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Elizabeth M. C. Hillman (Columbia)

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About this episode

#26 — You may know Elizabeth M. C. Hillman (Columbia University) as the pioneer behind SCAPE microscopy, but in episode #26 of The Microscopists, we’ll learn more about her early inspirations, how she positions herself between the fields of physics, engineering, and medicine, and how it was while in hospital with a gymnastics injury that she decided what she wanted to do.

As we touch on diversity, machine learning, and how often to clean your oven, we’ll also discover more about Elizabeth’s experiences as an ex-pat, how working for a start-up removed her doubts about academia, and why seafood is never a good choice for dinner.

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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

00:03:19 Peter O’Toole

Hi I’m Peter O’Toole and today I’m joined by Elizabeth Hillman from Columbia University Elizabeth, Hello.

00:03:26 Elizabeth Hillman


00:03:28 Peter O’Toole

How long? that that’s not an American accent well not that American accent yet so when did you move to the States?

00:03:37 Elizabeth Hillman


00:03:41 Peter O’Toole


00:03:42 Elizabeth Hillman

Early very early 2002.

00:03:44 Peter O’Toole

To 20 coming up 20 years ago.

00:03:47 Elizabeth Hillman


00:03:48 Peter O’Toole 

I, I moved to New York in early 2002 as well, which, nowhere near the same change from Essex to New York. I did have the option to go to America and thought York was a much better option, so how has the move pand out for you?

00:04:07 Elizabeth Hillman

Erm, Well Okay, I suppose um. I don’t know I. Sorry. I came over because I was offered a job at startup company in Boston and generally, so I was doing my PhD in London at UCL and feeling a bit disgruntled with academia feeling like we were doing this research, but where we really you know, taking it out there and making it happen, and so I was at the SPIE Photonics West Conference and a woman came up to me and gave me her business card and asked to fly me out to Boston for an interview, and it was all very exciting, so I went out and Yes, she offered me a job and it sounded really exciting, and so I sort of packed up my bags and and went there and I bought two suitcases one had one was filled with A4 paper, so I can print My thesis and mail it back and so yeah I came over to work for a startup company, I promised my mom I wouldn’t be gone for more than two years and, like you said that was 20 years ago.

00:05:15 Peter O’Toole

yeah I remember saying so, if I was going over it was for two year burn and come back yeah but but but York always I think a longer term goal for myself, so you moved, what was the startup businesses.

00:05:29 Elizabeth Hillman

It was a company doing non invasive glucose monitoring using skin auto fluorescence which my I had a professor at UCL, Dave Delpy,  was really amazing like one of the people that really inspired me to to get into medical physics and then by photonics and I remember him joking in our undergraduate class like only crazy people tried to do non invasive glucose but back 20 years ago people were investing in it like crazy and So I thought, well, this will be a top chance to go learn something completely new with a bunch of people who are really energetic and trying to make it work. Of course 9/11 happened right then. Between me getting the offer basically me starting and so that changed everything and then investment in the company went down, and it was it was a real roller coaster of of craziness we all got laid off and you know, but, but it was an in. I mean you know I went in there saying yeah I know about bio photonics but actually I really didn’t know that much about fluorescent microscopy, i’d never really done animal work I I didn’t know all that much about diabetes and so sort of world and FDA and commercialization stuff and startups and you know, so I was sort of like a learning robot just trying to scramble around pretending I knew all of this stuff until I actually did you know even matlab like i’m like yeah sure I know matlab and then all of a sudden, like had to just kind of hit the ground running and learn all of it. So it was an amazing experience and I always tell my students, you know if you want to try stuff up you definitely should. But what I learned mostly was that I really don’t want to work in a start up, so I went running from there back to doing a postdoc and I was like. This is, this is, this is what I need to be doing right, this is, but it, but it gave me what I needed to then feel like I could navigate. You know if I develop something as an academic that I then you know, has has commercial potential. I then have this amazing network of people, because you know when you will get laid off, you will go work for companies right, so I was able to do you know them sort of straddle both both the Industry in the academia quite quite well, based on the experience.

00:07:44 Peter O’Toole

So when it went, when it went wrong the policy of that, why didn’t you just pack up your bags and run back to the UK you stayed out there.

00:07:55 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah I know well, so I’d already so on my way out there i’d been considering doing a postdoc at Mass General with David Boas and so we’ve been talking about that for a long time, and so, when things started to go wrong. I wasn’t in a good place to just sort of split and leave, so I went to him and so we’d already planned actually for me to go start a postdoc. I’d already submitted my application for my visa. On the day we got laid off, so I felt like I kind of gamed the system pretty well there. But yeah so then it was a matter of like I had to return to the UK and wait for my visa to get issued and then I had to, you know, come back. And I don’t know it was one of those acute situations sort of like I wanted to keep keep doing what I was doing you know, in a way, so the thought of coming back and having nothing to come back to you know and not really knowing. Where in the UK, I was going to live and where was I going to work and how was it, you know, like i’d got something set up. This is not like me but i’d also got myself a boyfriend who who worked at the company and who’s now my husband and so that was also sort of a grounding piece.

00:09:03 Peter O’Toole

An attraction to stay over there yeah. So you mentioned you started in London, so what what was your subjects, but once you specialism.

00:09:12 Elizabeth Hillman


00:09:14 Peter O’Toole

And now what’s your specialism now.

00:09:20 Elizabeth Hillman

Well technically i’m a professor of biomedical engineering and radiology yeah I work in a Neuroscience Institute and inside I feel like i’m still a physicist so um I would say. You know, when I started doing physics and particularly around A levels, when I was sort of trying to think about you know, like did I want to be a doctor or you know what did I want to do I injured myself I hurt my back I hurt my knees, I had all sorts of different injuries and I went to the hospital went to physical therapy and suddenly I was like who builds these machines. You know and and they were like I think it’s called medical physics and I was like ooh that you know that the medicine mixed up with the math and physics where I don’t have to actually like treat people who are bleeding because  like that’s just not gonna work for me, but where I can like build things and like mesh together the sort of the biology and the and the, and the physics and just kind of felt like where I wanted to go so. So I think physics helps you explain the world around you, which is very compelling and then engineering is about problem solving and so I tend, and then you know medicine is about helping people and seeing impact and so sort of working in the middle of those is, is where i’ve sort of put myself.

00:10:48 Peter O’Toole

One can make big impacts you’re not the first to have said that you know you looked at it, you looked at medical careers or have been a medic at some point, because people want to help. But obviously if you’re making the tools, the doctors can’t work without them right so So yes, it’s a really influential role in society and science and probably has more impact, maybe than any one individual can have if you can develop something new. So where were, I got to ask, where where we brought up?

00:11:24 Elizabeth Hillman

Hitchen 40 miles north of London about. My mum now lives in Knebworth.

00:11:31 Peter O’Toole

Okay, which is also near London. So, and you family background all around London.

00:11:38 Elizabeth Hillman

yep yeah my dad was from Essex.

