Systems and Synthetic Biology celebrate ten years at Chalmers
Ten years ago, the research area of systems biology was established at Chalmers. Today, they constitute their own division, whose research is world-leading and the international prices rain down on them. Professor Jens Nielsen is Head of Division and it all started with him.
Congratulations to ten years! How does it feel?
– Fantastic! When I was recruited from Denmark to Chalmers, I was asked to form a new department, but I did not want to do that straight away. I wanted to focus on my research and to build the new group of researchers. And that was the right decision, because it was really good to grow up at the Department of Chemistry and Biological engineering, and even though we were divided into two departments in 2015, we still have a close collaboration.
Can you describe where the division is today?
– We are world leaders in three out of four of the key areas which form our core research; human metabolism, how yeast can help to manufacture new chemicals or biofuels, and our model of yeast metabolism which can be used to understand the aging processes and how it all fits together. And we must not forget our newest area; graphene and how that can be used in biological engineering. We have a very strong international profile, which attracts people from all over the world.
What do you remember from when you started?
– In Denmark, I had a lot of staff and responsibility, but here I suddenly got time and peace for my own research. There I worked with a large research group of about 40 people and with many different microorganisms and fungi. I brought ten people with me to Chalmers and decided to focus mainly on yeast. Our vision was to become world-leading and we achieved that!
What are you proud of?
– I am especially proud of the culture we have established in our division. Our culture represents openness, transparency and trust in each other and I think that attitude is very important for a researcher. In many other places the culture is very closed, secret and competitive. Of course, one might be afraid that others could steal your research, but as researchers we need to keep in mind that our main goal must be to bring the research forward, not ourselves. I think we have succeeded, which makes me see all our publications in reputable journals and all our great prices as evidence that our culture is functional.
What do you think Systems and Synthetic Biology has meant for Chalmers?
– In fact, I think we have helped put Chalmers on the map. Before our arrival, Chalmers had no research in the field of Life Science and now we conduct world-leading research right here!
How will you celebrate?
– We will celebrate with a two-day conference in Denmark in mid-June, where 180 of our researchers throughout the years will join. Today they work all over the world, so it will be a big reunion with the chance to exchange knowledge and a great opportunity to network and establish new acquaintances. I really look forward to it!
Text: Helena Österling af Wåhlberg
Photo: Chalmers photo archive