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Ernst H.K. Stelzer (Goethe-Universität)

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About this episode

#17 — There’s no question that Ernst H. K. Stelzer is a key figure in the world of high-resolution fluorescence microscopy, but did you know that his love of physics stemmed from a desire to build a time machine?

In this down-to-earth chat with the pioneer of confocal 4Pi fluorescence microscopy, we’ll discuss why scientists need to be able to take risks in their research, how Ernst also worries about pursuing the right research, and how problems should be seen as opportunities.

We’ll also learn more about Ernst’s inspirations, his bond with his grandfather, playing Age of Empires with his grandchildren, and his history of losing luggage while travelling

Follow Peter O’Toole and Goethe-Universität on Twitter.



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Please note that this is a Machine Transcription and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:02):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:19):
In this episode of The Microscopists I’m joined with Ernst Stelzer and it’s really entertaining. And we hear him talk about time travel, ‘but I think I want you to go back to B. I wanted to be a knight or something like this. Yeah. Yeah.’ How microscopy has developed since Ernst started out in his research ‘when we, when I started, we recorded four images per day’. And why the status quote isn’t necessarily a good thing ‘to tell you out of the, but the problem is the sample preparation. No, the problem is not the sample preparation. That’s that? That’s an opportunity’ and playing golf in a kilt. ‘I Think it was whiskey whiskey. We had the dram’ All in this episode of The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:11):
Hi. I’m Peter O’Toole and today on The Microscopists I’m joined by joined by Ernst Stelzer from Goethe Universitat in Frankfurt, Ernst. Hi, how are you?

Ernst Stelzer (00:01:23):
Hi. Hi Peter. How are you?

Peter O’Toole (00:01:25):
No, I’m good. Thank you. So where where’s the best place to start? I think the best place I’ve got two places I could start actually. Firstly, my first meeting with you was actually a really important time, a really important moment in my career and actually quite a few careers. And that was a course at EMBL. So it was the EMBO light microscopy workshops, which was a two week intensive course. And you were there talking about 4Pi and other techniques at the time and that was mind blowing. It just opened my eyes to the world of microscopy and the careers and the potential going forward that this is really a technology going forward and it wasn’t just me.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:12):
There were other people there Claudia Lucas Oliver Rocks Ricardo Henriquez. We were all on that course and all truly inspired by it. It was brilliant. So thank you very much. I have to say some of the technologies you’ve talked about was quite a high level of physics, which I was struggling with during that course. And I actually remember coming down at the end of the seminar to ask you personal questions, questions to explain it. And you were really patient and took your time so I could understand it and, and still understand it thankfully today. So thank you very much. That’s a good start.

Ernst Stelzer (00:02:51):
Now. I feel much better.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:53):
Relax you into it. The other time was actually, I was hosting ELMI in York back in 2006, 2007. I can’t remember exactly which and actually one of the invited speakers to talk at it and you didn’t show up, you didn’t get there. And I remember the phone call from yourself, taking the voicemail thinking Oh, no, I’ve got this voicemail from Ernst Stelzer explaining he couldn’t make the meeting. So would you like to explain now why you couldn’t make that meeting?

Ernst Stelzer (00:03:25):
Well, actually we were in Valencia, I think at that time I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was Valencia and we were at a meeting and instead of going back to Heidelberg at that time, we actually had a kind of group retreat there and unluckily as several things happened. But one of the things that that was a complete disaster is that I had no all my clothes had I didn’t have access to them because I gave them to the hotel to have them washed and unluckily. There was a holiday, so I didn’t get it. And it, I would have had to purchase everything completely new for that meeting. And I that’s why I actually, I, I think that was one of the reasons why I canceled it. There was probably another one, but I can’t recall that anymore. It’s it’s quite a while ago. Yeah. It’s, it’s one of those. There was another meeting in ed where it was, it went to London and then unluckily, Lufthansa didn’t deliver my suitcase. I remember that one very well. So that happened several times to me, but this one in, I think in York that was for the meeting in York was the, was one of the worst because I had nothing, absolutely nothing.

Peter O’Toole (00:04:44):
But like I said, that is one of the most original excuses, I think.

Ernst Stelzer (00:04:49):
Sounds like a yeah, but it’s not an excuse. It was really true.

Peter O’Toole (00:04:53):
Your team were backing you up on the way cause they came over, introduced themselves in there.

Ernst Stelzer (00:04:59):
Yeah. It was really bad.

Peter O’Toole (00:05:02):
You were coming over at that point, I think to talk about 4PI and different imaging techniques. So I think you were at Heidelberg at the time, back then. So you’ve had quite a, you sent me a lovely image actually of a timeline of, I’ve just got to find it of a lot of the innovations and it’s kind of mind blowing to see just how many innovations you’ve got over. There was a light web one as well, which I didn’t manage to get uploaded. That’s a huge number of techniques in a very in fact, some of those years have multiple techniques. I think it’s 2002, 2003 huge numbers of new innovations at the same time. You know, where did you start and how did you get there?