00:11:41 Peter O’Toole

Okay, not a bad place I wasn’t brought up in Essex I just.

00:11:44 Elizabeth Hillman

Was there was actually a Hillman undertaker’s in Wolthamstow, that was the family business doesn’t exist anymore.

00:11:52 Peter O’Toole

i’ve gotta be careful of the jokes I could put him for sure you’ve heard them all before so we go that was so when you went so obviously the family’s all very nucleated in that area, you went to the states how often did you say you visit them when you left.

00:12:14 Elizabeth Hillman

Well, the company was very strange, one thing i’d never experienced and it’s very different in the US, as I had 10 days of vacation a year yeah company that horrified me. I didn’t understand about holiday weekend so nobody told me about that so there’s multiple additional like Mondays off and stuff that they have throughout the year. That crept up on me because I didn’t know they were coming, but you know, I was trying to do crazy things Iike go home for the weekend, you know it’s just ridiculous it’s a little easier now so so yeah. Generally we’ve gotten back at least once a year, you know now I have kids it’s it’s it’s harder to bring them back, but so tried to make sure that we see the family at least once a year it’s weird because I would get invited to a lot of conferences, you know where I would think Oh, I could stop in or you know I could kind of find a way but it’s not it’s not that simple.

00:13:10 Peter O’Toole

No, Did you get to see much of the US itself in those first few years.

00:13:18 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah well, I mean I am so happy, in the last year and a half to not be traveling as much as i’ve been traveling I mean I got to the point where I was traveling every single week and actually, it was miserable because you don’t actually really get to see any of the US you’re just traveling around sitting in airports and going out for a meal and then rushing home to see the kids so. But yes, you know i’ve been all over.

00:13:50 Peter O’Toole

Then. You see, you see if you’ve got 10 days holiday and you only go out there for two years to start with can I think well actually my all my holidays, going to be spent coming back visiting family yeah and then back to work again to do actually isn’t really much holiday because I guess when you go back see families quite intense is quite.

00:14:13 Elizabeth Hillman

it’s true, but you know i’m also not i’m not very good at going on holiday it doesn’t you know I know that’s a British thing, but like I I don’t really switch off, you know when when I had my babies, I was holding group meeting, while I was in Labor and I, you know, within two weeks, I was having my son sleeping on the couch in my office and I was back at work, you know there’s there’s I mean i’m not saying everybody needs to do that at all it’s just that I don’t know I I I my work is what I do, and you know you can’t sort of they go, we just got a puppy.

00:14:51 Peter O’Toole

say to that is a real life pup.

00:14:53 Elizabeth Hillman

I know everyone thinks it’s a it’s a pet, but it is a toy of it no it’s an actual puppy yeah.i’m nine and 11.

00:15:05 Peter O’Toole

and very cute puppy.

00:15:06 Elizabeth Hillman

And a very cute puppy, the children are cute too, but puppy’s probably cuter. yeah um yeah so um. But yeah so so I don’t know everything’s always um yeah so it’s it’s. If you’ve got paper revisions year a student is going to graduate or you’ve got a grant you need to write or progress report do there’s never really a break away from you know that so so in time we’ve tried, I mean my honeymoon was just the worst you know because.

00:15:38 Peter O’Toole

Your husband might watch or listen to this you do know that.

00:15:40 Elizabeth Hillman

We agree on it, we agree on it, because I, we got married, the first see the first semester, I was at Columbia and I was teaching, so I sort of taught my first class went and got married came back, and then we have the honeymoon at Christmas in Hawaii but you know I still had grading to do, I was waiting on news of my first paper that was submitted to Nature photonics and you know it’s checking my phone there’s back in the olden days when you had a little palm pilot thing and you’re like it’ll the spinning wheel telling you, you might have an email and we’re going around Hawaii and both of us were just sort of like you know, it was this was not, this was not a time to switch off and relax and you know get away from it all so and when i’m in that situation i’m just more un happy, you know so so We get into it, but.

00:16:32 Peter O’Toole

What do you do to wind down then.

00:16:34 Elizabeth Hillman

What do I do.

00:16:35 Peter O’Toole

You mind I.

00:16:39 Elizabeth Hillman

know my grandma used to say changes is as good as a rest right so I switch modes from you know getting up you know getting the kids out the door to school. You know, then coming to work so then works different from that and then, when you finish work you go home and cook dinner spend some time with the kids and now the puppy and the kids go to bed, and then there’s some more work and maybe watching a few TV shows in the background, and so you know it’s it’s it’s as much. As I say this to students that are writing a thesis you know you sort of you spend some time on the figures and when you can’t do the figures anymore you spend some time on the tax right if you don’t necessarily need to sort of do something en entirely different. But I don’t know I it’s not good, but I sort of draw satisfaction from getting things done, you know it’s quite satisfying like cleaning the oven, you know i’m sad but um yeah.

00:17:37 Peter O’Toole

Ovens are hard work.

00:17:39 Elizabeth Hillman

I don’t do it very often trust me.

00:17:41 Peter O’Toole

know that that the problem and likewise and then the amount of time you spend sitting on the floor trying to clean it, this is really what i’ve cleaned it, I should just keep it clean, it would be so much easier.

00:17:52 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah yeah it’s not.

00:17:56 Peter O’Toole

So I can’t remember where I was going for the next question I said thinking thinking back to work, you got me into ovens are thinking, I still need to play my oven.

00:18:05 Elizabeth Hillman

let’s go do that now.

00:18:09 Peter O’Toole

What….Obviously, one of the big things currently that you’ve been involved in his SCAPE. So Swept confocal-aligned planar excitation how on earth did you think to come up with the name.

00:18:23 Elizabeth Hillman

The name.

00:18:24 Peter O’Toole


00:18:25 Elizabeth Hillman

That was fun actually so it was originally called LSIPT, Laser Scanning Intersecting Plane Tomography but it sounded like spit and everyone was like that’s terrible name and so, even when we submitted the paper originally it was called LSIPT and we were frantically trying to think of a new name for it before the paper came out and we literally spent a whole day sitting in the lab and I contact, a lot of people that I knew that I respected people I used to know from the company, where I worked, you know, asking their advice for what what to call it, you know. We came up with some you know rude acronyms and things and silly ones, and we almost did SOL, single objective lightsheet, but that was the name of the end or software package so that didn’t work and then you know SCAPE seemed Okay, it was kind of a play on scapegoat and round all the lab now we’ve got every different pun you can possibly have like all computers called goat for scapegoat, and you know Escape but you know other other so it’s turned out to be quite a fun name to play with so yeah it’s like the piece that comes out of an onion when an onion is growing so it’s kind of an unusual words so if you Google it you don’t get a lot of hits.

00:19:45 Peter O’Toole

I need to import an acronym it’s actually quite important for the for the uptake because it’s easy to say and people remember it gets talked about more and it gets more widely accepted in a way it’s perverse you’re a scientist and you have to be marketing as well.

