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Interview with Dr. Ery Odetter Fukushima, Falling Walls Lab Tokyo 2016 third prize winner

  • 2017/02/08

Falling Walls Lab Tokyo (FWL Tokyo), an internationally oriented science communication contest, was held on 29th August 2016 at the German Culture Center (Deutsches Kulturzentrum). The event was co-organized by the German Research and Innovation Forum Tokyo (DWIH Tokyo) and EURAXESS Japan. Under the concept of “Breaking down various walls”, 15 young scientists presented their research findings in 3-minute timed talks. We interviewed Ery Odette Fukushima, assistant professor at Osaka University and winner of the FWL Tokyo’s third place.

Ery, can you introduce yourself and your career path to our readers?

My name is Ery Odette Fukushima and I am Bolivian-Japanese. My professional path started the time I decided to study Biology in a mega-diverse country, Bolivia. The genetic diversity and thus all the biological resources of this country, especially those related to plants, simply amazed me. During my bachelor course, I co-founded a NPO in conservation biology and I focused my efforts to the study of plants and its benefits. In my bachelor project, I have worked with biological properties of natural compounds produced in some Bolivian medicinal plants. Later I had the chance to work with Bolivian traditional healers. By that time, I realised how much is still unknown about plants and how huge their potential is; thus, I decided to continue working in this field and pursue a Master degree and subsequently a PhD degree in Japan, my second home. During this time, I have learned more molecular aspects of the plant biology and used biotechnological tools to study natural compounds biosynthesized by plants, confirming the potential they have to produce even more. Therefore, when I was offered to become Assistant Professor at the Osaka University I found an opportunity to continue this study at the time I guide young scientists in their curiosity of this fascinating topic.

You are now an assistant professor at Osaka University, could you tell us a little bit why you chose this specific institution, and present your current research project?

After my PhD course, and based on my will to continue the study of plants, I found an opportunity to get enrolled in a laboratory of great scientists working with interesting and promising topics related to molecular aspects of the plant biology at the Osaka University. This University is one of the biggest in Japan, with a strong cooperation with the industrial sector and with a growing worldwide community of students and prestigious scientists leading its laboratories. Moreover, from the cultural point of view and besides being an important city of Japan, Osaka offered me a close look oncultural aspects I needed to learn and understand as several traditional cities, like Kyoto and Nara, are very close to it.

Currently I am working on combinatorial biosynthesis of plant useful compounds. This is referred to the combination of different plant genes that are involved in the synthesis of the useful compounds in a yeast expression system. This system allows enzymes from different sources to work together and produce new structures with potentialities for the development of new and health-friendly drugs. Besides it I am also working on the role of these natural compounds on plants itself.

With this project and your communication skills, you managed to participate to this year's FWLalling Walls Lab Tokyo and eventually to get the third prize among 15 participants, congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about your experience at the FWL Tokyo, how was it?

The experience itself was quite interesting. I have applied originally in the objective of meeting people working with innovative ideas here in Japan, as I wanted to have the opportunity to open my mind to different fields and to see how good scientific ideas can be transmitted to the public. The featured very interesting people and showed me that ideas can go beyond pure research. In this sense, it also helped me to give additional value to the students’ research at my laboratory. Finally, considering that I was too nervous to express many of the ideas I had, the prize was totally unexpected, but it confirmed that I can transmit important points of my research and that the path I am following can lead to something interesting in the near future.

How did you find out about Falling Walls and what caught your attention?

I subscribed to the EURAXESS mailing list and received the info through it. What caught my attention was the fact that this was a science communication event that people from different fields and different degrees could apply to.

Do you have any advice for researchers who want participate in a Falling Walls Lab?

It is interesting to challenge a little bit your ideas, to present your research in an unusual format and to get different opinions from people that are not from your scientific area. In brief, let your ideas be challenged!

How did you prepare for it, and what were the challenges and outcomes of the event, in your opinion?

Preparing the presentation was very challenging, specially summarizing the message in 3 slides in a way that people in other fields can also understand. To have a better idea on how to do it, I saw some TED presentations and check other advices on the Internet. I found some common issues in all places that I looked into and apply those advices to deliver my message. The challenges from my point of view are, to take the risk to be exposed and to adjust to a new format that you are not used to. Different points of view of your research are given as an outcome and potential contacts for future research can be made.

How important do you think science communication is to the general public? Will it be an important factor in your research career?

If not fundamental, it is quite important for the society. Science must be delivered and understood by general public in a way that people can make a good use of the information transmitted; in this sense we may contribute to build science-based communities. In my research career, this is an important factor as it will help me to expand my professional network to other fields and exercise my grant writing skills.

- Do you think that being a FWL participant had an influence on your ability to gain an appointment at your institution of choice or to convince investors or grant jurys?

May be not directly, but it helped me to have a deep look inside my research and to pull out the most important issue/message to be delivered. Of course, the better you can transmit a good idea, the more the probabilities to impact on you investors or grant juries.

The FWL Tokyo is also about expanding one's research horizons from Japan to Germany and Europe. Are there interactions (cooperations) at your lab, or within your research project, going on with actors abroad? In the EU?

We are currently collaborating with countries abroad, including EU countries. Still, I think that more collaborative works will improve our works and I am working on that as well.

What would you wish for your career as a researcher? Do you have plans to go abroad, maybe to Europe?

My wish is to continue my research at the same time that I expand its application to the industrial sector. Currently I have no specific plans to go to other places, but I really would like to continue collaborating with other countries abroad, including of course European countries. Europe is a place that I like much, but as I said before I have no specific plans to go abroad yet.

Ery, thak you for your time and all the best for your career!


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