EUSJA Trip to Heidelberg May 2017

By HanneGießen, Vijay Shankar Balakrishnan, and Diana Kwon

Our group perfectly reflected EUSJA’s vision of bringing European science journalists together: we came from Spain, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. Our hosts in Heidelberg were the German Center for Cancer Research (DKFZ), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the City of Heidelberg.

On the first day at DKFZ we received a clear impression of the advances in cancer research, driven primarily by progress in radiological imaging techniques withthe potential to improve early detection of the disease and therapeutic decisions.

We were also fascinated by the enigma of the marbled crayfish, afascinating animal with the unique ability to produce offspring solely by parthenogenesis (i.e. only the female animals reproduce). We learned that these mysterious creatures may one day serve as an animal model that could help scientists develop a deeper understanding of cancer epigenetics.

Later that day, we also visited the National Center for Tumor diseases (NCT), where scientistsbrought us back toa presentation of an overview ofboth the possibilities and the pitfalls of cancer immunotherapy.

Our visit to the EMBLon the second day was filled with new and thought-provoking insights into the world of molecular lifesciences. The laboratory’s scientists provided a series of presentations, which includedstunning images of microscopic life provided by advances in biological imaging, the adventure of conquering the brain-blood-barrier,and the role of big data in genomics and epigenomics. We also had the chance to try a hands-on experiment where we played the role of detective in a mock murder investigation through aDNA fingerprinting exercise.

In addition to discovering the science taking place in Heidelberg, we also had the opportunity to learn about the city itself. On the second night, we had a private guided tour around Heidelberg, which was a golden chance to bask in the city’s rich history: from the historical floods of the now calm Neckar River to the house of Friedrich Ebert, the first democratically elected leader of Germany. We also had a chance to meet the mayor of Heidelberg, whogave us a warm invitationto a banquet dinner.

On our final evening, the Vice Chancellor of the Heidelberg University guided a group us through the treasures of the Library, such as the Codex Manesse, one of the oldest books of medieval poetry. At the same time, a few of us decided to instead tour the university’s Studentenkarzer (“student prison”), a private jail where rule-breaking students were punished.

After a night of peering into the history of Heidelberg University, we spent half a day deeply enthralled by brilliant sessions on water dating, neuromorphic computing, and robotics. At the MarsiliusKolleg, we learned about how the university connects researchers from different areas of science, and discussed how Heidelberg and the institutions therein push the frontiers of science and international culture.

While devouring this fascinating program, our international group became quite close. We all made new colleagues and friends while enjoying a perfectly organized trip with plenty of fantastic insights into modern scientific research happening in the fairy tale city of Heidelberg.


Photo: EMBL