00:20:02 Elizabeth Hillman

Oh yeah no definitely definitely and you know the other technology in the lab we didn’t spend a lot of time on we call it widefield optical mapping, which is WFOM and it sounds awful and everybody’s really sort of frustrated with me that we have to call this thing WFOM so yeah I was quite I was quite pleased with SCAPE.

00:20:20 Peter O’Toole

So for for, some of the viewers and listeners may not understand what this enables, why is this different to other types of microscopy I think we got is this actually a SCAPE microscope.

00:20:33 Elizabeth Hillman

It is, it is, it said that’s a nice one that’s that’s Richards one he’s very tidy. Right so um yeah it’s it’s a it’s a weird one I mean as I maybe mentioned my training originally was in diffuse optics so it was not like microscopy at all, it was using ti sapphire lasers, but doing time dependent imaging through scattering tissues and doing finite element based inverse problems in inverse reconstruction algorithms. To look at baby brains and breast and so I didn’t come from classic sort of microscopy so in in the middle of that so that got me interested in brain blood flow, which then got me interested in building two photon microscope to look at brain blood flow. So I learned how to build a two photon microscope and then, as we got more into thinking about the mechanisms that relate neural activity to blood flow in the brain, we wanted to go really fast in 3D, so I started to try to think of ways to extend two photon microscopy to high speed 3D imaging. And then got really annoyed that you know you’re trying to scan this little point around, and you can scan it faster and faster and faster and all these papers were coming out in the early sort of noughties that to to the mid 2000s. You know resonance scanners and Eo DS and all of this stuff right but but they go faster and faster and faster the instrumentation becomes more and more, you know, complicated and then you just don’t have any light and you’re just burning holes in these these animals so. So we would just sort of like mulling around like what what might we be able to do and and then OPT came out, which was this Optical Projection Tomography which was, which was sort of caught my attention. And, and I was like oh hang on you sort of can use like like X rays, you know, and so, then I became more aware of lightsheet and and then we just we just had this weird idea we have this Polygon. In the lab that we would try to use to make a fast two photon and I was playing with it with the laser pointer going like I wonder if you could make a thing, and it would scan like this, and so we were just sort of fiddling around with it. And we came up with this geometry, and it was a student who had a fellowship, and so we were just playing with it and he was modeling it and trying to convince ourselves that it was possible to basically create like a sheet illumination of light and have it sort of move and somehow stay focused on the move, so it was called intersecting planes tomography, because we were sort of thinking of just creating a geometry sort of like this and then it really kind of evolved and it was originally for some reason imaging we were going to do, like scattered like tomography with it and then one day we stuck a objective lens on there and we were like oh it’s a microscope. And and and so anyway, you didn’t really ask me a history of it but it’s fun to to muse on it so. It ended up that we generate an image, by creating a oblique plane of light that comes out of an objective lens and then we actually image that light that’s generated from that plane back through the same objective lens and so what you can do is and stick a camera back in the in the image plane. If you put the camera flat on you get this kind of weird half focused image, but if you tilt the camera very basic with us to objective lenses to allow you to basically tilt the image, you can create an oblique focal plane at the sample so you now have an oblique plane eliminating the tissue kind of going into the tissue and Zee and or Zed sorry and then you can you can focus on that plane and create a light sheet image through a single objective, so that that was the first part, and then we have this mirror in their elbow mirror, which allowed us to then move the sheet from side to side. But by actually putting the light that was coming back off that same mirror we achieve the same thing as confocal scanning D scanning where the image on the camera stays stationary. Well, the plane at the sample moves from side to side, while you still stay focused on it and I again i’m just trying to express that sort of. That was happy accident we’ve done some other technologies, a little bit similar to this that use this scanning D scanning idea, so that was quite familiar to me but you know, we just weren’t really sure what we were doing with it initially. But we started to get, then you know these nice images and what was really funny was my student was like, why are we doing this, you know there’s no samples that anyone’s going to want to image, nobody wants to image anything that doesn’t scatter quickly and we were thinking well, maybe we could do liquids flowing through channels or something like this and then all of a sudden, you know transgenic fruit flies and transgenic zebrafish suddenly just appeared. And all these little fluorescent critters just were suddenly available and the calcium imaging starts to become available and so we just had in our hands, this imaging system that was capable of capturing these 3D images really quickly, because the galbo can just scan the sheet backwards and forwards and just grab the images and and everyone knows like sheets super efficient and that she doesn’t doesn’t photo bleach very much, and so this sort of combination of just being able to capture the data really quickly scanning the sheet from side to side and the 3D volume without damaging the sample We found that we could actually capture these these really high speed 3D images and all these little samples that that suddenly everybody had available, we could we could capture them in 3D, so this is a color depth encoded image of a crawling fruit fly lava.

00:26:39 Peter O’Toole

yeah so for someone who’s not especially some high end microscopy that yeah we see this quite often to have images they look glorious but they really difficult to acquire and the big difference that you’ve made is the speed and the sensitivity, because obviously light. We all go sunbathing and it’s not particularly good for our health, and when you shine quite intense light on an organism it’s really not very good for a small thing. Infact detrimental to it, and here you got a technique where watching it live. You can see what’s going on in real time and without damaging the specimen I have got a few other images, I think this one’s.

00:27:23 Elizabeth Hillman


00:27:25 Peter O’Toole

Name what this images is.

00:27:28 Elizabeth Hillman

Okay um do you shall I let me do my, We can do the full on. There we go.

00:27:39 Peter O’Toole

It is a psychedelic background isn’t it see if you if you’re listening, you have to watch these moments. Because Elizabeth.

00:27:48 Elizabeth Hillman

I might have to turn off before I drown in neurons and whatnot so so actually what I was going to just say is that the the The high speed 3D imaging I mean there’s some other benefits to it as well, which is that lense itself is actually stationary which is really weird everybody thinks, you have to bounce an objective up and down or scan your object around to make a 3D image, but in our system, everything can be stationary which is, how come we could do like that crawling lava and the other thing to say, is it’s actually really simple, so the mechanism and the instrumentation is really surprisingly, simple and inexpensive compared to even a standard confocal so so that was one of the other things we loved about it. This this image is actually different, so this is a structural image that we collected on a expanded mouse spinal cord. And so, this speaks to a quite a different set of applications for this technology, so we got really in the beginning, into sort of what can we image alive, what can we image moving and beating and flashing. It was a little bit later that people were coming to us also asking for help with just high speed structural imaging and turn it off before I get dizzy here. So. I haven’t even really realized, as someone who hasn’t ever really spent a great deal of time in microscopy cool is that these kinds of samples, now that we can clear and expand. Think a really, really, really long time to image on standard point scanning confocals and even when you can they drift and they shift and they move, and you have to stitch them together and it’s a real nightmare so with these we just we just got some samples from different people and we just image them by just you know, using the sheet and we’re able to collect you know really nice 3D images, but most importantly really quickly and that allows us to to just increase throughput and and you know do things like multi color imaging. So we’re getting into that a lot now as well.