Ernst Stelzer (00:05:58):
And actually that’s a good question. Yeah. Because I what I will say is probably what a lot of people say is that they’ve been in the right place at the right time. Yeah. So I always thought I was quite lucky. Yeah. Cause I mean, I actually, I can tell you how I got to EMBL if you’re, cause I also think that’s a nice story because actually I was at I studied physics in Frankfurt and then I did my diploma thesis at the Max Planck Institute for biophysics, which at that time was located South of the mine. And now it’s on the Northern side in Frankford and I was introduced to inverse problems. Yeah. So because we did light scattering, dynamic, light scattering, and that is a typical inverse problem as, as all problems in optics are or many problems in physics. And it was also solved by Fred home integral of the first kind if I remember well, and so, so I was introduced to to SIS data analysis, essentially signal processing. And then I started after my diploma is I started with a PhD, but I was not so happy. And then we collaborated that time with somebody from EMBL, but I had no clue what EMBL was at that time. And then they just started a PhD program for whatever reason. And then I was, I applied for the PhD program. I was invited and I was among the six first people ever to do a PhD at EMBL.

Peter O’Toole (00:07:38):
Oh wow. So this is near the start to be EMBL doing PhD, then I’m not sure every listener or viewer will know what EMBL is still a pretty inspirational place. So you worked there. So just describe what EMBL is for people,

Ernst Stelzer (00:07:56):
But I can tell you what it was for me and what it was like when I was there. And I was there from 83 until about 2011. So that’s when I was employed by EMBL. Yeah. Yeah. And well the abbreviation is European Molecular Biology Laboratory and it was founded in the seventies, 1970s as a to somehow counter the efforts in the US or in, in, in Britain in molecular biology. Yeah. So it was somehow the people always regarded as, as as well as let’s say the European answer to Cold Spring Harbor laboratory is something like this, but it’s not, it’s just half of the truth. Of course. Yeah. But, but, and then the first person, the first director, he was actually the head of MRC at that time. So, so whole of EMBL was very British. Let’s put it this way, you know even the, even the fonts that were used for the official documents were all the same as those used by MRC at that time. Yeah. So, and they started this graduate program, which was not typical at all for Germany. I mean, we didn’t have any graduate programs at that time. Yeah. If you did a PhD, you just worked at the lab. I mean, that was completely different. So you were really educated, but basically we read Alberts for a whole year and did also a lot of practical’s. I have to say, I was really nice as a PhD student was brilliant. Yeah. Cause you were really in a good, good group. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:09:35):
Hmm. So it tastes, I I’ve been to EMBL fortunate to, to at many times, and it is a very inspirational place and not so dissimilar maybe to Janelia farm in some respects, but for the, for the biological applications, science is driving behind it and very innovative in itself. So I presume that’s what really enabled you to act as a springboard for your career, but I’m going to take you back even further now. So why is it you decided to become a physicist? I think I have an answer.

Ernst Stelzer (00:10:11):
I know that you would ask this question because you reminded me because I once told you it must’ve drank a lot of beer that day. Because I wanted to build a time machine. Yeah. That was actually the reason I was 12 years old. And I was that, that I was extremely interested in theoretical physics. Yeah. I have to say that I was always very good at maths. So but yeah, that was somehow the reason I’m not claiming that I had any clue what physics was actually about when I was 12 years old. Yeah. But that was certainly the direction that I wanted to go and was never doubted it. I always wanted to study physics and that was what did become a theoretical physicist.

Peter O’Toole (00:10:52):
So, so the next question, which is fairly obvious is you were fascinated by the mass physics, but also inventing a time machine is quite specific. So why is it you wanted to invent the time machine?

Ernst Stelzer (00:11:07):
Because I think I want you to go back to be, I wanted to be a knight or something like this. Yeah, yeah. That’s right. This picture I sent you this, that was age of empires. Yeah. But I wasn’t thinking about the time machine actually. Yeah. But that is one of those games that are used to this picture is actually from a game that I played with my son.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:27):
Yeah. So you’re still fascinated. Actually. I know, played with my grandson.

Ernst Stelzer (00:11:36):
We just played it last week. So we had a zoom session I played and he watched me play and told me what to do. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:45):
Really playing this game for yourself or your grandson.

Ernst Stelzer (00:11:49):
I have to say, I’m not playing it for myself anymore. I used to course, but I mean I started playing this game probably 30 years ago and I don’t know exactly how old it is, but I’m quite sure it must be about 30 years old now. And there’s a kind of revival, so there’s new versions and I used to play it with my son. So we really set up little networks in the house. Or we also met with friends and set up networks there. And then there were groups of five, six people playing this game and they were always two adults. Yeah. Me and another father of another guy or another boy, a friend of my son. And we played that.

Peter O’Toole (00:12:29):
Right. But you’re still fascinated by the Realm of the Knights and that era.

Ernst Stelzer (00:12:34):
Well, I would say it’s, it’s not as important anymore as it might’ve been. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:12:39):
Let’s say, does that mean you’ve given up on inventing your time machine?

Ernst Stelzer (00:12:42):
I actually gave up. Yeah. I think I have invented a kind of time machine. The only one that really works. So, so the only thing that has worked until now is moving into the future at a rate of about 24 hours per day. Yeah. So, but moving back

Peter O’Toole (00:13:01):
The creation of theEarth

Ernst Stelzer (00:13:03):
Well, it’s up to you to decide, but I think you get it,

Peter O’Toole (00:13:10):
That’s fair.

