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Elizabeth Villa (UC San Diego)

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About this episode

#43 — Elizabeth Villa, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UC San Diego talks to Peter O’Toole about the benefits of collaborative projects, the advantages and disadvantages of new microscopy techniques, and establishing fun lab traditions. We’ll chat about her early career as a Fulbright Scholar, her movement into biology to work with microscopy rock stars in the US and Europe, and understanding the social side of proteins using Cryo-EM.

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

Intro/Outro (00:00:01):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:14):
Today on The Microscopists, I’m talking to Elizabeth Villa Associate Professor at UC San Diego who work plans multiple disciplines. We discussed the benefits of collaborative research

Elizabeth Villa (00:00:26):
Led up to eventually a collaboration with Joachim and, and, and also a beautiful friendship. I, I should have given you a picture of Joachim dancing at my wedding,

Peter O’Toole (00:00:33):
The importance and fun of studying macro molecules.

Elizabeth Villa (00:00:38):
You know, proteins are very social and there’s this networks that are fun. And I can’t bring the life of me. Be happy with studying a single bio molecule again, and

Peter O’Toole (00:00:46):
The pros and cons of using advanced microscopy to illuminate important biological complexes.

Elizabeth Villa (00:00:53):
The beauty on the horror of EMS that you see everything

Peter O’Toole (00:00:56):
And developing new lab rituals

Elizabeth Villa (00:00:59):
In my lab, we trying to establish the tradition, which is submission beer rejection cocktails, and acceptance champagne.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:10):
Ooh. In this episode of The Microscopists, Hi, I’m Peter O’Toole from The University of York on today on The Microscopists. I’m joined by Elizabeth Villa from the University of California in San Diego. Elizabeth, how are you?

Elizabeth Villa (00:01:29):
Hi, I’m great. Thanks for having me. I’m excited about today.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:33):
Yeah, I, I was thinking about this, you know, you, you’re known for your prior EM work significantly, but you come from a physics background. You’re now doing loads of biological research using chemistry type tools. What are you?

Elizabeth Villa (00:01:51):
I I’m a scientist. I don’t know. You know, I don’t, I, I know a lot of my physics friends that have moved to biology make a point to say their physicists doing biology. I don’t, I don’t know. I think I’m just trying to claw myself into, you know, doing cell biology discovery. So I don’t know. It’s just, you know, whatever’s needed to, to follow the question, but in the sense of enjoying the process of building the tools as much as the question, I think that, you know, I guess makes me still a little bit of a physic.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:29):
Okay. So, you know, the,

Elizabeth Villa (00:02:31):
The process of tinkering that the no one can see it. So I wanna see it that I think that part is I guess at heart of physicist.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:39):
So, so let’s see how you, I try and work out how you got to where you are today. So your degree was in physics in Mexico, is that correct?

Elizabeth Villa (00:02:49):
My undergrad degrees in physics, I actually lived in Nottingham for one year in. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, and as an exchange student yeah, that was my first biophysics class that got me excited. Yeah. I, I,

Peter O’Toole (00:03:05):
Yeah, I have to be careful what I was gonna say. Cause I was gonna say, I’m sorry, it was Nottingham, but then I’ll offend everyone who’s in Nottingham. So I won’t say that

Elizabeth Villa (00:03:20):
I have, I, I, I loved it. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:22):
So what inspired you to go into physics to start with as an undergraduate?

Elizabeth Villa (00:03:27):
Oh, you know, I wish, so I guess on one side I’ve always been fighting time, you know, like time has been a concept that since I was a kid, I was always a little confused and upset about, I guess, like, why can’t it go backwards or, or, you know, how, how it’s it’s. I, I just think time is a very weird dimension, but really, I think I just love math. I really like, I mean, I like biology, but I don’t, I, I’m not very good at, you know, remembering things by heart or, or, or just sort of yeah, so I, and I love math and I, it’s a little funny cuz I decided to study physics cuz my dad told me you should study physics. Cuz if you study physics, you can do whatever you want after. And I was like, you know, I could see myself being happy, doing a hundred different things. And my dad, my dad’s an economist, so he’s not, he’s not a physicist, but he’s like, you can do finance, you can do economics, you can do whatever. Like the important thing about physics is that you learn to make models, which is true. And, and so I did and I was, I was very happy studying physics and you know, as I said, sometimes I would be like, oh, biology’s so cool, but it’s so messy and things like that. So I was happy doing physics. So it was sort of like a very smooth transition. I yeah, I, I decided I wanted to do theoretical biophysics. And so that’s sort of, and, and as I said, I’ve been sort of like slowly flowing my way to more and more bio. But I just, I guess like math and making models, I still do.

Peter O’Toole (00:04:59):
So, so you got into physics because you did, didn’t like, well maybe not the right term. Didn’t like time wanted to understand time, better as a dimension. And now you’ve ended up looking at spatial dimensions. I I’m really trying to get to, to break very

Elizabeth Villa (00:05:15):
Successfully freezing time though. So that’s good. But no I miss dynamics. Like I love cry. Yeah. But I miss dynamics part of it. So, you know, always trying to combine with other things, but yeah, I think, you know, the only thing that I can remember as a child that was, you know, in the physics sense, exciting to me about the universe is like what we think time is and why does it exist? And, and you know, things like that. But yeah, but I think I went into physics as, as many people go into University to kick the can of a decision of what to do a little forward.

Peter O’Toole (00:05:51):
Well, that that’s yeah, for me, biochemistry was just that cuz you biochemistry, you can do many other jobs like accounting or whatever else. God, I’m so glad I wasn’t an accountant. So after your physics degree, where did you go to?

Elizabeth Villa (00:06:07):
I went to do my PhD in true form through the theoretical and computational biophysics lab of Klaus Schulten in Illinois. So I, I got a Fullbright fellowship. I met my husband in the interviews, which is like the nerdiest story you’ve ever heard of. And then I went to Illinois in the middle of the cornfields and again, I actually had a lovely time over there. So it’s a very good group of biophysics and I was exposed to a lot of things. So I started by studying elastic rock models of DNA and then, you know, slowly got more and more into being more interested in, you know, I guess physiologically relevant biology. But yeah, I, I worked with Klaus, he passed away 2016 and yeah, he’s amazing. It’s like a true physicist trying to, you know, build this enormous simulations to try to build biology. He, he called simulations the computational microscope.

Peter O’Toole (00:07:07):
So that’s that’s so you made an early move into biophysics, so the bio biology was already coming into it. Right. And then to, to Mexico, to US to a bit of time in Nottingham.

Elizabeth Villa (00:07:23):
Yeah. And then to the, and then back to Mexico, the US Germany and then California,

Peter O’Toole (00:07:29):
That was Max Planck Bio chemistry and Munich.