00:29:53 Peter O’Toole

So I have one more image of the data sets because they are lovely I do think this makes it look like 1960s haircut we’ve been done and the movie for this, I think we can show the movie of this as well, I think, on the big screen, it’s great I just like the way this swings about to find a cool image. But all these data sets that you’ve got here now, where they all internal with internal collaborators or have you had to go or people come externally from outside of Columbia to come and work with you and to use this.

00:30:29 Elizabeth Hillman

So when the first Paper came out, we must have had literally hundreds of emails from people asking all all sorts of different things, but mostly wanting the system. We kept track of all of them, we weren’t really able to respond to all of them immediately because we ourselves were a little bit like I you know, we need to figure out how to optimize this and get it working and work with it more before we kind of get people you know confused with it right, but in the end, what happened was unfortunate Columbia there’s a great huge number of people here who are who are really excellent who work in a lot of different model systems and, in some cases, you know they found us and we got the fruit fly lover collaborators quickly fruit of adult fruit fruit fly brain. The C elegans worms the the a lot of the sample sort of on fairly naturally occurring collaborations here within Columbia and then there was a few extra ones that came to me, you know from outside that represented organisms that we didn’t have here within Columbia, surprisingly, the zebrafish grains one of them and so yeah we sort of collected different applications and worked closely with the people that were you know interested in imaging them. And then, on a wider scale we’ve we’ve helped other people build systems we’ve had people come and collect pilot data. It it was a weird thing, let me say, because when I started my lab. I was a little bit torn I didn’t want to just be a technology developer, who sort of just developed technologies for other people i’m really firm believer that you have to understand the thing you’re trying to measure in order to figure out how best to measure it and so i’ve always wanted to know both things and I mentioned briefly earlier that actually the field that we started out in was to look at blood flow in the brain and the way that it’s regulated in relation to neural activity. And so I sort of pride myself on the fact that my lab both does technology development and uses that technology and we’ve made our own biological discoveries in that area. But when SCAPE came along, I was like I don’t have the time and the bandwidth to become an expert in like epilepsy and zebrafish as well, as you know, proprioception and fruit flies all over right, so I had to really switched the mindset, a little bit, and it really meant changing the lab and growing the lab in very different ways and finding kind of different types of people in the lab who really wanted to like work with collaborators and finding new ways to like teach collaborators as well, to get them to work you know, to learn and to have a good sort of attitude about about kind of taking on new technologies.

00:33:27 Peter O’Toole

Is this you lab? Is this the picture of your lab.

00:33:30 Elizabeth Hillman

that’s a subset yes that’s um that’s creepers thesis Defense from a couple of weeks ago. So that’s that’s a post covid that’s about maybe half of them yeah yeah they’re awesome.

00:33:42 Peter O’Toole 

You say that’s just a subset of the lab how big is your lab because that’s 1-234-567-8910 13 I think there.

00:33:49 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah 20 or so wow yeah.

00:33:53 Peter O’Toole

That’s a large lab.

00:33:55 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah too much little bit yeah, no, no, no, but there yeah yeah everybody everybody does different things.

00:34:08 Peter O’Toole

So to get

00:34:09 Elizabeth Hillman

Yes, So yeah.

00:34:10 Peter O’Toole

that’s it to get the impact now, you said you help people build microscopes I I presume this is your lab and the lab actually.

00:34:17 Elizabeth Hillman

Yeah that’s pre code that makes me want to cry that was that was that was before social distancing.

00:34:24 Peter O’Toole

This is a lot of your team actually working on. Building.

00:34:27 Elizabeth Hillman


00:34:27 Peter O’Toole

and using the microscopes.

00:34:30 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah Thats’ Grace Citlali Teresa  and Wenzi yep.

00:34:34 Peter O’Toole

And the lab

00:34:36 Elizabeth Hillman

I Citloli building a system out on the conference room table so she’s she’s a dab hand at building systems, this is one that we built to take to Dresden with us or actually could have been the Cold Spring Harbor one we we went through a big phase in the middle, where we were building them and putting them in the trunk of my subaru and taking them out to different places and doing demos and helping people to you know get preliminary data and stuff so she can build one in like. I don’t know I would say, a week, to be perfectly aligned she’s she’s been amazing she’s actually I tasked her when she came to the lab with documenting systems, which is a little bit of a different thing than you know you would normally expect to have another lab is developing microscopes and so But that was getting crazy right I didn’t have proper records of every lens that everybody had put into every system and how we aligned it and what we did, and if we were going to share it. And that was why I paused a little bit on on sharing things I didn’t want to just post this online. I wanted to make sure that if we were going to help people to build it that that they would understand the risk, and they would actually get everything they needed to be successful in creating a system so Citlali documented everything made these incredible like Ikea instructions, we set up all the software really nicely it she did she’s got the whole alignment procedure down and she coaches people via zoom to align them microscopes all over the world.

00:36:06 Peter O’Toole

You just scared me cause you compared it to Ikea and I still can’t put Ikea furniture together properly there’s always something left over, at the end.

00:36:13 Elizabeth Hillman

It is a bit like that I have to say, but you know what else can you do right.

00:36:19 Peter O’Toole

So.this this just brings on to the next bit it’s great you’ve obviously taken this on tour showing people how it works okay it’s not selling it, because actually people want to build it themselves, they need this capability Universities around the world need this capability to enable their research. The only way to get it is to learn how to build one and how to operate it and it’s not easy to do that, so the other side, obviously you’ve got IP wrapped up in this and how much IP. You just develop something which which i’m aware he’s been commercialized to have I presume is common knowledge.

00:36:55 Elizabeth Hillman

Leica microsystem.

00:36:56 Peter O’Toole

You know so Leica have this as a capability. You were in a startup you are an academic, but this this is know tying up IP selling it to industry ham. how’d you learn those skills that. I know I guess everyone thinks is going to be a lot of support in the university to do that, but ultimately they’re not specialists in the field mm hmm falls back I guess must have fallen back to yourself to do a lot of this legwork to to do this yeah yeah.