Ernst Stelzer (00:13:11):
Must becoming an astronaut astronaut. Yeah. Because if you, every, we all astronauts in a certain sense and we’re all moving through space and moving around the sun. So, well, it’s a bit depressing. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:13:29):
I like the way you’re consoling yourself for never inventing your time machine.

Ernst Stelzer (00:13:34):
I do, you know, I was always interested in astronomy and trying to be an astronaut. I don’t know if I wanted to be an astronaut, but flying to other planets or stars or something like this, but I have absolutely. I admitted no hope whatsoever. Yeah. It makes no sense to fly to Mars or to have a station on moon or anything. Yeah. I, I’m not, I love the exploration of the solar system. There’s no doubt about that. Yeah. So I think, and then I was always looking forward to a flight to Europe, to Europa. So Europa now, or now EO or something like this. But just to see if there’s anything below the eyes, that’s about as far as it goes. And I personally, I think that you can fly there, but you should never come back the same also with Mars. Yeah. If the people want to fly to Mars fine. But I just hope they will never ever come back.

Peter O’Toole (00:14:31):

Ernst Stelzer (00:14:31):
Well, if there has been life who knows, there might be some, some viruses or some other objects that they can bring back. I don’t think that is totally out of the question. Yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:14:43):
No, I would not disagree that. It’s definitely not the answer to the question. I should get you to have this argument with Eric Betzig because he’s actually very keen to go to planets.

Ernst Stelzer (00:14:52):
Well, I, as I said as a, I also think we should explore the planets, but I don’t think that at the moment, I don’t really see how humans can actually fly to another planet. I really don’t see that. And, and I think, and it’s, it’s not, and it, I mean, if you just look at the radiation levels that people are, would be exposed to on a flight to Mars, or once they’re on Mars, or if they’re on moon or saw the [inaudible] radiation levels are so high it’s, the chances are very, very low that people were really survive that. So unless you find some really nice new techniques and you have to find water and you might have to find a cave or whatever people, a lot of people probably have lost, watched the Martian. And so you probably have you, but I have. So that’s about,

Peter O’Toole (00:15:42):
Yeah, that that’ll put me off space exploration forever. No, I I like being on this this bit Earth, I’m not that keen to get blasted off somewhere else.

Ernst Stelzer (00:15:52):
No, there’s probably no better place than this one here.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:57):
Oh no. I think that some people who might think I would be quite welcome to be blasted off to another planet,

Ernst Stelzer (00:16:02):
Probably thinking that about me too. Yeah. So, so why don’t you go off and stay on moon or something hide in a cave.

Peter O’Toole (00:16:12):
So coming back to science for a minute, your, your early career was very much around that development of optics going super resolution microscopy and later moved into light sheet as well. Actually, probably starting if I’m right back in the very early days of confocal. Yes. So that’s quite a lot. If you’ve gone from confocal to 4PI and the super resolution side through to light sheets for real enabling In Vivo, what is motivating you to be developing in these directions? You got a physics, you can go all sorts, but you really moved into life science. Oh, sure. That isn’t because you were failed physicists because you never invented a time machine. Oh, sure. It’s because you’re passionate. So what is your passion and interest? Why what’s your motivation here?

Ernst Stelzer (00:17:00):
I think it has always changed. I would say. So first of all, it was, it was tough to, to master it. I mean, you should not forget. There are companies out there who’ve been building optics for hundreds of years, for a hundred years and there are several of them and they’re doing that quite successful. So you have to be at least as good as them. Yeah. and actually that’s something I tell everybody. So a lot of people ask me if they want to build a light sheet micro, they want to build a light sheet microscope. Now I always tell them why, why didn’t you build a, a regular fluorescent microscope first and compare the pictures you get with that, to those that you get from a conventional system. Okay. And if you, if you are better, okay, then continue now because there’s nothing you have, you have to build all that anyway.

Ernst Stelzer (00:17:48):
Maybe in a different arrangement as well. But the motivation is always different because in the very beginning, I mean, there are a lot of things that you have to do. You have to understand the optics, the lasers you have to understand the electronics. And then we had sensors for the multipliers. I mean, everything seems so easy nowadays, but you see, you shouldn’t forget. We just purchased the, the Fordham on the plan. We built all the, all the electronics ourselves, or even the image processing. I mean, it was not as if you could purchase an image processing package. Yeah. I mean, when we, when I started, we recorded four images per day. Yeah. That was the best we could do at that time. That’s how I started. So maybe in the entire course of my PhD, I probably recall something like two to 3000 pictures.

Ernst Stelzer (00:18:38):
Yeah. But and then later on we recorded, I don’t know, I remember we had a day where we recorded 30,000 pictures and that’s, that’s somehow what I remember. And then I realized what a, what a huge, different than what difference that was. So I think that’s one thing that motivates me or motivated me for many times and still does to a certain extent. And the other one was also to get these applications to work. Yeah. So trying to look at cells. Yeah. Making sure that they survive it or maybe looking at different dyes and so on and so on. So, I mean, there are a lot of things that happened in these that we did and that we changed and it’s probably not, people are probably not aware of it. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:19:23):
You say, you know, build, build a microscope better than manufacturers. You’ve got to be one step ahead of them.