Elizabeth Villa (00:07:34):
Yeah. So when I was a, I think like a first year grad student, I an essay in a class that was taught by Nigel Goldenfeld, who’s a condensed matter physicist who was done, you know, he he’s very famous for renal normalization theory. And then he went up into finance and then he decided it was time to go into biology. So as we do, he decided to learn something by teaching it. And so I took a course for, from Nigel that was called statistical physics applied to biological information and complexity,

Peter O’Toole (00:08:04):
That’s a short title

Elizabeth Villa (00:08:06):
Yes. Like a lot of cold stat math. And I wrote an essay so that, you know, how little biology I knew, even though I, I said I went to the biology, I wrote an essay of this thing that I found that was called the ribosome. And I talked about it. It was, is not a very good essay about how it’s a thermal ratchet. I mean, technically doesn’t need energy to, to make proteins, right? Like you, you, you have transcription factors and all these other things, but, but just with thermal motions, it technically could make a protein. And I wrote a bad essay about it. And Joachim Frank found this essay, I guess he was linking for. And and then he wrote me an email. I, he said, you know, when are you finishing your PhD? You should come work for me. And I was so excited. Yeah. I was like, I went to class and I’m like, oh my God, these rockstar, like, you know, just email me. And I think class was like, I’m a rockstar too. And so we sort of like that led up to eventually a collaboration with Joachim and, and, and also a beautiful friendship. I, I should have given you a picture of Joachim dancing at my wedding, but, but we, as we were, you know, the, the, the, the, eventually we collaborated with Joachim, this is when cry structures were really you know, he had the best resolution structure was like 6.73 Armstrongs because, you know, the second digit was important. And and so basically it was time for stop chopping structures and just sticking them into cryo maps and, and, and try to do a more systematically correct way of building models into this sort of like low resolution maps. So we started thinking about developing this method, and there were a few people in classes, lab that were interested about it. And the really cool part is that, you know, we needed, we wanted to understand electron optics and, and what the image actually means in order to, because what we were going to do was use it as a potential in the molecular dynamic simulation. So the map was going to attract atoms into it. And you wanted to make sure that it was sort of like something that was reasonable. And so the really fun part is I think at that time, Yahoo’s lab was very productive, but it was mostly people interested in the arrival zome as opposed to in image processing, like in the old days. So I always had to talk to Joachim about it. And that was, that really made me, so I just fell in love with cryo EM. It was just that like, you know, and, and, and not, I mean, you know, now we’re, it’s a very prolific technique at the time, you know, we were called it’s global biology and whatever, but I wasn’t excited about the structure. I was excited, you know, the average tells you about structure, but the standard deviation tells you, like, the fluctuation tell you about function. Right. And I was like, this method is gonna be huge because it’s a biophysics method. It’s not just a structure method. So I was very excited about it. And then I went to in the Marine biology lab to, to, to the physiology course. And then I was like, okay, like, you know, single molecules wiggling around are great, but, you know, proteins are very social and there’s these networks that are formed. And I can’t for the life of me, be happy with studying a single biomolecule again. And, but I, you know, so having, you know, what’s hope was amazing. Cause I, I, with Ron Vale, Eric Wieschaus and Tony Hyman, I mean, and I was just blown away because I came from this very sort of molecular view to just blowing up my mind and just, it was just amazing. And so then I decided, you know, cryo EM. I technically is the, you know, S I guess is the, the best radiation we have to look at biomolecules, right? Like, just in terms of wavelength and, and, you know, minimizing the radiation damage for per two x-rays and stuff. And so why is it not the best imaging tool for cell biology? And then I, I that’s, that’s how I ended up involved in Baumeister lab, because that’s exactly what he was trying to do for years, right. To develop the technology. So, so I mean, important to say that before Woodshole, I’ve never held a pipette in my hand, except for one week in Rob Phillips‘ lab in Caltech, which was really fun. Uso that was a trip. It was a, a pretty crazy change, but, you know, I do it again and again,

Peter O’Toole (00:12:20):
I didn’t realize that you have been every, almost every rockstar EM lab there is you’ve Henderson there, but yeah.

Elizabeth Villa (00:12:35):
You know, but also like almost by, by chance, right. I mean, by myself, of course I, no, I, it wasn’t by chance, but like all, all how I entered cryo EM was just like this random thing of, you know, Jaochim writing me an email and then just changing my life

Peter O’Toole (00:12:53):
So where, do you see where not, not, where do you see em going? We’ll come to that. Where do you see your research going? Cause you’re now getting more and more bio orientated trying to song those, the social side of proteins, which are lovely description of it. Where do you see your own, your heart in the research going?

Elizabeth Villa (00:13:14):
You know, it’s, I know some people have have a dream proper and, you know, they wanna completely solve how this protein works or how this process works. Or I, I have a very selfish or selfishly oriented view of, of science. I work on something that excites me. And, and very often that happens after a conversation. We have like this entire project on this phage nucleus, we call it, which is a large phage that infects bacteria and builds a compartment. That’s basically like a uric nucleus. It, it, it, it compartmentalizes DNA, it separates transcription and translation. I can stop thinking about it. You know, another conversation I had one day about this kinase is that, you know, it’s the main cause of Parkinson’s disease. And then all of a sudden we were working on that and, you know, I couldn’t read enough. And I guess the unifying theme is always trying to get inspired by a problem that I think it’s amazing. And then trying to push and adapt, you know, different methods to tackle it with, with whatever is needed. And, you know, at, at this point in my lab, it’s, it’s of course core cryo, election tomography, but, you know, we’ll do whatever we need and find whatever friends we need to, to go for problems that are exciting. So I don’t know what to tell you. I, you know, I

Peter O’Toole (00:14:45):
You’ve answered it. I, so you technologist and you are not looking for problems to solve. You’re not looking, you you’re look, you’ve got the technology development and then helping solve using that to solve problems that are needing it, which is a nice way round to it, those conversations. So those moments of inspiration, you talked about the phage, very example, where, where do they come from? What sorts of conversations are these down at lunch times in a shared canteen, are they at conferences? Are they just chance one to one conversations? Where were they coming from?

Elizabeth Villa (00:15:23):
I think all of those, right. All of the above and, and, you know, the vast majority of them don’t lead to me being like coming back to the lab and being like, oh my God, I’m so excited. And you know, everybody in the lab is like, don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact. Cause otherwise they’re like, yo, let’s do this. So yeah, you know, down the hall. So Joe who’s at UCSD just was down the hall from where my lab was located when I came to UCSD and, and, and, and Kit, his wife is also an amazing scientist. We have grants together and students together, and it was just basically, you know, a couple of conversations. Others have been at conferences, just, you know, I don’t know about others, but at least my career has been really marked by this serendipitous events that are like one conversation, one email. So something like that. And, and then it sort of, you know, it sticks in my head for a while and, and, and then eventually, sometimes I do something about it.

