Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, a professor at Chalmers University of Technology’s Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, was happily surprised by the announcement last week. Together with eleven other female professors, from all over the world, she is awarded the prize Distinguished women in chemistry or chemical engineering.
“This prize doesn’t have a long history, it was founded in 2011. It is nice to get a chemistry prize when working at Biology and Biological Engineering. After all, my background is in chemistry, and this shows that even if you have your basic education in one area, you can direct your research elsewhere”, she says, adding:
“It’s always fun, and important, to get awards. As colleagues, we should be better at nominating each other. If you are not nominated, you cannot win.”
With this award, the organization Iupac - International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry - wants to pay tribute to the International Day for Women and Girls in Science, which was established by the UN. The prize is presented at the Iupac World Chemistry Congress in Paris in July.Focus on gender equality
Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede has recently taken the assignment as leader of Chalmers' gender equality project, Genie.
“This prize is not about gender equality but about excellence in chemistry. With that said, it is certainly in line with my work in this field, since the prize was created to lift prominent women. Therefore, it feels exciting to meet the other awardees and get an insight in the work on gender equality at their universities.”
Her research has achieved great success over the past decade. The decision to lead Genie was not an easy one to take; she will obviously have less time for science.
“To me, gender equality work is so important, and I feel as if something can happen for real with an investment the size of Genie. I don't want to just sit and watch! But I have to make sure to limit myself, and really focus on the research when I can. New assignments always appear and I find it hard to say no”, says Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede.
“In addition, I have several wonderful researchers with permanent positions in my group, and I have excellent help from them. They take care of the practicalities of the lab, and the research progresses even if I am not there.”“What will happen in a decade?”
She reflects on the development of her research the past years. From having focused on fundamental issues, the research has come to move closer to disease mechanisms.
“Ten years ago, we studied protein folding, and copper transporting proteins, with biophysical eyes. Today we are studying how copper proteins contribute to the metastasis of cancer, and we study protein misfolding which leads us to do research about Parkinson's. The research becomes more difficult as it comes closer to reality – living organisms are so complicated – but also more exciting”, she says.
“We are still doing basic research. One must understand the molecular mechanisms to, in the long run, be able to treat diseases. What can happen in the coming ten years? I wish we will find a biomarker for cancer and a cure for Parkinson's!”FACTS about Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede
Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at Chalmers 1996. Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede worked at Tulane University, New Orleans, as an Assistant and later Associate Professor, and as Associate Professor at Rice University, Houston.
Professor in Chemistry at Umeå University 2008, and at Chalmers 2015.
Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede studies the function of proteins in our bodies, on a molecular and mechanistic level. Proteins are long chains of amino acids, linked together in a certain order based on our genetic code. To be activated, each chain must be folded into a specific structure. In addition, many proteins need to bind metals or other protein chains to perform their work inside the cells. Protein misfolding is the basis of many diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
In addition to protein folding and misfolding, Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede's group preforms research on metal proteins, focusing on the systems that move copper ions to proteins that need them.
To read more and get the names of all twelve awardees, click here!
Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photo: Oscar Mattsson