12th September 2019

Dr. Inga Hänelt

For instance, the Aventis Foundation Postdoctoral Award will give us the opportunity to study the role of potassium channels in the communication of bacterial biofilms.

Why did you chose to focus your research on Structural Membrane Biology?

In Microbiology, my main field of research, many of the transport processes across the plasma membrane have only been described on a cellular level. The molecular mechanisms, however, have not been understood at all. I believe that if we really want to control or let alone understand the role of the transport proteins involved, that is what we need to. The structures of the transport proteins in the cell membrane can provide us with detailed models that we can then use as a foundation for the complete analysis of the overall transport mechanism.

 

Is there a certain goal that you have set yourself in your research?

Of course you can always set yourself specific goals, but, for me, the most intriguing aspect of my research is that, every time you reach them, they automatically translate into new challenges and goals. So, in a sense, you are never entirely done, and you always have the freedom to keep developing your research. For instance, the Aventis Foundation Postdoctoral Award will give us the opportunity to study the role of potassium channels in the communication of bacterial biofilms. Just recently, there has been a publication successfully describing the concept of electronic communication, which only used to be known in eukaryotic cells like neurons.

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What will the future of your research look like?

Like for many other scientists in my position, my job is never entirely safe. In this line of work, there is always a certain degree of insecurity about the future.
One of my dreams would be to come to a complete and molecular understanding of the potassium homeostasis in bacteria. On a more general level, I would love to maintain the academic freedom to focus my research on whatever strikes me as new and interesting.

 

What do you do to unwind from work?

Above all, I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. I love to play with my little son and learn to see the world through his eyes.

How do you relax?

I try to go skiing at least once a year. Since I’m not particularly good at skiing, that really takes my mind off of work because I have to focus completely on getting down the hill, which leaves me no time to think about anything else.

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What do you like about your research environment?

Frankfurt makes for an extraordinary good research environment that literally provides me with everything I need. I am very thankful to my colleagues at the Institute of Biochemistry, at Department No. 14 and the MPI for Biophysics for their continuous support and cooperation. I think that Germany does a very good job at promoting research in general. It allowes to make independent research decisions at a very early point in my career.

 

How could the research conditions be improved for young scientists?

I think it would have a very positive impact if young scientists had the chance to be fully employed, because that would give them some security. Of course that would call for clear selection criteria and well-defined tenure track procedures. But I honestly don’t know any other line of work where you can get to the age of forty and still not have any professional security, despite having gone through a very long and challenging education.