Professor Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede started her career with a Master of Sciences (MSc) in Chemical Engineering and then a PhD at Chalmers. Thereafter followed a post-doc at California Institute of Technology (CalTech). After that, she worked until 2008 in USA – first at Tulane University in New Orleans and then at Rice University in Houston. 2008 she moved back to Sweden where she since then has worked at Umeå University.
Jens Nielsen, Head of Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, is happy for the recruitment of Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede to the new department. He emphasizes that her extensive international experience will strengthen the leadership of the department and her strong competence in protein chemistry will be a good complement to research activities within enzyme technology, metabolic techniques and life sciences.
What made you say yes to leaving Umeå University for Gothenburg and instead becoming the Head of Division of the division Chemical Biology, one of four divisions in the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering?
– It is really exciting with the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering and to build something new. I am ready for new challenges and Chalmers has the capacity to put together something really good in the bio-field. We will be a strong mixture of researchers who commonly focuses on basic science and engineering. I am impressed by the researchers already in place and it feels fantastic to be part of this.
– But I have had very good years at Umeå University after that I moved back to Sweden just over 6 years ago. The offer of Chalmers still felt right though. Long time ago I made my PhD at Chalmers so it will be a bit like “coming home”.
What kind of research will you mainly do and what will be the focus of the new division?
– My research is about proteins, how they work on a molecular and a mechanical level. To be able to function all proteins must fold to unique three-dimensional structures. With biophysical methods and different protein variants we have studied how these folding processes work. Sometimes they fold in the wrong way which can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.
– The new division will continue on the research areas mentioned above. We will also focus on DNA, our genetic material. The overall theme will be basic scientific studies of biomolecular properties and functions. My long-term goal is to make a creative and attractive research environment that is internationally known for its groundbreaking research.
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
– I have experience from several leading roles (in committees, centers and platforms in both the United States and Sweden) and I will try to bring my best qualities to Chalmers. I am probably a demanding leader but at the same time understanding and fair. I am efficient, honest and like when things are moving. In the new division, we will work as a team.
What do you prefer to do on a day off?
– Work! Well, actually it is true. The research is my life and I like thinking of my projects and observations. I like to work out though, for example, to run. I often get good ideas when I run. But most importantly – if I have a day off, I want to be with my children and my husband of course. I work a lot and realize that it is very important to spend time with the children when possible. Soon, they will grow up.
The Foundation Chalmers University of Technology is investing a total of 15.4 million SEK over the years 2015-2018 on a "senior excellence initiative" of a professorship in Chemical Biology. Chemical Biology is one of the Foundation's focus areas.