Speaker 3 (00:19:28):
No, I didn’t say that. You have to be at least as good. That’s what I say. I don’t think there’s any better. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:19:35):
But there’s still a very, just, just for airing confusion. So I know exactly where you’re coming from with this. It isn’t because you want to build a microscope that is at least as good as one that exists it’s because actually what you’re building is what doesn’t exist, what you, what you are, what you invent has to be better than what already exists.

Speaker 3 (00:19:54):
Correct. That’s exactly the whole point. And it has to fulfill as a reasonable purpose in my opinion. Yeah. So it doesn’t make any sense. Yeah. Yeah. It’s exactly what you say, because if you’re also looking at it, all the things that you, that you showed, it’s not as if we purchased an instrument and then slightly modified it, but basically every instrument was built from scratch. Yeah. So, so from a block of metal. Yeah. Yeah. And and also the light sheet microscope, I mean, I showed you, send you a few pictures. Yeah, yeah. That was certainly not a modified confocal microscope from Zeiss. Yeah. Or from Leica, or that is really completely built from scratch. And also these other microscope, this, this DSLM that we built this monolithic device that is really built from a single block of Aluminum. Yeah. So, and we, we, we really, it’s completely newly designed, not this one that you show that, but I, I send you also another picture. There were lots. Yeah. And this, this one that was actually a combined 4PI BETA microscope. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:07):
I did. I just particularly like this one because it shows just the amount of engineering precision that has to go on in the build. Yeah.

Ernst Stelzer (00:21:15):
Yeah. And it’s also completely pre-calculated. Yeah. Because if you see there’s no we really let’s say drill little holes in which we put pins and threads, and then we just mounted this stuff there now. So it is there’s hardly any adjustment required. Yeah. Otherwise it would never work if you had to adjust it, we would fail completely in these systems.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:44):
If I just go to the next one, this looks more like a commercial system.

Ernst Stelzer (00:21:50):
Yeah. That’s a Zeiss LSF M 780. Yeah. Yeah. That’s from the, from, from Frankfurt. Yeah. Behind that is actually the interesting part because there’s a really nice laser behind that, but you cannot see it. Yeah. No, no, no. There’s no way. And it’s, it’s really behind the microscope. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:11):
It’s a lovely artistic picture. But for the commercial setup and you, when you can compare the commercial setup and actually it’s really nicely posed in the shadows and looking very calm and serene, and then we look at a home built, an innovative product. It looks quite scary. And to the end user, as a biologist, you talked about the applications and the importance of applications. This would scare a lot of people off

Ernst Stelzer (00:22:37):
That did scare a lot of people let’s put it this way. Know, so that is not a device which you build in order to do some serious applications. I mean, we looked at mouse embryos and this microscope. Yeah. So that’s what we want. That’s what we tried. I’m not saying that we were really successful. If you look carefully on the left-hand side you actually see a glass fiber yeah. Which was mounted to this stage yeah. On the left side. And we attached little objects to that and put that into the sample holder inside. But that’s, that’s what that’s, as far as we got with this. Yeah. But you see that the idea there was to see, can we get any further with 4PI, does this BETA concept work and all these things, and that’s what we managed to do. Yeah. But,uit was absolutely clear that this was not had nothing to do with the confocal microscopes. The confocal microscopes that we built at the same time were really addressed. They re they were really used,uat EMBL. I don’t think EMBL purchased any confocal until the mid nineties until then all the confocal microscopes were built by our group. And we also wrote the software and whatever had to be done at that time. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:56):
Okay. But the importance of, so so, a couple, well, actually many of your innovations have been commercialized. Some of them have been yes. In part or in full in some cases the importance of that, would you like to comment on the importance of inventing and people can copy what you do in their own labs, but there’s a very big importance to commercializing or getting someone like Zeiss, JPK. To take your system and commercialize it. So why is that so important?

Ernst Stelzer (00:24:30):
I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure if it’s so important. Yeah. I mean I mean, if you work for a company, I would say patenting is very important. And if you have a good collaboration with a company, and for many years, we had in very good collab, very good relationship with Zeiss and they patent it and then you can be sure that it will actually be used. Yeah. But you cannot always be sure that it will be used. Yeah. So that is the problem. Also as a private person, even as for a university, patenting something, and then you may have to wait for 10 or 12 years until it becomes a product that is just too long. I don’t think that makes any sense. So you have to be really careful about that. What do you a patent and do you have a plan for how to take advantage of it?

Ernst Stelzer (00:25:16):
So I’ve been doing that several times as you mentioned, but and I probably been lucky because it has been more than once. Yeah. Cause most people probably have patents, but they’ve never, ever made any money with it. Yeah. So that is definitely not the case, but I think in, in general and you have to really give it a good thought, whether it’s worth it. I mean, even in, in, in medicine or in biology also, I mean, you might have found a target or you might have identified a nice protein that you would like to work on because, or you find something that you think it’s a drug, so let’s face it. It will take you 10, 15 years and you may have to convince somebody for two or three years. And by that time, your patent is 15, 16, 17 years old. And then are you going to make any money of that?

