Swati Aggarwal, ESR 11

Swati picture finalSwati Aggarwal is ESR 11, works at European Spallation Source (ESS) ERIC in Lund, Sweden. Her PhD subject is “elucidating the function of proton pumps with neutron crystallography.”

Please tell us about yourself

I come from a small valley surrounded by Himalayas known as Dehradun in India. I completed my Master’s in Biotechnology from National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, India. I spend my leisure time in painting and cooking (The spicy Indian cuisine). I aspire to travel and explore the world as much as I can.

Why are you interested in science?

Science is the answer to every question that we come across since our childhood to adulthood. Being a child, we think “Why the lizard can grow its tail again and not us if we lose any part of our body?” “Why the sky is blue?” “Why can’t we keep football in air?” As we grow, science solves all our queries. It is the way of understanding the world around us. The more we understand, the more questions arise to go in depth. Our urge to look for answers is a never-ending process especially for a little girl inside me who’s always in the state of asking ‘Why.’ So, this is what motivates me to be in science.

Please tell us about your PhD project

Proteins are responsible for about 15% of average mass of a human body. They are the building blocks of the body and major constituents of muscles, ligaments and hair. Classification of proteins is based on their function, structure, shape and solubility. We are interested in membrane proteins that reside on the cell membrane and are classified on basis of their solubility. These proteins perform vital functions like acting as transporters and receptors of molecules, transducing signals and energy across the membrane.

figure swati portrait
Chemiosmotic coupling between the sun energy and BR during photosysnthesis to produce chemical energy in archae cell wall

Energy is essential for our body and few membrane proteins act as a proton pump and help to generate chemical energy by building a potential gradient across the membrane. Hydrogen plays an important role in the function of proton pumps such as bacteriorhodopsin (BR) and cytochrome C (COX). Thus, it becomes really important to study the hydrogen positions by determining the structure. X-Ray Crystallography is the most commonly used technique to study the structure of proteins. Though, hydrogen positions are not visible by X-Ray, so, neutron diffraction solves the problem. But the challenging part is the requirement of larger and well-defined crystals that is a robust process. Necessary methods to improve crystal size and diffraction quality will be developed in order to have a deeper understanding of BR and COXs.

What do you or did you enjoy most until now in your position within RAMP network? Why?

As the name suggests, ITN, innovative training network, is the best example of brain-storming where people with distinct expertise join at the same platform for a common cause. Most importantly, we get a chance to interact and know people from different culture across the world. Being in this network, we not only gain technical knowledge while working on our projects but also develop professional skills to make a difference in industry or academics in near future.