00:37:30 Elizabeth Hillman

So, so I was fortunate in between so so as I was finishing my postdoc at Mass General I actually developed another technique which we call DICE Dynamic contrast imaging in mice and that was my first sort of foray into it, where I got this result, it was it blew my mind, I was like this feels very important right I convinced them to file a provisional patent which they didn’t want to do, but I had gone to a friend who I knew from the company where i’d worked and actually brought them the company ready to license it just to convince [Inaudible] to file the provisional right. But I went through that with the company, they did license it then we filed the full patent they’ve got an SP ir they developed a commercialized it and so that’s a technology which now somehow part of like Perkin Elmer small animal imaging systems we had that experience and so i’ve been through it once before, and I knew that. You know, university commercialization offices, you know well they’re all different, but they tend to want to put some sort of a process in place that will sort of skim off, and you know, make the most of a lot of the inventions, but you’re not necessarily going to be the biggest priority unless you kind of engage and particularly i’m afraid, a lot of these places have a tendency to want to go to the big Famous people and ignore the junior female faculty who’s asking you to file a patent sort of thing so. Fortunately i’ve been very lucky with the people that have worked with here and found people who really were willing to work with me and and I found it to be a fascinating exercise, you know it was it was just as much strategy, and you know figuring out problem solving is is is the rest of my life so I I kind of relished it, but I knew then very kept like. You know, for the longest time SCAPE was sort of there in the lab we were trying to publish a paper on it, we were sort of struggling to get the paper accepted, because no one would take no one would believe that it was new and different and actually work the way you said it were. The student that was working on Ashley graduated pretty fed up with the whole thing. And then I I went in and I looked at the data and I made this movie of the crawling fruit fly lottery and I went to the Society for Neuroscience meeting and I went round to all the vendors of the microscopes and I said, look at this movie and I showed them this movie and they were like. What is that what what what what what does it wit, whose work is that, who is that do you do work with so, and so do you work with this person, do you work with that person said no, I don’t work with anyone, this is mine. What do you think sort of thing and from there, like there’s the level of excitement over it was just ridiculous and so. And then, this other really defining moment happened that winter, which was a pipe burst in the lab and sprayed into the side of the system and completely destroyed it and that was a catalyst for me to have to finish the paper because we just had the data we had on the server.. But that same week I got the the letter in the mail telling me the patent had been issued, and so it all just sort of came together and and then we just really started to shop around two companies and uh yeah it was. I basically took a sabbatical to spend time kind of really trying to figure it all out and.

00:41:21 Peter O’Toole

there’ll be people who go well you know it should be free, you shouldn’t you shouldn’t be commercializing get that i’m not have that opinion. But You have to hear your reason why is it so important to actually get a company to adopt this and run with it.

00:41:40 Elizabeth Hillman

So the other thing to say that was going on and amidst all of this was I just had my second child and back surgery. It was a crazy time and when you’re going through all of those things with all of that adversity your brain sort of says is it worth it. Like is it worth doing this is it worth fighting for this and i’ve had technologies i’ve been working on in the past where i’ve been like pretty glad to stop doing it right. But every time I would come back and I would look at these images every time I would sit down to use the system, I was like. This works I don’t even we didn’t even really understand why it worked in the beginning, but it worked and, and every time we sort of got deeper into it, we were like oh my gosh it’s good because of this and it’s good because of that, and like there was this explosion in all of these types of G camp, but calcium, so these fluorescent indicators that could show you neural activity and, at the time, you know every three months of brighter one came out that suddenly we could image and people were falling over themselves like please, please, please, please, please can I come to your lab I need to get this data, so I was like i’ve you know it’s my responsibility to make sure that this gets out there and it was hard because number one I was completely unknown, the number of man’s playing conversations I have to go through with people like you know who are you again like who do you work for your postdoc you know and and but I was like galvanized by all this other stuff that was going on, I was like i’m gonna do it, I have to and and you know the option of just putting it out there online and sharing it, you know. We had IP we had interest from big companies, and you know I truly believe that, in the hands of a big company that knows what they’re doing that can that can refine the optics that knows how to make this usable like and I shouldn’t say this but, like this genuinely could replace confocal right with the bags of advantages right like suddenly you know we’re not bleaching everything we’re seeing things completely in 3D now, instead of in two dimensions, so all of that drama goes away of like oh my my samples moving I can’t image it right and and and actually it’s cheap and you know that was like one of the really important things is it’s simple it’s not one of these things that fills a room with like crazy multiple billions of different pieces and stages and requires three PhDs to run it. And so I was just sort of like I wanted to try to get it into really good hands that could run with it, and I also knew I wasn’t interested in doing my own startup having been in one. And I had two small children, and you know, a lab and I was pre tenure, and you know, the last thing I needed was to be trying to get this off the ground, you know by myself and so You know, I was absolutely thrilled when Leica came along and and was interested in this, and it was a huge relief, you know to feel that I had delivered it, you know to people that could take it, where I felt it could go and if you’re going to do that kind of a deal, you know you do have to be a bit careful about how much stuff you post on the web, or you know hey so we’ve been a little bit more cautious but with the entire goal of trying to take this to the highest impact it possibly can have right and and that that was that was the goal that’s why I sacrificed so much that’s why we went through so much to get it out there, because we believed in it.

00:45:15 Peter O’Toole

I think yeah and yeah there’s advantages startups, as we know, but the big companies and as a few of them out there for big companies they come they they’ve now got a difficult job to make it into a very robust very user friendly fits in with their platforms, their designs. But that makes it even more user friendly it’s more familiar to the user when they get the software package. The support the engineer support if anything goes wrong as a biologist. You don’t want to be going into that and realigning lasers, or anything else you need to work out the box and if it goes wrong, you need to call an engineer and yeah go for the big companies, it will have the biggest impact, I think, ultimately.

00:45:57 Elizabeth Hillman

I think another thing that people don’t realize, is that you know we as academics, we, we have a couple of microscopy cores in our universities right. That the microscopes that sort of your average academic uses is a tiny piece of the market in microscopy. Right, there are pharmaceutical companies, there are places all over the world that use these microscopes all the time right and and they actually drive a lot of the market. And so you know about those the places where we might get new cures for diseases or new drugs for things I new understandings of of stuff that is really important, and can have a big impact and so you know, we we have tried to be at least now we’ve gotten ourselves sort of organized as responsive, as we can to anybody that’s come to us from an academic lab, particularly if they say to me I I cannot do my work unless I have your technology right if someone really comes and shows me that and we look at it and we go oh wow our technology would really enable you to see us in that you can’t see right now and i’m a sucker for that right, we will bend over backwards to try and get you a system in your lab and get using it right. But you know so we’ve we’ve tried really hard to sort of fill in all of that sort of demand for the for the systems, but. You know there’s a very limited group of people that can build their own systems and who wants to build their own systems, and you can afford to take that risk and who can maintain them and actually get good images that that that look like the ones that we managed to get so you know it it’s not to me, I mean you can have a local sort of bubble of impact, I think, if you if you if you share things in that way, and like I said we’ve actually We have done that. But to really reach you know the larger community I think I think we, you know that’s the hope of what will achieve it and the other thing I want to add is that you know this is such a sort of counter intuitive way to collect data it’s such a weird geometry that has you know advantages and disadvantages and what what’s been really fun for us is to realize once we realized that we weren’t freedom it there was all these other things we can do with it now right so to push it further and so it’s not just you know. I don’t think that ultimately they’ll just be like one SCAPE microscope I think there’ll be a lot of kind of extensions and variation.

00:48:28 Peter O’Toole

of derivatives and adaptation.

00:48:30 Elizabeth Hillman

and move forward and so the more people like know it’s an option, you know, the better, from my perspective.