Peter O’Toole (00:16:23):
It was interesting hearing you go back to your lab and no makes eye contact. So I presume generally your very enthusiastic around the lab yes.

Elizabeth Villa (00:16:34):
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I only have like one mode, so,

Peter O’Toole (00:16:39):
So, so you’re not a calm person at work. You are a full throttle. No,

Elizabeth Villa (00:16:45):
I don’t. I mean, I wish I had a better poker face sometimes and, and, and, you know, modulate my enthusiasm or, or, or other but no, I, this is, this is more or less how I am, which is very different from, from a lot of the PIs or, or, or that I, that grew, grew up seeing Klaus wasn’t like that Klaus was like just bubbly everywhere. Like he would be super happy or super mad, like very honest. And I actually really love that. And that’s one thing that I actually also loved about Germany is that, you know, brutal honesty can be very very good for, for having successful friendships and collaborations and, and, you know, so just everybody knows where you are in the same place and, and, and what you like and what you don’t like. And, and, and I think that, for me, that’s easier. I, I don’t, you know, that’s that that’s like anti English. I know, but but that’s something that I, I don’t know if I learned it or picked it up from, from Klaus and, and, and I like it. So yeah, this is, I am like this in the lab. And I think dare I say people, new PIs are feeling that it is okay to be yourself in the lab. And I think before people felt you need to check your personality at the door maybe, and, and I think that’s changing and I, I like it.

Peter O’Toole (00:18:12):
Yeah. Gosh, I, I, I don’t think I’ve ever contemplated how the personality’s viewed, so I’m glad that’s changing.

Elizabeth Villa (00:18:21):
No, you know, in the sense that, so I, in, in my opinion, I think a lot of people thought, you know, if you’re very bubbly or if you’re whatever, maybe you’re not taking seriously. Right. And so, so, so maybe modulate that and yeah, I mean, that’s good that you’ve never had to worry about. It means it’s never been a problem for you. And honestly, I’ve never tried to modulate it and it’s never been a problem for me, but I, I know it’s in a lot of people’s minds.

Peter O’Toole (00:18:45):
Yeah. Actually, I actually, I wonder actually with the older guard, you know, on committees whether that is still the case, and maybe they find it a bit I didn’t know where not offensive, it’s the wrong word. I’m trying to find the right word. But you know, if you, if you’ve got characters, I’m, I’m a fairly full on character in meetings or can be, yeah. Maybe that actually it is maybe it’s quite jarring for them sometimes compared to this very composed, subtle way. I’ve it’s the future.

Elizabeth Villa (00:19:21):
Good to have all sorts at the table. Right. I, I think, and you know, as I said, just to be clear, I don’t think it’s ever, you know, been a negative thing for me. I mean, at least not that I’ve noticed and, and, and I enjoy it, but, you know, it’s just, it’s a little bit more fun. I mean, why, why were we so serious about everything?

Peter O’Toole (00:19:42):
So, so you are sounding people who are listening. They’re getting this, they’re building up an impression right now. So I’ve got to ask, are you a, a messy person or a tidy person?

Elizabeth Villa (00:19:57):
I mean, my background is tidy.

Peter O’Toole (00:20:01):
Well, your background is tidy. OK. If you camera around tidy, just see

Elizabeth Villa (00:20:04):
My desk right now. I am not, I am not a tidy person. I am, I was, or, or when I am in the lab and things like that, I am tidy. I’m very organized with my file, you know, so for certain things, but my, my reaction, I mean, but I have to fight entropy all the time. I mean, so my, my, my, my baseline is definitely not tight

Peter O’Toole (00:20:24):
Said like a true physicist. So are you a minimalist or a Maxamist? Do you like lots of stuff or do you like keep things to a minimum?

Elizabeth Villa (00:20:36):
Huh? I don’t, I don’t know. You know, one, one thing that I, so I, I don’t know if you’ve asking, you know, science wise, but I can say when it comes to consumerism, you know, in the US, there’s always this, I remember when I moved to the us from Mexico was shocked of how much trash I produced, you know, cuz everything comes single packed and everything. I was like, ah, I don’t. And, and, and so that’s, I think something, you know, in sale and everything is so cheap and you can buy like and buy, buy, buy, and that’s something I actually really liked about Germany. The, you buy one really good jacket and then it, you know, it lasts you for 15 years. So, so not like fast fashion and things like that. So I guess in that sense, more, a minimal, especially as we all, I think become aware of you know, how we’re messing up the planet, it’s kind of like good to keep it tight,

Peter O’Toole (00:21:26):
Got a jacket the 15 years old.

Elizabeth Villa (00:21:29):
I do, no, I dunno 15, but at least let me see I’m yeah. I think I, I bought a couple of really good jackets when I came to Munich, like for skiing and stuff like that. And they’re great.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:41):
So you wear them once a year when you ski?

Elizabeth Villa (00:21:44):
Well now yes. But other things like, you know, I, I, I have one jacket I’ve had like the jacket I’m looking at. It’s like eight years old, probably. So when I came here, I dunno, not all my clothes were 15 years old, but I, but I try to, you know, just maybe reduce my carbon footprint where I can.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:05):
So coming, staying out of work a little bit, I, I believe you are a family person. So we have this which picture right now, because this is your husband, but it looks like I’m looks like I’m your child, which is really, really scary. But if I just,

Elizabeth Villa (00:22:26):
I think I’m going to adopt you now, Peter? I think I, I think it, I think it’s law,

Peter O’Toole (00:22:31):
I, I can’t, I can’t, there’s no way I can hide here. Am I gonna be your husband or I’m gonna be his wife. I dunno which way it is from your child now, actually, if you are listening to this, maybe it’s just watch the YouTube of just this picture. That’s come up, my head just perfectly replaces your daughter’s head, which is really scary. I’ll go over here.

Elizabeth Villa (00:22:49):
There you go. Now we’re a family.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:53):
So, so, so, so this is your daughter. How old is your daughter now?

Elizabeth Villa (00:22:57):
She’s seven. Now this picture is yeah, like I guess seven years ago. When, when yeah, so we, I, I was, I found out I was pregnant when I came to UCSD. So she says, love, as old as my lab, I guess.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:11):
So, so is that’s that’s closer to me.

Elizabeth Villa (00:23:13):
That’s often that’s us in big or a couple of a few weeks ago. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:17):
Ah,

Elizabeth Villa (00:23:18):
Driving down the California coast. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:21):
So what does your husband do as a job?

Elizabeth Villa (00:23:23):
He’s a physicist. He’s still a physicist. He’s stuck with it. So he’s, he’s a faculty member here at UCSD also.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:32):
So you are both working at the moment, sorry. Hey, how did you, how did you, how did you balance that work life balance? You’re both working. You have a young daughter.