Peter O’Toole (00:26:06):
That’s a really good point. And it’s one I’ve spoken to Tony Wilson about it in the past one of the biggest problems with any certainly the well-known by cost be anything that’s really innovative. And I think maybe less so today, but certainly historically is getting it to be adopted by biologists. And I would say actually in defense of the commercial companies, it’s the only way to get it, to have its maximum impact. So it can be sold to lots of universities, lots of research institutes around the world and for them to be supported people, users trained on it, engineers to come and fix it because obviously one lab can’t do that. And that’s and so actually your your innovations have enabled uncountable research projects to be started, probably research projects. You never thought would be possible, but for you to succeed, you had to get biology started on the microscopes, prove it was needed. How difficult to challenge was that,

Ernst Stelzer (00:27:06):
That, that was actually what we spend most time on at EMBL. So that’s, that’s also something that I’m trying to convince the people that you have to have a kind of culture yeah. So you have to have a kind of a number, a certain number of users were interested in using it. And we really put all the faith into this technology and and use it for their career. And we were extremely lucky. I have to say there were a lot of people who used it really. So I, I will not drop any names now because I’m quite sure I’ll forget the number, but there were several who really, really put their career into it. And then they continued with this after they left the EMBL. And then we spent a lot of work actually understanding how to prepare specimens. I mean, you know, nowadays it may seem so obvious.

Ernst Stelzer (00:27:58):
Yeah. Because, but, but at that time, many techniques actually flatten the specimen. So, so everything collapsed. Yeah. because you wanted a nice, good picture in a conventional microscope, you were not prepared to do 3d. Yeah. And then we w there were, we had people and I mentioned that these one name, Robert Bacallao and Bob Bacallao And he really, he brought us pictures. I showed him it didn’t work. It was completely flat. And then he went back and he looked at his protocols and then he looked for protocols that produce pictures that were not nice. And, and in some cases, this was because they, they survived the, the, they did didn’t collapse. And so they were really main, well maintained in 3d. And that was also the reason why we worked a lot with live specimens, because we were, could be sure that they would not fall apart. So we really had to work for dye with dyes or look for dyes that were, which you could insert into a live specimen. So of course we had the antibody labeling and monoclonal antibodies became very popular during that period. But yeah, that was one thing. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:29:13):
And I guess also, fluorescent proteins if you look where you are in your career, mid-nineties coming into the noughties as well. [Inaudible] fluorescent proteins were really making big impacts. In fact, I don’t think my microscopy could be as successful without fluorescent proteins. Totally agree. Argue fluorescent proteins would never have been successful or as successful without microscopy and its innovations.

Ernst Stelzer (00:29:40):
The latter, I’m not entirely sure because I mean, fluorescent proteins are also used in mass spectroscopy and many others techniques. So I’m not quite sure whether you really would need them there. You’re not mass spectroscopy, but, but, but, but yeah. But, but others

Peter O’Toole (00:29:58):
Certainly microscopy where they’ve had their fundamental enabling aspects to it.

Ernst Stelzer (00:30:07):
Yeah. But you see, that’s all, I mean, we, we started with I had a PhD student, Jamie White. Yeah. And he actually introduced GFP to EMBL. So, so he was in my group. He was a PhD student in my group. And we, we contacted Roger Chen at that time because I mean, you couldn’t purchase it. And he sent us everything and we talked to him on the phone several times. And then we used it, we expressed it in bacteria and later on in cells, also unluckily, not initially in life cells, but we had to fix the cells at that time. But nonetheless, we later on was also in lifestyles. And and I have to say that the biologist, we’re not waiting for him, you know? So it was, we talked about and say, well, people say, Oh, well, is there a difference?

Ernst Stelzer (00:30:55):
It’s not the same as auto fluorescence and something like this, it was a really weird situation. I also invited Roger Tsien to EMBL and it was a disaster. Yeah. People didn’t want to talk to him. Yeah. So, so in the end, I was the only one who went out with him for dinner after the talk. And so we, we, we, we, we moved through Heidelberg during the night and that was it. And it was much, much later, only that people really appreciated it. It’s it’s, I don’t know. It’s funny in hindsight, but at that time it was a bit depressing. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:28):
Well, I guess that’s very sad. So obviously he got his Nobel price at shadow price for his work in fluorescent proteins. And just how that’s enabled light live cell imaging really does enable so much, but it’s amazing that he equally struggled then to get people, to accept his chemistry. You’re having people struggling to accept the microscopy approach because it’s not a classic put it on a on a cover and image it flat it’s those difficulties that I guess, many of the generation coming to the new scientists coming through today will not have appreciated just how much hard work it must have been to get people to accept that the light sheet as a concept, it’s not a big commercial product. So to get fluorescent proteins that you’re imaging within it and now commonplace.

Ernst Stelzer (00:32:15):
But at that time, as I said, I mean, we’re talking about years. Yeah. I mean also with light sheet microscopy, you’re absolutely right. I mean, we’re extremely lucky that we had people at EMBL and we had a group that actually tried to express a GFP in Drosophila. They were successful. And it was just in the lab next to where our microscope was situated that room. So we really just had to really go out of the, out of the lab out of the, the, yeah. Out of the lab, into another lab, ask the person to give us this, and then we could put it into the microscope because otherwise we, I don’t think we would have been successful getting the dyes into the specimens. Yeah. But, but since the specimen itself expressed the GFP, we had a 3d label. Yeah. And that made a huge, and the pictures were so much better than that, that then the ones that they could get of course, with their confocal microscopes.