00:48:41 Peter O’Toole

I’m looking forward to seeing it when it’s on the market. That that you mentioned. The fact that you yeah who are you who do you work for. Do you think that was a, be careful how where this thing was a male female or a gender bias, would you think it was just that you were really young in that position.

00:49:03 Elizabeth Hillman

I wasn’t young I look young not yeah.

00:49:07 Peter O’Toole

Well, there you go soon, so it was it an age perception or is it a gender perception I think there’s still a gender perception.

00:49:13 Elizabeth Hillman

Oh God is to gender perception of course. Well yeah no no okay it’s not even that I I think about this stuff a lot, you know, even when it comes to things like just hiring people here in diversity right and hiring faculty and things like that right, so you know. In science in in these things you’re tasked with predicting the future right you’re tasked with predicting success right and so oftentimes you know you, you want to hire a new faculty member and you’ve got a panel of you know, older white men who were reviewing all of the applications they’re looking for themselves right they’re looking for patterns of things they’ve seen before. You know, like oh i’ve seen a CEO that looks like this handsome guy here, so he would make make a good CEO right, whereas i’ve never seen a CEO, who is a black woman so i’m not going to you know, consider that in my you know equations right so so. I think it’s just you know people are all about risk mitigation and they’re all about like have I seen this before does this match a patent that makes sense to me right, and you know arguably in microscopy you have Changhuei Yang who’s incredible and you know Valentino, Giuliani, Naji.I hate if i’ve missed someone off that list, but like that list is small, and I know because we’re always, the only like four people presenting the conferences right. And so people can’t pattern match that right that people like look at you in their brain is just going like you know does not compute This must be a postdoc, and this is work for one of these famous you know men that wins Nobel Prizes and I, you know, so I I don’t think people it’s always called implicit bias right and and it can happen to guys too, because you know the other thing is, or what lab did you train in or where did you come from or what university you you at or are you just an assistant Professor. You know, like you’re always going to have people bringing these preconceived notions about you know whether they can believe you whether they can trust you whether they whether you’re good you know. And, and I mean people get the look core facilities as well right like there’s always this power dynamic of you know I know better than you or you know better than me and like it’s actually engendering environments where there’s like neutral respect and and you know proper. You know barriers get down and then you really get into it, you do good science together right it’s it’s everywhere. So this vicious if me huh.

00:51:53 Peter O’Toole

Things must be getting better.

00:51:57 Elizabeth Hillman

We have Kamala Harris Kamala. I mean things must be getting better I don’t know. I.

00:52:08 Peter O’Toole

Maybe another generation.

00:52:12 Elizabeth Hillman

You know I actually you know. George maybe don’t want to get into George Floyd last year, you know the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. I’m in a time of pandemic when everybody has had time to think I mean I I have seen more of a move, and a change, then I had seen before you know lots of places are doing things on sort of diversity, equity and inclusion here now and and there’s always a danger with those things that the superficial, you know, like Oh, I thought we were supposed to give the women extra points or something like that you know, as opposed to genuinely. Like taking a moment and thinking like what are my preconceived notions in this moment, and how can I stop letting myself do that so. Maybe a little bit.

00:53:13 Peter O’Toole

So it is a very different world to these times, so this is a picture you sent me i’m guessing you are Five five and dressed as a.

00:53:26 Elizabeth Hillman

flower fairy.

00:53:27 Peter O’Toole

Flower fairy.

00:53:29 Elizabeth Hillman

Yeah and I was not happy about it.

00:53:31 Peter O’Toole

And your not happy about it.

00:53:32 Elizabeth Hillman

Look at my face I still do that face, my son does that face.

00:53:38 Peter O’Toole

But happier in this one.

00:53:40 Elizabeth Hillman

Now that one we were on a bike ride, yes, yes.

00:53:44 Peter O’Toole 

But still age about five.

00:53:47 Elizabeth Hillman

Maybe a little bit older there I don’t know. I don’t know, I was, I was a tomboy I suppose not consciously but yeah they made me wear that tutu and my mother she had to make it I just i’m really fascinated with how she made it so that was really interesting.

00:54:09 Peter O’Toole

To they’re go.

00:54:11 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah yeah she actually had to sew it and the little hat she had to sew the hat as well, and then we were on stage for like five minutes or something, and my mom never let me hear the end of it, she was like you know I spent hours on that thing and then you were on stage for five minutes. But yes.

00:54:29 Peter O’Toole

Pleased parent then

00:54:30 Elizabeth Hillman

And this was my dad insisting on taking pictures of me out in the garden, we got lots of pick me he was really into photography so there’s lots of very reluctant photographs.

00:54:42 Peter O’Toole

Is a super cool fed up face that going i’ve got to ask no we just seen this as a as a flower fairy What did you want to be, what did you what was your first, as you were growing up what was the first job you thought you’d like to do as you were growing up.

00:54:57 Elizabeth Hillman

I used to tell people an artist or comedian. Now I know about comedians I would say no, but um I liked I like making things I like building things creating things I don’t suppose I even really knew what an engineer was but I laid a lot of concrete with my dad and we did a lot of home improvement stuff. And that was just very natural that’s sort of just what we did that was sort of what we did as a family.

00:55:27 Peter O’Toole

Your family’s business was an undertaker’s. And you know business.

00:55:34 Elizabeth Hillman

My dad was an aeronautical engineer, with a penchant for half finished home improvement projects, so I my mom was a French teacher and that sort of explains why i’m a mess let’s yeah so I did I I just always my mantra for choosing what I wanted to do was just just trying to just do the things I enjoyed you know the things I was good at, and I enjoyed and, of course, you enjoy the things you’re good at so I would say one thing I went to an all girls school my mom was a teacher at the all girls school That was our gosh i’m such a mess, but from 11/13 I was at a girl school and a comprehensive not fancy posh one but I would say, I really thank them for making it feel very normal that my favorite subjects were technology art science and math and physics and I never felt not until I was about 18 you know that that wasn’t what I was supposed to love doing my sister did a chemistry PhD ahead of me so she she sort of already gone in that direction and so I just kept doing the things I like doing and and then like I said I had that moment, when I got so injured for the I did a lot of gymnastics in the end, so gymnastics was a much better fit for me, then, but then the ballet I fortunately was allowed to stop ballet gymnastics was great because it’s physics and it’s challenging and you can you know push yourself, but then you injure yourself so, then you get end up in the hospital and you learn about medical physics. And I was into space as well, so it was like torn between doing like space science 

00:57:27 Peter O’Toole

So.If you could do any job in the world, now what would you be.

00:57:36 Elizabeth Hillman

That’s really cruel. I mean, because you know. I would say I by nature of what I just said, it would be the job I have because, if I could think of what i’d like to do more i’d probably go try to do it. But I don’t there’s lots of pieces of what I do I don’t like especially you know just the stress the drama of it um. But. And sometimes I’m super jealous of the people that just you know, have a nine to five job you know. But.

00:58:12 Peter O’Toole

Is there a sense of reward in those jobs.