Elizabeth Villa (00:23:45):
That’s why I, you know, when you ask me like hobbies, I’m like, I guess I just gotta send a picture of my family cuz that’s when you have kids that yeah. So it’s, you know, it gets a little better with time, but I think I’m just always in awe of people who have children when they’re like grad students or post-docs because you even, you know, as a faculty member, it was, it was, you know, it was challenging at sometimes. So you balance you balance. You know, I think my lab benefited from me having a kid. I used to work crazy hours when I was a grad student of post-doc and when I was in Munich, you know, Easter would come and I’m like, oh my God, the microscopes for me. Yay. Cuz you know, everybody else took holiday. And I mean we did sometimes too, but, but but yeah, so I think it was good because a child forces you to have better work life balance and, and, and it’s fine, you know, it’s, it, it things work. You just, you become more efficient and I mean I’m, and I totally oversharing, but your marriage becomes more like a business, like very transactional and planning and things like that. But you know, you kind of like make it work. It’s it’s every, you know, everybody who has children and, and has, you know, two, two jobs are like both have jobs, has to go through

Peter O’Toole (00:25:05):
Basically that’s is important. It’s not detrimental to your career and it’s clearly not detrimental to your career

Elizabeth Villa (00:25:14):
So far so good. And you know, I, I have to say, I, I, on purpose, you know, she’s so tiny and she was growing so fast that we decided, you know, we need to enjoy this. Years’ gonna go so fast. And, and, and it was a little bit of a stressful thing. And you know, some people kind of would be, cuz I would be like, if it’s from five to 8:00 PM, I’d be like to my life, unless you’re dying, I’m gone. Like, you know, I, I, I need to, I need to do this. And, and then I’m back. Right? Like, and, and, and we can talk and, and on the weekends also a lot more, as I said, a lot more time off than, than we used to take. And yeah, I think so far, I don’t, I think I view if you’re, if you’re tidy, if you’re organized, it, it, it, I don’t think it hits your productivity that much, I mean, it does, but

Peter O’Toole (00:26:07):
Yeah,

Elizabeth Villa (00:26:07):
But it doesn’t, I mean, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter is what I wanna say.

Peter O’Toole (00:26:13):
I, I think there’s a lot to be said, as you say, when, when you are outta day job, number one and in day job, number two, which is your family and stuff actually that’s gives your brain time to read. And I think sometimes where some of the best ideas come from, you know, it’s not, when you’re trying to think of ideas, it’s when you are not trying to think of ideas that inspiration can, can come. So I was gonna ask, you talked about, you did to have hobbies, cuz it’s very much balancing the two. But you still have good times. Are you a, are you a beach bum or you, someone who likes to go sightsee and travel?

Elizabeth Villa (00:26:47):
I a beach bum. I like just staying in. What can you say?

Peter O’Toole (00:26:50):
Yeah. Would you prefer just to be on the beach all day or do you prefer actually go sight seeing when you do take time off and go on holiday?

Elizabeth Villa (00:26:57):
Oh both. I think, I mean, I like eating, so that’s a big part of like traveling for me. You know, I like sight seeing, I don’t, I’m not so much a beach bum.

Peter O’Toole (00:27:12):
The reason I ask you sent me some pictures and here you are on a beach with your daughter at a younger age, and then you sent me another picture. And here you are again with your husband and your daughter on a beach. I thought very

Elizabeth Villa (00:27:25):
Live in San Diego. That’s that’s not holidays though. That’s weekends for us. Oh,

Peter O’Toole (00:27:32):
You’re so lucky.

Elizabeth Villa (00:27:33):
I know. Sorry. yeah. So this is, this is not travel. This is, you know, this is killing Saturday afternoon, so, and that, so yeah, so I, I, we do, we do like the beach a lot, obviously. We live here and we, we take advantage of it. Sometimes we go with like, if we go with family on vacation, like my parents or things like that, then typically a beach is nice because yeah. But otherwise sightseeing, we like, it’s really fun to go to museums when with small of kids. Right. Cause everything’s new and fresh and you feel like you’re seeing this things for the first time and that’s just so fun. But yeah. And then as I said, I, I really like, I really enjoy trying foods from different places and stuff. So I, I know it’s weird to say, but food is a big part of my travel agenda. Typically. Typical

Peter O’Toole (00:28:25):
On what’s your favorite food?

Elizabeth Villa (00:28:27):
Sorry. My favorite

Peter O’Toole (00:28:28):
Food. What’s your favorite food?

Elizabeth Villa (00:28:30):
I dunno. I, I don’t know. That’s a really hard question. I can tell you weirdly enough, it’s not desserts or things like that. It’s mostly like savory things. I just, I just like everything. I mean not everything but most things.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:50):
Okay. So, so what do you dislike if you went to a conference and they took you out for a dinner and they served up and you go, please don’t let it be, please don’t let it be. What is it that you would fear that they were put in front of me?

Elizabeth Villa (00:29:03):
I’ll try everything once. I can’t, you know, there’s things that I like more that I like less, but I no off the top of my head. I can’t imagine that it’ll serve me something. That’ll be like, even if it looks like super weird, my motive is like, you have to try once. Like maybe you don’t like it, then you don’t have to eat it again, but you try it once. So I, I don’t. Yeah. I don’t know.

Peter O’Toole (00:29:27):
I love the way you said. Yeah. It doesn’t matter what you, you have no idea how bad my cooking is. It’s

Elizabeth Villa (00:29:41):
Because I like eating, but not because I enjoy cooking that that’s that’s how I know I’m not a chemist. I think chemists are traditionally or at least my friends that are chemists are very good cooks

Peter O’Toole (00:29:56):
Saturday night, put some good music on, put also red wine and cook

Elizabeth Villa (00:30:03):
That that’s. That is, that is low.

Peter O’Toole (00:30:09):
Okay. So you, you talked, I should have realized the beach connection, cause this is, I presume a lab photo.

Elizabeth Villa (00:30:15):
That’s my lap photo. Yes. We just took that a few weeks ago. Yeah. With

Peter O’Toole (00:30:19):
A

Elizabeth Villa (00:30:21):
That’s the Scripts peer. Yeah. That’s like the San Diego, like the UCSD Scripts Institute of paleography Peer So a lot of cool research comes out of that. It’s

Peter O’Toole (00:30:32):
A big lab that a lab I can count on there.

Elizabeth Villa (00:30:36):
It’s a big lab. Yes. Yes. It’s a big lab. So a lot of, a lot of people are joint with other labs cuz we work together. But yeah, it’s a big lab. It’s it’s it’s a great lab. I’m so I’m really lucky. Sorry. I’m lucky luckier than most.

Peter O’Toole (00:30:56):
I’m gonna ask you, you are not old. You are really young and you have a big lab. How, how did you find this sort of very start when you set off and actually you struck out into your own lab, how did you find that moment? And you know, you’re stepping out as your own lab, which is quite different to being a post-doc in someone else’s lab with the direction that comes suddenly you are the director of that research. Yeah. How did you find that?

