Interview With Martina Hestericová, Chemistry PhD Student
Innovator Interviews is based on highlighting the minds of Tech Innovators, Biomedical Scientist, Physicians, Students, Science Communicators, and Entrepreneurs, who have made or are making, an impact in their respective fields.
We welcome Martina Ribar Hestericová a 4th-year Ph.D student in Chemistry at the University of Basel, Switzerland to Innovator Interviews. Martina received her Master’s degree in bioorganic chemistry; Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia before starting her Ph.D program. Martina has a unique interest in Science Communication( SciComm), this interview highlights her passion, perspective, and interests as a scientist and a person.
If you’d like to get in contact with Martina or are interested in her SciComm activities, you can follow the links below.
When did you know that you wanted to be a scientist?
I was a very curious child always watching nature documentaries instead of cartoons. Once my mom even had to take me to a doctor, she thought I was going deaf, because I was not reacting to anything she would say while watching them. It turned out that I was simply too focused on David Attenborough :-). But my real passion for science came from my grandparents. My granddad was a math and physics teacher, my grandma is a medical doctor. Their thorough answers to my curious questions sparked an initial interest. This later became an urge to explore and ultimately developed into a passion for chemistry.
What is the focus of your research?
I am currently focused on the development of artificial metalloenzymes. This means that we are combining the world of classical metal catalysis with the advantages of enzymes. Our artificial enzymes are produced by anchoring a transition metal containing catalyst within the active site of an enzyme (in our case this is streptavidin produced by E.coli bacteria). By this, we produce a hybrid catalyst capable of catalyzing even non-natural reactions. Currently, I am working on producing nanoparticles with immobilized artificial metalloenzymes to improve stability and recyclability, and on directed evolution of our streptavidin– to improve the catalytic activity and selectivity.
You cannot get bored with this research, every day I get to do something new and exciting. My workflow includes molecular biology, biochemistry, nanoscience, analytical and physical chemistry, organic synthesis and catalysis. You can easily see it on my Instagram feed, where I post pictures and videos from my research experience. Every single day brings something new and fresh.
Scientists are people too, what do you do for fun outside of research?
About two years ago I found my passion for writing. Now, I do not only mean academic publishing, but also popular science articles for general public and students. Accessing science to a broad audience became my hobby and it keeps me up-to-date with even those parts of science I would not be in contact with, such as astronomy, theoretical physics, and medicine.
Apart from that, I absolutely love baking and cooking, it always calms me down. However, sometimes I actually bake too much. As a result, my coworkers often get a cake or cupcakes every time I need to relax. I didn’t hear them complaining about this though :-).
Priklady.eu, What is the focus of your website and Instagram page?
The page was originally set up for my grandfather. After retiring, he suddenly found himself being bored and missing the contact with students. My father decided to create a little project for him to keep him busy. We had no idea this would become so successful. My granddad put there all his knowledge, his collection of solved math and physics exercises and necessary theory explanations.
After he passed away I decided to continue in his memory and took over, adding chemistry and biochemistry calculations and basic theory. Today, Priklady.eu is very popular not only amongst high school, but also college and university-level students with around 5 million visitors per year from all around the world. The page is available free of charge, we do it for fun and take it as an important tool to increase science popularity.
About two years ago I decided to promote the website to make it available to a wider audience. This is why I started with the IG channel, which now has 11.5K followers and is constantly growing. It has become a science communication project on its own, targeting students, researchers, and anyone interested in science.
At first, I was surprised how much people liked having an insight into a chemistry lab. But on the other hand, science Is beautiful, colorful, mesmerizing, inspiring and yes, even funny and entertaining.
What is your stance on the Importance of Science Communication (SciComm)?
Science communication is THE tool we scientists have to talk to the public. No one in their right mind would find reading a dry scientific article entertaining. This is why writing science blogs and newspaper articles is so important.
Communicating even basic science principles is a hot and urgent necessity, especially with the increasing distrust in doctors, vaccines, chemistry and genetics. If we reach out to people and show them that we are real human beings, not only nerds in white lab coats, we might stand a better chance of gaining their trust, fighting “alternative facts” and correcting misinterpretations.
What advice would you give to researchers and students interested in SciComm based on your experiences?
Just go for it! Take pictures, videos, be creative and, most importantly, have fun with it! People will feel that you enjoy what you do. Talk to your friends, start a blog or a video channel, explain an important topic as if you were talking to a family member and remember to add a joke or two on the way.
Time Travel: What is the #1 piece of advice you would give yourself, in your first year of grad school?
Even if it seems like a stupid idea, give it a try.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years, as a communicator and as a researcher?
I see myself as a science journalist, accessing new technologies, topics and research areas to a broad audience. I would also like to write an educational book using Priklady.eu materials and start a youtube channel.
Favorite scientist of all time and why?
#girlpower ! Marie Skłodowska-Curie, because she was the first women to be awarded a Nobel Prize and the only woman so far to get in in two separate science fields.