Where Are They Now? #LINO16 Alumna Charlotta Lorenz
As the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting approaches, we get back in touch with four talented young physicists who attended the last physics meeting in 2016. We catch up on what has been happening in their careers and ask them about their experiences in Lindau.
Next is Charlotta Lorenz, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Göttingen.
When you came to Lindau in 2016, you were a visiting student in California for your Master’s degree. How has your career unfolded since then?
After the Lindau Meeting, I flew back to the US to collect more data for my Master’s thesis. In October 2016, I returned to Göttingen to get my Master’s degree at the University of Göttingen and started a PhD in Professor Sarah Köster’s group in summer 2017. In 2018, I got a scholarship from the German National Academic foundation (Studienstiftung), which makes up the largest part of my income now.
Currently, we are trying to quantify and model the mechanical properties of proteins that act like safety belts and shock absorbers in cells. As you know from the safety belt in your car, there has to be some component of the safety belt that activates it when you break and we are particularly interested in this aspect. We are also trying to link the structure of the protein to its mechanics. Our findings are relevant for wound healing, embryogenesis and cancer research. Fortunately, my research is going well and we’re very close to publishing a paper.
Last year you won an outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for PhD Students in the Faculty of Physics in Göttingen – congratulations! Tell us about your teaching. Why do you think good teaching is important?
The Outstanding Teaching Award is awarded to teaching assistants who get a very good evaluation from their group: you have to be among the PhD students with the best evaluation score, then, a committee of professors and students chooses an overall winner. I was teaching tutorials for the third-year undergraduate course “Introduction to Biophysics” to about 14 students. My session started on a Tuesday at 8:30 am, which was very – and maybe too – early for the students, as they told me! However, they kept coming!
Good teaching is crucial to ensure that many people understand physics ─ or whatever you teach ─ better. It’s also vital to excite other people about your own subject. Quite a few people join a research group because they had good teachers from that research group. I guess there’s also a similar effect in high schools.
If you’re a nice and not stereotypically nerdy teacher, you can also fight prejudices against scientists. And, of course, I also learn many new things ─ not just in physics, but also in pedagogy ─ when I prepare my tutoring sessions.
How would you sum up your experience of the 2016 meeting? Which lectures or gatherings with a Nobel Laureate particularly impressed you?
I really enjoyed the Lindau Meeting in 2016 – the lectures were very inspiring, and there was also lots of time to discuss research with other young scientists – and the Nobel Laureates of course. There was one evening when we were seated at long tables with our favourite Nobel Laureates. It was absolutely amazing to sit next to Johann Deisenhofer for an entire evening and talk to him about research, but also life beyond research, for example life in the US. That was super interesting and inspiring!
I also really liked the lectures, given by the Nobel Laureates, and I particularly liked Carl Wieman‘s talk about teaching physics. Wieman mentioned that it is much more effective to learn on your own with a book compared to sitting in a huge lecture hall taking notes from the board, because note-taking distracts you from the lecture content. However, that is still how most lectures are given. That made me re-think a lot about teaching. Since then, I try to get even more direct feedback from my students about whether they understand a problem or not.