Elizabeth Villa (00:31:26):
You know, it’s, it’s kind of brutal how academia works. So you know, I basically, so I, I thought it was really funny when I came to UCSD I came to a room and that was my office and it was empty. It didn’t have a chair on it. And all I got was like this index number, which is basically your bank account. And that’s it, you know, so was discussing with my brothers an investigative journalist and, and we were, you know, talking about this and he’s like, so let me understand this. So you are, you were in school for like a really, really, really long time and you became very good at this one thing. And then people hired you because you’re very, very good at this one thing. And now they hire you. They basically give you a bank account and you have to, you know, manage people who do, you know, you don’t know how to do manage your finances, which you don’t know how to do, teach, which you don’t know or actually how to do. And the one thing you don’t do is the thing they hire you to do. I’m like, yeah, that sounds about right. You know, cause you do, of course you mentor people to do it, but as time goes by you, you spend a, you know, a smaller fraction of your time in, in actually in the lab. Right. And, and so it’s very weird. But you just, I mean, you just do it, what are you gonna do? I mean, it’s exciting also, you know, you buy all these new things and like the first box that comes with your name, you’re like, oh my God, it’s it’s I dunno. It’s exciting. It’s, it’s challenging. I mean the last two years obviously has been really hard being a mentor and just trying to keep people happy and telling them everything’s gonna be okay. It was, you know, crossing your fingers behind your back yourself and, and but it was, it was fun challenging and stressful. But I, I, you know, and then I had like a tiny baby. It was, but, but, but it was, it was, I don’t know, you know survivor’s bias, I guess. I I’m, I’m, I’m happy. I, I, I like my job a

Peter O’Toole (00:33:34):
Lot. So, so it sounds like COVID was a, a challenging time over the past couple of years to, to keep it to team going,

Elizabeth Villa (00:33:43):
You know, it’s I mean about the science I’m, I’m not supposed to say this, but like, I, it, it just, it was really important, but I, I, I, I didn’t care. I mean, like if, if, if we took a hit scientifically I’m, like I decided I was not going to chase people around it to being productive, you know, all of these things going on and, you know, like in the US also then became all this sort of like racial justice events and things like that. And a lot of people were in a, you know, very isolated, bad place. And for me, it was just, you know, my job is to be a mentor. And I, I, I take that, you know, seriously, I think that’s for probably, you know, other than, you know, making scientific discoveries or things like that is that I, I, I, I, I wanna make sure people in my lab are successful and, and happy and, and yeah, I, I, I thought it was challenging, I think. Yeah. I don’t know, you know, but they’re great. I told you, my lab is just, just full of seem funny, creative, smart, hardworking people that are super resilient and, and, and, you know,

Peter O’Toole (00:34:49):
So does that mean, I I’m just going back to the picture, there’s a lot of them, that’s, you’re their line manager, but actually some of these are PhD students, I assume, postdoctoral staff. Yeah. That actually need more than more guidance than a typical line manager. If you’ve got someone who’s already very skilled, they, you know, they’re pretty much solo running anyway. And you’re just there as a mentor, I should say. But in this case, it’s more than a mentor, isn’t it? You know, you do have to give direction more advice. How do you find, how do you make sure you give them all enough time? And I, I presume some must demand, demands the wrong word. Some like to have more time, some like to have less time, there’s not demanding completely wrong phrase. It’s just, it’s just how they work.

Elizabeth Villa (00:35:33):
Yeah. So I think, you know, that’s a really funny thing that to bring up because I, all the labs I was in, so like in Klaus’s lab or Baumeister lab. They were really, really large labs with, they’re very sort of like hands off. I mean, I always think it it’s like you just walk in and it’s, you know, like a Willy Wonka and you get to play and do whatever willy wonka is a bad analogy. But, but places that I, I always was very self-driven and I, I don’t mean to say this is a bad thing or, or a good thing. I think that really important thing is to find a good fit between your style and the lab style. So I was ever only in these labs where I was just so lucky to have all the resources that I needed and the occasional, you know, discussion with my advisor which was great. And, and, and, and they were both very supportive mentors. So even when I was starting my lab, I was very hands off. And, and, and that’s very rare for an assistant professor and probably a bad idea, but, but, but that’s how I did it. And so, and, and I found out, you know, as, as the years progressed, as, as, as you’re saying, some people need more structure, some people want less and, and sort of like adapting is, is important, but, but you know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve learned to adapt and, and, and try to, you know, stand up to it. But I do have serious conversations with people that are, you know, joining my lab and being like, you know, it’s not only about the science you wanted to do. It also needs to, you know, I wanna make sure that if you come to the lab, you’re successful and, and I’m, you know, I’m here for you. And I’m, I, I feel I’m more like a coach than a boss, you know, like I’m, I’m there to fitness their skills and, and cheerlead and, and help ’em around and things like that. But, but I, You know, they’re their own people and I’m just, you know, I’m just providing a home for them to do fun things, just how I was lucky to have that when, when I was a trainee.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:33):
So out of your team who’s the best one. No, I’m joking. I say, it’s a really question. You don’t want me to ask. I never thought of that one.

Elizabeth Villa (00:37:47):
Amazing. I love my children. You call,

Peter O’Toole (00:37:52):
Sorry. There’s always one, that’s the least favourite. There’s always a black sheep in every team.

Elizabeth Villa (00:38:00):
Also it’s really funny, like people in my lab come from all the walks of life. Right. And that’s also really fun about like interdisciplinary teams these days that, you know, some of them come from, you know, hardcore materials science, and, and some of them are, you know, just, I, I had a fantastic cell biologist in my lab. Reka who, you know, she never did like a lot of quantitative stuff. And, and, and, you know, they, they bloom along the way. Right. Cause you learn from, from, from the others and, and gain perspective. So I, I, I like that. It’s really fun.

Peter O’Toole (00:38:35):
So going back onto the more scientific side of the work side, you sent me this picture, which I’m glad I up. And hopefully we can, if you, if you go to watch this we’ll, we’ll try and get a bigger blow up of this, but Go on you described the picture for those who are listening.