Ernst Stelzer (00:33:07):
So it was, that was, I, I’m not telling you it was easy, you know, you still have to do a lot of convincing. Yeah. But, but I really did that. I mean, I really, I mean, you say I will be build the instrument and I gave it a special talk just to internally. I really try to collect a few people. And then I told them what we had. And at that time, what, we, there were two techniques that we pushed them. One was laser cutters and the other one was light sheet microscopy. And then I really convinced the people and it was on a personal basis in order to, to invest something to this. And one of them was Joachim Wittbrodt with whom we then published the two papers in science in 2004 and 2008. Yeah. But, but he had to be convinced. Yeah. And, and we had to make sure that at a certain time he would also make an investment in the group. And so he had to invest in a student or a PhD student or in a project or something like this. So it was, yeah, that’s it. But that didn’t happen by itself.

Peter O’Toole (00:34:12):
So I guess a good point, you know, a scientist being a good scientist is one thing, but you have to do so many other aspects to succeed in it, but tenacity, the salesmanship, the, the publications, demonstrating your science, proving your science to others and getting others to accept It can be a very difficult task. And you say, when you look back, back in time, it seems daft that anyone would ever questioned it. But, you know, as with most innovations, for instance, my epi fluorescence, I think was questioned at the start. Microscopy was probably questioned way back. We can’t go back that far to ask those questions very easily. But well, when you’ve invented your time machine, maybe we can go and ask and see just how difficult.

Ernst Stelzer (00:34:55):
Yeah. Well, at the moment I just have to remember, and I’m, I’m 40 years back, you know, don’t forget this. I mean, I think about it, you know, we started in the eighties and now we have 2020. Yeah. We may not have a flying car. Yeah. Or we don’t move through the through. We still have roads. Yeah. Which I thought would be gone by the year 2000. Yeah. But they still, still here. Yeah. But we have light sheet microscopy. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:22):
We still got DeLoreans I think.

Ernst Stelzer (00:35:26):
But then they also move forward in time at a speed of 24 hours per day. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:31):
That’s 88 miles an hour or something. It was 88 miles per hour to

Ernst Stelzer (00:35:35):
Even faster around the sun. We’re moving at 30 kilometers per second. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:41):
I’ll let your physics work out exactly. How far the car, how fast it depends on the direction of the car then. So let’s see.

Ernst Stelzer (00:35:46):
That’s true. So you can add or subtract these 80 kilometers. Yeah. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:53):
All the challenges in work. What do you do outside of work to relax?

Ernst Stelzer (00:35:57):
What I do outside of work to relax. I have to say at the moment, I think I do. I work too much. So I don’t relax as much as I should. Yeah. But what I like to do right now there’s, that’s the golf. Yeah. So I used to do that for quite a while and I still do it with my wife.

Peter O’Toole (00:36:13):
Yeah. I did not notice. And I only just noticed you’re wearing a skirt. Yes. Well, okay. Strictly speaking for those who are not actually watching this kilt drinking lager beer.

Ernst Stelzer (00:36:29):
Oh my, I think it was whiskey whiskey. We had a dram. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:36:33):
I can say I second guessed you on that one. So,

Ernst Stelzer (00:36:39):
And I just have a, a cup of tea. I’m sorry. I that,

Peter O’Toole (00:36:43):
Yeah, no, no, I actually, don’t worry. It’s it’s actually, I’m not drinking this time of day. It’s actually a cold tea. Boring, sensible.

Ernst Stelzer (00:36:55):
That was a, that was a fun tournament. And we dressed up as, as Scott’s. Yeah.

Ernst Stelzer (00:37:02):
Ah, so you were dressing up as Scotsman.

Ernst Stelzer (00:37:04):
Well, I’m not a Scotsman, so I had to dress up at a Scotsman. Yeah. And we purchased those kilts. Yeah. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:09):
Hi, traditional, were you wearing the kilt? How traditional? Yeah,

Ernst Stelzer (00:37:15):
We were, we’re not experts in kilts, but it had to look Scottish to to the other Germans participating in the tournament. I would say that’s as far as we went. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:25):
Did he say, say you were properly kitted underneath and not.

Ernst Stelzer (00:37:29):
We were definitely kitted underneath. Yeah, yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:34):
So what is your handicap? Do you have a handicap?

Ernst Stelzer (00:37:36):
I have a handicap it’s about 13, 13.6 or something like this. So it’s not so bad, but I’m not, I’m not claiming that I played every day. So the rules have changed now for calculating the handicap. So, so basically every game that you play now has to be counted towards your handicap or against your handicap, but you’re, you’re not a golfer.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:59):
Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got a nephew. Who’s a pro golfer, but no I’ve watched them play. They’re very good. They have incredibly good actually that their skills, just their vision and they can, they can watch them on tour the swing back and they, they will tell you when you’re ready to just go, this is where the ball’s going. It’s incredible that they want it for detail. But personally, I can lay claim that I found nearly as many balls as I lost on the game of golf. I played. Wow. But that was a lot,

Ernst Stelzer (00:38:31):
Probably lost more game balls than I ever found for it. Yeah. Well it’s no plus definitely.

Peter O’Toole (00:38:40):
So what else do you do outside of work to relax?

