glycol. The results of this work were 3 publications and my attendance in various conferences.
During my stay in Patras, I was also working in a cafeteria (yes, I like coffee!). I like reading, dancing and running, but most of all I like science. I feel passionate about engineering and crystallization principles. I like asking questions and trying to find the answer and mainly I want to know how our world works, from simple everyday stuff to more complicated ones, like living organisms. Finally, I really enjoy transferring my passion about science to others. That’s why I trained 2 undergraduate students during their diploma thesis and I was a teaching assistant for 3 semesters.
Why are you interested in science?
First of all I would say because of inner curiosity. Since being a child, I always wanted to know more, to know ‘how’ and ‘why’ to any question that could cross my mind. Growing up I realized that science can contribute significantly to the evolution of our society. We survive because it’s our natural instinct, but we become better through science. A lot of great scientists through the centuries were simultaneously great visionary leaders. So, knowing that I can make even the tiniest contribution to science itself and also to our society, gives me the motive to keep going.
Tell us about your PhD project
If I would separate my work in 2 general parts, I could say simply that the 1st part is about the crystallization of membrane proteins and the 2nd part is about the development of a microfluidic pipeline for this procedure.
A lot of work on the crystallization of various chemical or biological systems has led to an advanced understanding of the physicochemical laws and crystal growth mechanisms according to which crystallization in solution is governed. Membrane proteins are considered to be important, complex and flexible biological molecules involved in a plethora of functions. However, the structure determination of membrane proteins remains a challenge due to the difficulty in establishing appropriate experimental conditions. So, crystallization of membrane proteins constitutes a major challenge because well-developed crystals are required for defining their detailed structure.
But, apart from the challenge of establishing optimal conditions for crystallizing membrane proteins (e.g. protein concentration, precipitant concentration, detergent concentration, pH, temperature) it is also important to control the volume or size of the developing crystals. In some applications this volume should be at the scale of few nL (0.000000001 L). So, it is necessary to develop the right instrumentation to do so. And this is the other part of my work. Trying to design microfluidic techniques in order to control and optimize the crystallization process and obtain crystals with specific characteristics (e.g. size or size distribution).
What do you or did you enjoy most until now in your position within RAMP network? Why ?
So far, what I’ve really enjoyed is the interactions among various scientific fields. It is remarkable how a big project like RAMP, can be multi-disciplinary and how researchers from different backgrounds (scientific and cultural) can work together towards a mutual goal. I feel lucky to be part of this research family and I am confident that it can supply a lot my development, as an individual and as a young researcher.