Elizabeth Villa (00:38:51):
So that, I mean, that’s a slice through, through a Tomograph, as we discussed earlier you know, the, the doing trio election tomography of cells John, that what told me like the beauty and the horror of EM, is that you see everything right? And, and, and so this is a cell, this is a, this is a human cell. And I think this is a, Tomograph also from, from Reka. And you can see the nuclear envelope is, is up here, these two lines, and then there’s a mitochondria top and, and, and the nucleus in the bottom, right? So mitochondria up, yes, nucleus is in the bottom. So you can see some chromatin over there and, and, and, and nice things. And there’s some nuclear poor, and I’ve always been, I’m a very visual person, obviously. And, and I, I love, I love David Goodell’s work and, and that’s a painting from David Goodell post in one of our Tomographs. And I remember seeing the Tomograph is sort of like one of the first ones that we got in the lab when I moved here and I put the painting on top and, oh my God, it just fits perfectly. David is so good. Cuz what he does is, you know, he reads a lot about a particular, you know, corner of the cell. And then he uses all data that’s available to him and, and he makes some educated guesses and talks with the scientists and he makes these beautiful paintings and it’s right on the money. So my, you know, one of my dreams is to be able to annotate tomography by using, you know, things from many, many other techniques to, to basically make what David does very, that

Peter O’Toole (00:40:20):
This was a painting, not, not color Tomograph This was

Elizabeth Villa (00:40:24):
That’s a water color and was not based on our Data. And I mean, I,

Peter O’Toole (00:40:29):
Oh my goodness.

Elizabeth Villa (00:40:30):
I know.

Peter O’Toole (00:40:30):
No, I didn’t realize that that

Elizabeth Villa (00:40:32):
No

Peter O’Toole (00:40:35):
This is an artist drawing that fits the real scientific image, which is down to the nanometer sub nanometer resolution. See

Elizabeth Villa (00:40:43):
Like, if you see the, like the nuclear lamina, you can see it, the nuclear envelope, the nuclear for everything. It’s just, it’s just, it’s just shocking. How good he is.

Peter O’Toole (00:40:53):
Silence is me a bit shocked. Sorry. I, I, I, I, haven’t got another question cuz I wow. That, yeah. I’m also amazed that you also managed to get a tomograph that actually fits the same orientation or I know there’s a bit of moving to, but to even get it to that, is that,

Elizabeth Villa (00:41:12):
You know, I mean it fits, it fits very nicely in, in, in, in a lot of tomographs, but in this one and you can’t see it very well right now, but like even the chromatin, like, like right, right where your ear is right now, like a little bit higher, I guess like your temple there, like the chromatin is coming in and it just fits like this chain that he did

Peter O’Toole (00:41:32):
See the gray cretin coming through.

Elizabeth Villa (00:41:34):
Yeah, yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:41:35):
I say the gray, the cretin, that’s the gray in my hair as well. It matches it. So you didn’t realize I can match gray electron microscope images as well either. Yeah.

Elizabeth Villa (00:41:43):
So yeah. You know, it’s fun to think about, you know, that maybe one day will be as good as David in annotating our data, you know? Cause

Peter O’Toole (00:41:54):
Yeah, you, you sent another image as well. Two images and this, this one, do you know what it doesn’t look as cool, But oh my goodness, this is a really challenging imaging to get. So actually those not actually I, Elizabeth you describe it as probably more sensible than you described

Elizabeth Villa (00:42:14):
Is a little saturated. I’m sorry. I, I didn’t realize this, but, but this is an image from our project on collar two and the reason I send it to you is because it’s this so-called correlative light and electron microscopy. And so here we have a protein that’s YFP tag that we’re showing at green and it’s co localized with microbial. So you can see like wherever you see the dark green, there’s always these little like lines around them. And those are microtus that are decorated with this protein collar two. That is the main cause of genetic Parkinsons. And that’s what we were studying, but it’s really fun. I think, you know, to, to say combining different modalities to get to the answer that you need is, is always really fun. And so in this case, it’s light and electro microscopy and I think it’s I mean, everybody’s very excited about it now. It’s just a, it’s just a really great thing to, you know, combining imaging modalities and, and yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:10):
And it is good. You seen the lighter side of biological sciences as well. So

Elizabeth Villa (00:43:16):
I, I love light microscopy and, and, and, and, and I, I mean, this is, this is a still image for both of them, but, but of course the beauty of light microscopy is that you can, you can see dynamics, right. And that’s that’s

Peter O’Toole (00:43:30):
And maybe that brings in your, your time dimension. Yeah. Again, that you can do your time and then freeze that moment in time. So you do have the time resolution and then yes, you’re pausing time or freezing time, literally freezing time at that moment. Which is nice. It does bring your time as well as this resolution the, the, the spatial dimensions to be much better, right. At that point. I’ve gotta ask so actually for people, not everyone will be expert in prior, em these microscopes cost God, how much does a microscope cost? Typically?

Elizabeth Villa (00:44:07):
I think that it’s too much. So like several million is the right answer. I think, you know, someone from five to eight probably and then they come with a service contract, a contract that’s about $250,000 a year.

Peter O’Toole (00:44:27):
Yeah. That that’s the bit that really bites. Cause that’s keeps on biting, you’re on, you’re out

Elizabeth Villa (00:44:34):
Buying the instrument is a thing that you can get people excited about maintain the instrument. It’s a much taller order, right. Because yeah, it’s, it’s the same thing. As you know, sometimes building a facility is great staffing it, no, it, it, it’s not as shiny, right. To like donate money to keep something running. It’s just shiny when you cut the ribbon. And, and

Peter O’Toole (00:45:02):
I, I think you, you actually you’ve mentioned it. It’s actually really important because it’s not just the cryo em world. It’s also the genomics world. It’s also the, Spatial Omics, the cost of the very latest technologies are increasingly expensive and this isn’t just companies property. You know, this is just the cost of the research and development to get to that next level of resolution and sensitivity cost money. It’s not cheap and not everyone will have them. So it’s not like they’ve got unit sales of tens of thousands of these. Right. So it does cost a lot of money. And so I think the key bit, you already mentioned your research into Parkinson’s disease and the importance to look at the structure to understand the disease to start with.

Elizabeth Villa (00:45:51):
Right.

Peter O’Toole (00:45:52):
Got, do have other examples of be beyond Parkinson’s that this is being used for.

Elizabeth Villa (00:45:59):
Yeah. So I mean, this project with Parkinson’s is the first time in my life that I worked in something that I, that like could directly help people, which was really humbling, cuz I was like, oh, I’m a basic scientist. I’m a basic scientist. And it was actually really touching and meaningful and, and, and I, you know, I, I, yeah, I like, I, I I’ve been bit by the bug, so that’s good. But a lot of people are, are are using tomography to try to understand disease in, in general, you know, many different diseases Scheres at, at the LMB works on amyloid fibers for, for Alzheimer’s. Right. And, and, and it’s just shocking that, you know, they’re starting to find out that there’s different types and, but, but then you can, there’s only so many probably. And so it’s, it’s, you know, and, and how to at the chemical level, maybe how to combat them and things like that. So there, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s growing and as Cryo EM became this, you know, very high risk solution method so fast, then you can really go into like drug targeting and, you know, solving structures with different drugs bound to them or things like that. And starting to look at at different things and, and in cells, of course it’s the same thing, because as long as you can have enough good statistics, you can see how like a drug would change or a disease would change. I mean, you know, the fact that you’ll have a single point mutation and wreck havoc in an entire organism, to me, it’s just like insane and, and, you know, and to start somewhere. Right. And, and so, so at the cellular level, sometimes the phenotypes are actually quite remarkable and that’s just fascinating to see, yes.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:39):
Now you didn’t send me a picture of these five to 8 million pound microscopes, but you actually have a picture of, well, it’s a, it’s not even a schematic, is it? It’s, it’s a Lego design of actually a Cryo EM, electro Lego, Lego electron microscope.

