Back to high school for one day

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Entering a high-school should have felt like a trip to the past for Maria Barandalla Sobrados, a postdoc in the Signal Transduction in Cardiac Pathologies Lab at CNR-IRGB / Humanitas Clinical and Research Center. This time she was not there to attend lectures and pass exams but to share her experience as a researcher. For two hours, she interacted with a group of 75 last-year students from the scientific high school Italo Calvino in Rozzano, the city that hosts the laboratory where Maria works and conducts her research for CUPIDO.

To communicate her research outside the academic walls is one of the duties foreseen in the postdoc fellowship that Maria won last year. The fellowship was awarded by Fondazione Veronesi, a foundation with the aim of promoting scientific research, health education and prevention. Among its projects, the foundation organizes events like the one in which Maria took part, to bring a bit of science inside schools and foster STEM careers.

In her research project, Maria studies a specific application for the nanoparticles developed within CUPIDO. She is currently investigating how the nanoparticles can deliver a small therapeutic molecule to the heart. The aim is to restore the normal levels of this molecule in the cardiac tissue as its low doses can cause a disease called cardiac hypertrophy.

Explaining her research to students was not an easy task as Maria, like most researchers, is accustomed to presents results to peers. “This time I couldn’t rely on background knowledge” explains Maria “but I tried my best to delivered the main concept without oversimplifying it and keeping it as close as possible to reality. For the first time, I found myself using the ideas behind CUPIDO brand identity: the name and the logo recall intuitively the key concept of the project and are very effective in communicating with the general public.”. While she stressed the novelty behind CUPIDO’s approach, she also linked her work to concepts that students learn in school: “The biology from high-school is still the ABC to perform complex research”.

She also took the chance to talk about epigenetics to students, as this topic is generally not addressed in schools. “Cardiovascular diseases are a remarkable example of how our lifestyle and environment have strong repercussions on our health. I wanted to stress that researchers not only study how to cure diseases but also how to prevent their occurrence.”

Besides her research, Maria explained the career path that brought her around Europe, her motivation to become a researcher in biology and the main pros and cons of the researcher’s lifestyle. She gave tips to the students who were considering a similar career. “I was surprised to receive so many questions about my path” recalls Maria “but I was happy to share my experience. The work of a researcher is not restricted to the lab and relies on other soft skills: present your research in congresses, write fellowship applications, submit papers, and much more. I hope that listening to a real-life example complemented well the theory of science books and motivated students to make informed decisions about their careers.”

Maria intervention has opened up the road for future exchanges between the high-school and the CNR / Humanitas Clinical and Research Center; some students will join Maria in the lab to see her work during the Open Day of the institute, taking a step further towards understanding the life of a researcher.