Ernst Stelzer (00:38:43):
I, I, I cycle a lot, so I have a bicycle now, a new one electric bicycle. So I’m using that. I really enjoy that very much because it’s very hilly here. So that really I’d say like a range extender. That’s the way I see it. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:39:00):
I was about to say, does that count if your exercise is going out and it’s an electric bike

Ernst Stelzer (00:39:04):
It’s, it’s it, you still have to cycle. So it’s, I think a misunderstanding. So you really have to cycle and trust me, it’s very hilly where I live. So, so if I, if I really want to just drive on a flat course it’s over within a few kilometers and then I really have to cycle up hill and now I’m cycling uphill’s that I would have never, ever cycled with a regular bike. Yeah. So I’ve been on truly wild tours by now, whether it’s bicycle, I’m still amazed. Yeah. Yeah. So also in a, I also took it to Frankfurt and went up in the town of [inaudible]. I many people, people who may know it, it’s, it’s really a right uphill. Yeah. So I did that all several times and I really enjoyed that also very much.

Peter O’Toole (00:39:52):
So I have, I, it had a question. I was certainly, I don’t have this people. I did have one question for you because you also sent this picture talking to bicycles. That’s true. This is a picture of you quite young.

Ernst Stelzer (00:40:03):
Yes. I’m on the guy on the left side. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:40:06):
With a bike, which looks like five of you are sharing one bicycle.

Ernst Stelzer (00:40:09):
Yeah. Actually the, they are the two guys with the same shirt. Yeah. So they are my cousins. Yeah. Yeah. And the other two are my sisters. Yeah. And they came over for a long holiday. So you actually, my, my mother is British, so she’s English, she’s from, from Warrington. And and we used to go and visit her there. And that was one of those, I think I was the only year that we did not go to the, to, to England. But rather my grandmother came and she took the cousins along. Yeah. So they stayed with us for a summer or so. And as you can see, we all wear these lederhosen Yeah. Yep. All of them, but that was absolutely normal in that time. It was really

Peter O’Toole (00:40:59):
Where that when you visited Warrington

Ernst Stelzer (00:41:02):
I actually was one of the worst things that I ever did as a kid, because there was nothing else I had at that time. And I walked with these pants and everybody recognized me as a German, you know? And then I was greeted as a, as a Nazi and everybody said, hail Hitler to me or whatever. I’m not joking. I think it was the first time in my life that I was really mobbed. Yeah. Or the only time really that I can remember, but it was not nice.

Peter O’Toole (00:41:28):
Oh yeah. So it wasn’t actually his proper abuse, not just joking abuse. It was, it was proper.

Ernst Stelzer (00:41:34):
I was never, people were not nobody beat me up or so, but they, they made fun of it. I really cannot remember that I was depressed also. I was just probably a bit annoyed. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:41:50):
Hi again, how times have changed as time goes through and tolerance and everything as well. But yeah,

Ernst Stelzer (00:41:57):
I don’t how it’s really changed. Are people really more tolerant now than they were? I doubt it.

Peter O’Toole (00:42:03):
I think so. But my question actually was, do you remember your first bicycle? No. No. It’s worth a shot. That’s it? Just while we want some old pictures, you also sent this picture of yourself and your two sisters and my grandfather. Yeah. It was a lovely picture. I couldn’t get a, you upload all the pictures, but it was a lovely picture.

Ernst Stelzer (00:42:25):
Have good memories of him. Yeah. He was, he was a chemist. He had a PhD in chemistry, so he was in the first world war and then he came back and then he studied chemistry and he also told me about it and he actually took care of me. So I have to say it was a bit tough in a certain sense, you know, because other kids went at home and I had to go to my grandfather twice a week and he was not satisfied with the homework. So I had to do much, much more homework. But in the other, on the other hand, he really took care of his grandchild. And we did all sorts of things. You talked about chemistry and physics, or I even remember that he brought along some Swedish texts and we together try to translate them, which I still think nowadays was nice. And then he was also convinced that I should not only learn how to read Latin, but also how to speak it. So yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:19):
Who would you say was your, was he one of the your inspirations? One of the reasons that you got into science to start with, do you thinking back is actually probably his influence that took you in this direction?

Ernst Stelzer (00:43:34):
I’m not, I don’t, I wouldn’t at least not consciously, but, but I, what I still appreciate is the way that he explained things, you know, that he just didn’t just tell me something, but it was more like guiding me towards the answer. Yeah. You know, like asking a little, I mean, asking a question here, asking a question there and something like this, and then, well just making sure that I somehow came up with the answer myself. Yeah. I think that’s what he certainly did. So it was, it was, that was actually good. It was not really what you would expect. Yeah. So a lot of people would always think, well, that’s in the old times, people just drilled you to learn and to know everything as whole, but that is, I cannot claim. That was the case. I was really like guiding you and telling you how to think in a certain sense.

Peter O’Toole (00:44:26):
So who would you say have been your inspirations in your career Inside or outside of work? Who’s been your inspiration?

Ernst Stelzer (00:44:35):
I was, I can tell you the inspirations. Well, I’m not so sure. Cause I, I, there are certainly people that impressed me. I have to say Tom Jovin always impressed me. I met him when I was very young. So I, because he was a friend of my boss in in in in Frankfurt at the Max Planck Institute because my my boss at that time and his colleague actually also came from Gottenheim. And so, so he to Frankfurt and he, so he knew Thomas Jovin quite well. And I was always impressed because I was thinking this guy always did something. And, and you know, I was of course, very young and I thought he was extremely old. Yeah. And and I was impressed that, that, that he was so old and he still did new things, you know? Well, and that somehow impressed me. I have to say that. But apart from that, there are probably other people also, but I, it’s not that I, that have pictures of them here on my walls also. And then I permanent nothing about them.