Elizabeth Villa (00:47:58):
Yeah. That was, that was a gift a few years ago from the vice president of Thermo Fisher and, and the,

Peter O’Toole (00:48:06):
That didn’t cost a million dollars did it?

Elizabeth Villa (00:48:09):
That did not that, that I, I don’t think it cost him a million dollars. It was, it, it, it, it was built by by a person that works on the floor of the factory of Titan and cryo. So those are original Lego parts. Now they have sets that they give you either when they wanna sell you one or when they sold you one, which is a good idea, cuz sometimes PI get to play with the real thing. So you get to play with the one in your office, I guess. So that one’s in my office.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:36):
So Thermo, if you’re listening. Yes, please. That would be cool. I’ve got a nice flow cytometer one back at home. I haven’t got

Elizabeth Villa (00:48:47):
To complete the whole set get your little sandbox in your office with all your toys.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:55):
I’m trying to think who, who was it that did loads of Lego during lockdown? So one of the other podcast actually, that’s what they did. They spent loads of time, it’s what they did with their child, with their children during it.

Elizabeth Villa (00:49:08):
Yeah, yeah, yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:49:08):
Yeah. Interesting Lego. Which I think is super cool.

Elizabeth Villa (00:49:12):
Yeah. That’s

Peter O’Toole (00:49:14):
It will come to me as we go through take everything has sounded really rosy and really good. There, there must have been really difficult times though. That you’ve encountered, there’s been the most challenging time to date. Oh, it’s Prisca, wasn’t it? It’s who did load of Lego anyway. Sorry, go on.

Elizabeth Villa (00:49:36):
The most challenging time O there’s been a bunch

Peter O’Toole (00:49:46):
Hmm. You really, really stick out as, I, I really wouldn’t want to relive that time for that moment or that challenge or that problem.

Elizabeth Villa (00:49:56):
I would say sometimes academic politics can be difficult. So there’s been a couple of instances that I’d rather not describe in detail, but yeah, I think, yeah. There’s yeah. I have a Few, I’ll tell you over a beer one day.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:20):
Okay. So, okay. So on that point, wine or beer?

Elizabeth Villa (00:50:25):
Wine or beer?

Peter O’Toole (00:50:26):
Yeah. Watch your prep some quick fire questions. Wine

Elizabeth Villa (00:50:28):
Wine or beer? I, I, I thought you said why no beer? I’m like,

Peter O’Toole (00:50:32):
No, no, no. Wine or beer. Sorry.

Elizabeth Villa (00:50:37):
Oh my God. I’m I’m I, I, I can’t choose between my babies. Don’t do that. So I, I drink beer again, another very good habit I picked up in Germany. I, I drink beer after with dinner. But on weekends, as you said, as I’m cooking, sometimes I actually like to have a glass of wine and you know, sort of it’s. So it’s different. If I’m, if I’m writing a reference letter for someone, I have a glass of wine, I don’t know. It’s like a nice tradition puts me in a good mood. So no, actually in my lab, we’re trying to establish a new tradition, which is submission beer rejection cocktails and acceptance champagne.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:19):
Cool.

Elizabeth Villa (00:51:20):
There’s a lot of cocktails. Nice.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:23):
Yeah. How many, how many page to publish a year? Cuz that could be a lot of alcohol just in one. You year.

Elizabeth Villa (00:51:29):
Yeah. Just especially the cocktail sadly. Right? Like everybody gets rejected much more than people think or know. So it’s not that much. I mean, you know, cryo election tomography, slow enough that I’m not worried about us. Under alcohol consumption, so,

Peter O’Toole (00:51:46):
Okay. So tea, coffee.

Elizabeth Villa (00:51:50):
That also fluctuates too. I really like tea. So right now I’m going through a tea period. Good British tea. But but I like coffee too. And sometimes I do espresso only and, and then sometimes I do, you know, other, yeah. So today I was having like a taller, like a Americano, so yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:14):
Ah, see, if you’re gonna have caffeine, make it short and make it good.

Elizabeth Villa (00:52:19):
Make it short. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:20):
I think I know the answer to this already from earlier chocolate or cheese.

Elizabeth Villa (00:52:27):
Why are you making me choose between things I love. Okay. I’ll tell you what no. White chocolate, no milk, milk chocolate. So

Peter O’Toole (00:52:35):
Dark Chocolate

Elizabeth Villa (00:52:36):
Dark chocolate. That’s it. And cheese. I adore like most kinds of cheese. Also. One of my very best friends is Rachel Dutton. Who’s a cheese scientist and, and therefore I get like a really good like I, I, I get really good consulting on, on cheese. So yeah.

Elizabeth Villa (00:52:56):
I seem to answer all your questions,

Peter O’Toole (00:52:59):
You never want trust a Dutch cheese scientist cuz there’s holes throughout all their research, Sorry. Book or TV

Elizabeth Villa (00:53:10):
Book or TV. I would, I used to book I think in like since the pandemic started, I kind of picked up on TV again, but I have to say the new podcast era is wonderful for me because what happens for me is that if I’m, I, I listen through the entire, however many seasons of the, you know, this show lost.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:32):
Yep.

Elizabeth Villa (00:53:33):
I had never seen it and when I was in Munich and I was trying to like write some code, like for tomography analysis and whatever, I listened through like all seasons of lost. And like in some season I turned like, oh, she’s blonde. Like I would’ve imagined her being different because I, I think I was born for podcasts. So I, I, I listened to tons of podcasts that

Peter O’Toole (00:53:55):
Podcast. What’s your favorite podcast?

Elizabeth Villa (00:54:02):
Mmm Microscopists of course

Peter O’Toole (00:54:04):
Right answer. So what sort of genre of podcast do you like listening to?

Elizabeth Villa (00:54:10):
I did a lot of true crime when the pandemic started, you know, when whatever got me out of reality and so that kind of stuff. So fi a lot of fiction I like to listen to, but also I, this is how I consume my news. Like the daily and this week in biology was I think the podcast everybody needed during the pandemic. I, I, I mean, I was not very well versed in biology and I think they’ve done a fantastic job at educating people through a very scientific point of view, but also approachable for other people. So I listened to that and then this week in microbiology, so, so amazing. Yeah. So it’s sort of like a healthy mix, also audio books sometimes. So I, I I’ve found I need to go back into sitting down and reading books because I lately I haven’t been doing it a lot, but when I do read very often I like reading in Spanish Latin American authors or things like that, because that really kinda like, like turns off my brain. Like it, it feels like it really like switching languages for me, seems to really allow me to switch, you know, mentality. And that’s sort of very good for just getting distracted.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:26):
I have to ask, do you speak German as well?