00:58:16 Elizabeth Hillman

yeah yeah I mean that’s yeah yeah I mean I my mom you know ended up taking early retirement she’d got remarried and you know her new husband was like oh you your job is so stressful for you, you should take early retirement, yes i’m gonna take early retirement i’m going to live this wonderful life and within you know, a month, she was head of the local chapter of this, and she was teaching French to the people the old folks home and she was in charge of this and in charge of that, and you know. She she can’t sit still she couldn’t she couldn’t function, there was no amount of googling around in the garden that was going to keep her happy yeah 

00:59:00 Peter O’Toole

Not a nine to five obligation but ultimately it’s nice to yeah I don’t know there’s got to be pros and cons to both haven’t been I guess.

00:59:09 Elizabeth Hillman

I think it comes down to like where do you get your dopamine where do you get your little feelings of satisfaction that you’re that you’re doing something. I, for me, it’s like you have to feel you’re doing something worthwhile that’s what I get from the kids and now a puppy and then my students and my work, and you know.

00:59:34 Peter O’Toole

Okay, so let’s let’s switch the conversation a bit. What’s your fav what, what is your favorite item that you own.

00:59:46 Elizabeth Hillman

That’s a hard one My scooter.

00:59:50 Peter O’Toole

uh huh which you use to go to work and keep up with the kids and Electric scooter?.

00:59:57 Elizabeth Hillman

Probably something more important that I should have thought of.

00:59:59 Peter O’Toole

Electric scooter.

01:00:00 Elizabeth Hillman

Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

01:00:02 Peter O’Toole

A traditional scooter yes.

01:00:05 Elizabeth Hillman

I had electric one for a while, but it was really dangerous and really expensive and really horrible when it broke, and they let me send it back for a full refund, and I was very happy and I went back to my regular kick one.

01:00:16 Peter O’Toole

Okay what’s your pet hate don’t say podcast.

01:00:22 Elizabeth Hillman

podcast um I really hate it when people tell me i’m going to get things and then I don’t get them, across the board.

01:00:39 Peter O’Toole

Oh, some examples, but I won’t because I could go.

01:00:44 Elizabeth Hillman

Okay that’s just the first thing that comes to mind and I again you’re challenging me here because I want to say something yeah but but that’s one of the things that really annoys me it’s a.

01:00:55 Peter O’Toole

really good answer okay what’s your favorite food.

01:00:59 Elizabeth Hillman


01:01:01 Peter O’Toole

any particular type.

01:01:03 Elizabeth Hillman

Just good old strong cheddar.

01:01:07 Peter O’Toole

What what food you both hate them.

01:01:12 Elizabeth Hillman

It’s hard to  think because I avoid it I don’t like gum I was vegetarian for 17 years until I had my babies and so I don’t like creepy sea foodie things that have like creepy bits in them that, like squish and crunch, when you eat them like clams and mussels and it just seemed totally unnecessary to me I can’t understand why people eat those.

01:01:32 Peter O’Toole

Do you ever dread it when you get taken out, if you’re a guest speaker and you get taken out for a meal and it’s a set course and your.


I ate and oyster with the Chief Scientific Officer of like a once on you know but yeah yeah never again.

01:01:47 Peter O’Toole

yeah please don’t make that food it’s like are you gonna eat that now.

01:01:54  Elizabeth Hillman

It was actually don’t tell anyone but it’s my mother in law did that to me that was the worst because she would cook me vegetarian food and then vast amounts of it and she’s like well I haven’t tasted it, how does it taste and i’d be there going on. I hope she doesn’t see this, but that was well well meaning people cooking you vegetarian things as a vegetarian really because it breaks your heart right because you definitely don’t want to tell them that you don’t want to leave it. Then, if it’s a British thing to always finish your plate right like you always eat everything that’s on your plate, and never ever leave anything. And apart from in the restaurant now here, where you can take it home with you but um. But yeah so so that’s my worst nightmare is when someone actually really well meaning tries to cook something really nice for me. And when you’re vegetarian it’s your the spotlight is on you, because there’s like one thing you can eat right if you’re not you can pick around but yeah that’s hard.

01:02:50 Peter O’Toole

And usually generally fairly homogenized when it’s delivered as well. So it’s not much playing around so yeah but. But what’s your favorite movie.

01:03:06 Elizabeth Hillman

Sound of music.

01:03:08 Peter O’Toole

Oh classic.

01:03:10 Elizabeth Hillman

I’ve re watched that so many times and I would associate with each character, one by one, going all the way through from the little girl to the teenager to Maria and Captain von Trapp and we watched it thanksgiving and my whole family were just charging around singing all the songs yeah.

01:03:32 Peter O’Toole

sounds cool.

01:03:33 Elizabeth Hillman

All right in the middle of right in the middle of the election and all of the craziness that was happening there, and even then there was like shades of that you know with the with the part at the end of the with the flags and yes yeah. classic

01:03:46 Peter O’Toole

TV or book…Sorry.. TV or book… TV TV… So is there a secret trash TV program you watch.

01:03:59 Elizabeth Hillman

Um there’s a show here, called The Resident on Fox which is like a really it’s like ER but like much worse, you know, like medical drama not drop it like i’m a sucker For those like hospital hospital. You know Casualty in England here.

01:04:21 Peter O’Toole

Yeah Yeah that’s like my wife she loves holby yeah. I guess the answer is that, Are you’re a night owl or an early bird.

01:04:30 Elizabeth Hillman


01:04:33 Peter O’Toole

Okay. What’s your preference UK or US.

01:04:39 Elizabeth Hillman

Well that’s am I allowed to elaborate. I have 

01:04:44 Peter O’Toole

Because either you got to lose your UK passport you’re going to lose your job, one way or the other, see her when.

01:04:49 Elizabeth Hillman

I got I got both um. So there’s reasons why I left the UK to come here there’s things about the UK I love oftentimes i’ll say to my mom you know well it’s not like that in England and she’s like well actually is like that in England, now, so I feel very out of touch with what England is actually like now. And I know what America is like now and there’s a lot of bits of that I don’t like the last four years, particularly was dreadful five years. And so it’s it’s weird what I actually say and I get a lot of resonance on this when I talk to other people who have sort of come here from other places, is that when you when you belong one place, and you come to another, then you never really belong in either. And so I feel that way, but in a way. I kind of like it like that, so the case in point is like our wedding we just pretended that you know this is how you do it in England right to the Americans and we pretended to all the Americans, this is, you know that or.

01:05:56 Peter O’Toole

vice versa.

01:05:57 Elizabeth Hillman

And, and so we sort of got away with just sort of being ourselves right and and I feel a little bit like that I think you get forgiven a little bit for your idiosyncrasies if you’re in different culture, and you can blame it on your other culture. And I sort of found myself hovering above both, so I think definitely some things about Britain I love British people, you know they just say it and they get it done and i’m not very good at the whole. Hi How are ya Like thing here um but yeah I didn’t know. it’s long question

01:06:3 Peter O’Toole

I like that, so it could be even more quirky if we go abroad that’s a quite a big incentive, you really want to be instead of who you’re meant to be seen as. Because it’s that definite perception. Moving but i’ve got to ask I forgot to ask earlier, what is your favorite publication that you’ve authored or co authored. Successful Unsuccessful, Whats you favourite publication?

