Celebrating science

EMBL lab day 2018 - Key visual for Iain Mattaj's staff farewell event
IMAGE: Cartasiova, Schwarz/EMBL

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The EMBL community, past and present, gather for special events around Lab Day 2018

Iain Mattaj, EMBL‘s Director General since 2005, will step down at the end of the year. While Iain’s departure is tinged with sadness, it is also reason to celebrate his and EMBL’s achievements, past and present. For three days in July, EMBL showcased the diversity of paths chosen by EMBL alumni in Career Day, explored research in creative ways during Lab Day, celebrated the successes of past colleagues with the Alumni Awards, gave a surprise-ridden and tearful farewell to Iain, and showed during the Summer Party that EMBL is not only an inspiring workplace, but a family-friendly one, too!


Thursday, 19 July

Career Day – investigate possibilities

This year’s annual Career Day was all about ‘change and innovation’: guest speakers who had chosen a career outside of academia, including a number of alumni, shared their experiences and daily life. “The attendees learned how a PhD in the life sciences can lead to a variety of careers from designing diagnostics for veterinary science to medical writing,” said organiser Rachel Coulthard. Motivated by their stories, participants made new connections and engaged in fruitful discussions.


Friday, 20 July

Lab Day – explore science

Lab Day filled both helices in the EMBL Advanced Training Centre with fun, science and creativity. Staff from all sites came to EMBL in Heidelberg to present their work in inventive and engaging ways. This year, EMBLers fought for the highest score catching foam fruit flies, meditated in the Ellenberg group’s ‘mindfulness experience’, collected Typas group trading cards and fished for rubber ducks with the Diz-Muñoz group.

Alumni Awards – reward excellence

Every year, Lab Day concludes with the presentation ceremony for the John Kendrew and Lennart Philipson Awards, which recognise the outstanding work of alumni. John Kendrew Award-winner Nils Gehlenborg gave an inspiring presentation about his work visualising complex genomic and clinical datasets for scientists. Raffaele De Francesco, presented with the Lennart Philipson Award, revealed how his research paved the way for a medical revolution and made Hepatitis C the first chronic viral infection that is now curable with direct antiviral agents.

Staff Farewell – honour commitment

At the end of 2018, Iain Mattaj will end his term and Edith Heard will assume the mantle of EMBL’s Director General. To honour and celebrate 13 years of successful leadership, and his three-decade career at EMBL, staff and alumni entertained a packed auditorium with heartfelt presentations and performances. Iain warmly thanked the whole EMBL community, and gave special credit to his wife Ailsa: “The reason I could dedicate myself to science with every aspect is because my back was always covered by you.” A tear or two was shed, before alumni charged the stage with axes, footballs and skis to pay tribute to their colleague and friend through song and dance. Afterwards, bagpipers escorted the crowd to drinks and dinner, on an unforgettable summer evening.


Saturday, 21 July

Summer Party – celebrate family

Finally, after two days of celebrating science and scientists, EMBL Heidelberg transformed into a family paradise. The Walldorf Youth orchestra provided the soundtrack for this festive day. Children and parents covered in glitter tattoos applauded a magician’s performance, while bouncy castles, a giant strawberry cake and pony rides ensured everyone enjoy the day, despite the fickle weather.