Elizabeth Villa (00:55:29):
Very badly.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:30):
Okay.

Elizabeth Villa (00:55:31):
Now I learned French in school, so I speak French. But when I went to Germany, I’m like, I’m so good at languages. It turns out I was just young when I learned them. So it was hard also, you know, German speak English very well. So, so they’ll switch. And and when I moved to Munich, I didn’t know, electronmicroscopy, I didn’t know cell biology and didn’t know image processing. And so I, I, I think German suffered as a result of my many shortcomings. So I, I ended up learning the others better.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:07):
The other last set of quick fire questions, early bird or night owl

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:13):
Night owl

Peter O’Toole (00:56:15):
PC or Mac,

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:17):
Mac

Peter O’Toole (00:56:18):
Mcdonald’s or burger king,

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:21):
Neither.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:22):
Oh, Mexico, or US,

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:25):
Sorry,

Peter O’Toole (00:56:25):
Mexico or US.

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:28):
Ooh, different. I love them both.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:32):
That was very politically careful. No,

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:35):
It’s true. I’m you know, I’m, I’m, I’m Mexican. I dance. I, I, I, you know, I’m, I, I don’t know, but, but I, an American citizen, I love a lot of things about the US. It’s just, you know, it’s just, it’s, it’s a mix. I’m both with a little bit of German.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:53):
Okay. Favorite movie?

Elizabeth Villa (00:56:57):
Favorite movie. Oh, this is hard. I don’t have a favorite. I don’t really rewatch movies over and over. Except for frozen, but that was not my choice.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:11):
We got over again. OK. Maybe we should have asked least favorite movie.

Elizabeth Villa (00:57:17):
I was like, it’s a fine movie. I don’t, I don’t know. I, sorry, I don’t, I don’t, I watch a lot of French cinema. It’s a lot of fantastic movies there, but I, yeah, I don’t, I don’t have a favorite movie. I don’t

Peter O’Toole (00:57:31):
Think favorite color, Favorite color. This,

Elizabeth Villa (00:57:36):
This one this week. I’ve been, I’ve been testing colors for my office wall and I’m kind of like a liking blue with a little bit of green on it right

Peter O’Toole (00:57:45):
Now. It turquoise.

Elizabeth Villa (00:57:47):
Yeah. It’s like a dark dark course. I like

Peter O’Toole (00:57:50):
This does not show a true color right now. My Facebook’s really red. You have no idea. It’s it’s the winter over here. I am still really pale. It’s just by camera. White balance does no justice. Oh, My windows surface does not do a good job of white balance on this. We’ve talked, you know, we are up to the hour and I’ve got loads of questions I wanted to ask you. And I haven’t asked you all. I guess the, the biggest question is where do you see the biggest, what’s the biggest challenge that needs to, that we need to overcome to help Cryo EM microscopy in general move forward. What is the biggest limiting step at the moment?

Elizabeth Villa (00:58:36):
I think automation, you know, there’s a lot of things that we still do by hand that we shouldn’t have to. And so, I mean, there’s obviously like to go when this is not gonna be a short answer. If we have to talk about bringing the technology to like, as far as they can go, but in order to sort of democratize these technologies better, I think that the barrier of entry is still relatively high. And I don’t, I don’t think it should be. It’s just, it’s just inform, I mean, for one thing, it’s information and this a lot of, kind of like hidden knowledge that, you know, at least in my lab and I think many others, we try to put out in the world, like, you know, these, when this happens, you can do this, but for the stuff that we do. So just sort of like focusing on tomography, I think that companies need to make this instruments, leaner, meaner, and sort of like basically have a lot more automation into them. And then, so we can focus more on, you know, making the questions relevant and, and, and, and making the cell lines that we need or, or, or asking the right questions and preparing all the way to there. It’s like in my lab and others, it’s still a big sort of like a big barrier to getting the data and then an even bigger barrier to analyzing the data. And I think that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, you know, put a lot of effort into making that go away. And, and, and then, you know, I think that as people go to the core and use a confocal now, and it’s one of 15 tools that they use to publishing a paper, em, should be similar. There’s no reason not to. And, and, and for light microscopy, I think it’s, it’s getting better, but yeah, more access, cheaper access. And, and I think a lot more automation, like, there’s no reason why the computer shouldn’t like guide you through a lot more than it does right now. So,

Peter O’Toole (01:00:39):
And I guess that’s You, you’re into, obviously a lot of the work is volume, em, as well with the 3d rendering, but actually it’s not just the volume of the image. It’s the volume of images to make it statistically relevant as well. So actually you say automated speed back to your time,

Elizabeth Villa (01:01:00):
Speed

Peter O’Toole (01:01:00):
Up. So you automate it can speed it up. So you now trying to speed up time, see that, see, see, that can speed up

Elizabeth Villa (01:01:07):
Always comes back to that.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:08):
That’s good. And then you did send me another picture, which I think is quite AP now that I think you probably got what you want to find at the end of the rainbow is that probably

Elizabeth Villa (01:01:21):
That’s from a photographer, Eric Jespen at UCSD who just does beautiful images. And, and that was a few weeks ago. So there’s two rainbows in there. Yeah. And that’s a script ski. That’s also from him. That’s that’s over the Christmas brain. And right now we have like dly. So if you go at night, you actually see like the

Peter O’Toole (01:01:42):
It does look

Elizabeth Villa (01:01:43):
Amazing. No, it’s actually algae. And it’s, it looks red. Sometimes. It’s beautiful. It’s hard to be. It’s hard to be. It’s hard to be mad at the world sometimes when you know, you go and sit there.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:56):
No, it does look very calm and peaceful. Yeah. Elizabeth, we are up to the hour. Can I just thank you once again for today and actually for everyone who’s watched, listen, please be able subscriber. Actually, you’ve heard a lot today about volume EM. Jeff Lichtman obviously does a lot of volume EM as well. Lucy Collinson for the CLEM side and, and Volume EM, Prisca Liberali for the Lego making side of things and Harald Hess putting that CLEM sight together as well. So there’s lots of others, but Elizabeth, I’ve gotta say your excitement, your enthusiasm, your passion. Wow. You’re amazing. Thanks. Very much joining. Oh

Peter O’Toole (01:02:35):
My oh, you’re. Amazing. Thank you so much for doing this. I think this is for me, this podcast has been inspiring to listen to, so I’m, I’m sure. I, I wish I had this young me. So thank you for doing this.

Peter O’Toole (01:02:50):
Yeah. Thank you very much.

Intro/Outro (01:02:52):
Thank you for listening to The Microscopists, a Bitesizebio podcast sponsored by Zeiss microscopy to view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit bitesizebio.com/themicroscopist

 

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