01:06:57 Elizabeth Hillman

None of them, and my favorite because every single one is like giving birth and it’s painful and traumatic I mean actually giving birth was wonderful because they got wonderful children out of it, but I find the Publication process Incredibly challenging to navigate every single paper. So i’ve already talked about SCAPE so I won’t say that one we we did a paper on the vascular endothelial in the brain and it’s it’s out there and It was very hard to get it published for all the same reasons as my other stuff, which is, I was completely unknown in that field as well and I had to bust into it and get people to trust me it’s just what I do I think i’m just drawn to doing that, but I would say that that one as well as we build this imaging system and we saw something, and we had to figure out what it was that we were seeing and so we had to teach ourselves to biology and so we we we demonstrated that when blood flow changes in the brain. A critical part of it is the lining of the blood vessels themselves which propagate the signals to dilate and we we showed that if we damage that they didn’t do it. And it was it’s important because if you look at any of the work prior to that nobody labeled the endothelial of the vessels in any of their diagrams. It was like there’s this cool picture of like the rest of the world from Manhattan where it’s like New York New Jersey and then the rest of the world, it was like everything was just the vessels were just ignored and yet when we really dug into it, we like it explained so many things it explains all that stuff that’s people, people have missed. And, and it and it provides like a link between a cardiovascular disease and brain disease that you know, otherwise was sort of very vague and so it was like totally out there and it was a real struggle as well to get that you know published and then a real sort of delight to have a lot of people come and be like Oh, my gosh you know you how where where did you come from and how did you discover this and but it’s it’s taken it’s it’s guided a lot of research now moving forward and now people put the endothelial in their diagrams mostly which feels pretty satisfying for physicists.

01:09:17 Peter O’Toole

And I realized we’ve actually just run over the hour, so I apologize for running on a bit, but i’m going to ask you, what do you think is the next big development what’s the next big challenge.

01:09:29 Elizabeth Hillman

In what sense.

01:09:32 Peter O’Toole

microscopy or for your science, or just in science, in general, where is. What needs to be sold what needs to be developed, engineered.

01:09:42 Elizabeth Hillman

Um. So I think it’s data and analysis and coding and I’m,  we just. We just started a project where we’re going to try to image every single cell in the human brain and you know, we can generate that data now right where everyone’s super interested in multiplexes like you know every hundreds of cell types right like proteomics like it, you know in situ sequencing all of this right, we can generate. So much data now and everyone’s like really like hungry for it right, but it, there’s still this divide now between the analysis of that data and the acquisition of that data. And you know I’ve always been positioning myself like we need to be like the biologists and the images need to be really in sync and know understand each other and know what’s happening here, so we don’t accidentally image, the wrong thing, and vice versa. But the analysis is so crucial, and you know even for our stuff you know it’s. it’s the it’s the iceberg right the imaging and the experiment is here, and then all of the analysis is underneath right really turn those pretty movies, that we had into actual quantitative hypothesis hypothesis proven conclusions and it’s such a void, I mean we’re not teaching biologists and experimentalists how to code and how to how to be confident with analysis we’ve got machine learning, which is this like fools gold at some point right where like in the right hands with the right question, it can really save you a lot of time and do a lot of amazing things but i’m really fearful that in the wrong hands it’s going to just cause a huge mess and people are going to learn things very superficially and and so yeah I. And the data scientists are amazing but they don’t right now receive the kind of training that they need to have in both how the image is generated so they can understand. You know what the foibles of the imaging you’re going to be and what the biological question that they’re trying to address is so it’s always been a hoarder when it comes to everything but also data and we’ve got tons of it but.

01:12:10 Peter O’Toole

Have a peta,e terabytes petabytes of data.

01:12:14 Elizabeth Hillman


01:12:15 Peter O’Toole

Better but it’s just to give people an idea as to how big these data sets are it.

01:12:20 Elizabeth Hillman

Now I have about one petabyte, but when we start this human brain thing it’s going to be a petabyte per brain.

01:12:26 Peter O’Toole

Which is huge and interesting talking to Jeff Lichtman who’s doing that the EM side.

01:12:32 Elizabeth Hillman

Right right.

01:12:33 Peter O’Toole

A different scale, but also a different size of brain. i’m not saying just got a different brain, or they may.

01:12:41 Elizabeth Hillman

Just brain.

01:12:42 Peter O’Toole

Mouse brain rather than the human brain and it’s it, the challenges are huge and actually This is where people may in future get involved so talk to Chris Lintott in Zooniverse. Just how that can help science move forward and it needs lots of volunteers to help because computers can’t do it yet.

01:13:03 Elizabeth Hillman

But they think there needs to be this bi directional communication, education, you know interaction and respect mutual respect, I mean I again like. I always said that having divorced parents was a great exercise for for interdisciplinary science right my PhD was was was literally one experimental group over here and the theory group over there and I was the one in the middle being like, no, no, no, no, he didn’t mean that he meant this. i’m like trying to translate between the two and jumping in and being willing to say no, this is something we have to fix on the analysis side, this is something we have to fix on the [Inaudible] side. And and learning all the biology and being like, by the way, [Inaudible] don’t have that in them, so we shouldn’t try to solve for that you know. And, and so I i’ve always positioned myself in those sort of blue positions like between everything, but I have a limit and how my expertise right. But so often there’s this tendency to just want to love the data over you know the data sharing, I know, no one’s ever allowed to say anything against data sharing, but. This mindset of sort of just post it on the cloud and someone’s going to come along and just you know analyze it for you, I mean. That that’s terrifying.

01:14:15 Peter O’Toole

And, to be fair to make sense of it, it needs the person who generates the data to drive that and still be author of it and take a direction, Elizabeth we spoke way over i’m really sorry.

01:14:28 Elizabeth Hillman

You can cut all that.

01:14:29 Peter O’Toole

I have to ask you one more question I didn’t ask this of everyone, but i’ve got to you said at one point you, you get to be an artist to a comedian do you have a favorite joke.

01:14:39 Elizabeth Hillman


01:14:39 Peter O’Toole

go on.

01:14:41 Elizabeth Hillman

what’s orange and sounds like a parrot.

01:14:44 Peter O’Toole

Go on What’s orange and sounds like a parrot.

01:14:47 Elizabeth Hillman

A carrot.

01:14:48 Peter O’Toole

Oh you’ve got young children.

01:14:53 Elizabeth Hillman

That joke never fails.

01:14:56 Peter O’Toole

love it Elizabeth Thank you so much for joining me thank you for everyone who’s actually watched or listened to this is been hopefully you found it really inspiring and entertaining, especially on that last note it’s really that Elizabeth Thank you very much.

01:15:12 Elizabeth Hillman




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