Peter O’Toole (00:45:43):
That i’d be slightly unnerved, if that was the case. Well, I do notice you got a couple of, I guess they’re not Muppets, but they look like Muppets

Ernst Stelzer (00:45:52):
The background or there for my grandchildren. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:45:55):
To how much time do you spend on your grandchildren? Like your grandfather’s stuff? Do you get much time?

Ernst Stelzer (00:45:59):
Not as much. Not as much. No, no. At the moment it’s a bit unlucky. The last time we saw them was over just the week after Christmas and since. And then we talk regularly on FaceTime or on zoom also. And then I told you last week for the very first time, we also played age of empires in a zoom session. But that’s, I also, we do some other things, but we spend much less time than we should, or that we would like to let’s put it this way. So last year, no last year was a problem. But the year before we were spent much, much more time with the kids. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:36):
I remember a few years ago talking to you. And that was one of your that’s one of your, I guess, one of your most important interests outside of work was your grandchildren

Ernst Stelzer (00:46:46):
Yes. I said, so think that’s the case. Yeah. So we, we unluckily, we cannot communicate with them so often, but I have to say it’s a constant topic. Yeah. So how good is it? How well is he doing in school? And, and then my, my daughter tells us about the football or whatever, so whatever.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:10):
Oh, so do you follow, do you follow any sport, any team sports or any other sports

Ernst Stelzer (00:47:13):
When I probably follow football every Saturday or during the week? So there are two teams that I follow a little bit, which are tsk Hoffenheim, which is just down the road, five kilometers from here, less than kilometers. And then the other one is Frankfurt. Yeah. But I think that is more my, my wife’s team, but she’s not here in the room, so she doesn’t hear anything.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:38):
So you didn’t have to say that then that’s fine. Going back to the career. Yeah. You, you worked very closely with Stefan Hell for some time. So what was that like? What was the relationship like you know? How did that come about? What’s the history of that,

Ernst Stelzer (00:47:53):
But he was he actually did his PhD in Frankfurt, sorry, in Heidelberg at the at the university there. And then he also worked with, in the company of a world finance fundraiser. And if I remember, well, and one of all of finance, one resident, he had been the boss my first boss, he EMBL then, but then he left and I became the group leader. And then he told me that there’s this guy, Stefan. And he’s very good. And if I wasn’t interested in having him as a, as a postdoc in my lab and then Chavonne came along and then we talked about some projects and one of them was 4PI microscopy. And that was of interest because that had been a project that we’d been working on before. So it was not as that he brought it, but we had already started, we also had a device, but we realized at that time it was much, much too complicated to get the interference work going.

Ernst Stelzer (00:48:56):
So, so I just thought that could be an interesting project. And we also knew that in principle, you could improve the resolution. And then we started with that. So, and then at the same time in a totally different project, we also had purchased a two photon laser. Yeah. So, because we, I mean, even when you look at what you, you, you saw this timeline, but actually the major stuff was always building confocal, fluorescence, microscopes. And so, so they were working at that time and we also added one of those lasers to a confocal residence microscope. And then he was in my group for almost three years. So it’s not as if he just popped in and popped out, but we published about 10 papers together. And he was in the group for, I think three years. Yeah. Almost not exactly, but almost three years. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:44):
So you can lay claim the, to Stefan Hell is one of these Stefan Hell is one of your prodigy that’s now outside in the microscopy world

Ernst Stelzer (00:49:50):
Definitely, definitely. I don’t think that he would say that. Yeah. But but yeah, because the, the, the relationship deteriorated. Yeah. Because I, he’s very, very ambitious and he’s always afraid or at least at that time he was that somebody else would, would claim, claim the honor for, for certain projects. But, so that was a bit weird, I would say. Yeah. So

Peter O’Toole (00:50:28):
And things now,

Ernst Stelzer (00:50:30):
Well, we talk to each other about what do we talk about kids? Yeah. I am not sure. I know last time we met, I think we, last time we met, must’ve been in San Francisco. Yeah. I think that was the last time we met, but since then, I have not seen him in a while. I see him every now and then of course, but that’s not so often. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:52):
Yes. Yeah. I guess. Yeah. In, well, unless he’s conferences, there isn’t much opportunity to meet many people really. So it’s always within those conferences that we get there. So as you class yourself as a physicist or a biologist, I think I’m still a physicist. Yeah, yeah.

Ernst Stelzer (00:51:11):
Yeah. Somehow afraid because there are certain topics that interest me a lot. And at the moment, it’s definitely trying to getting a better understanding for signal to noise and certain aspects. I mean, I have to say we’re doing a lot of biology of course. And and we’re, I think we’re really deep in biology at the moment. Very, very deep in several topics. And I have to be interested in that otherwise we would not be able to do that. Yeah. So but but I always try to also see it from a physicist’s point of view. So from a yeah. Yeah. So from a mathematical point of view, let’s put it this way.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:55):
Yeah. So throughout your career, what have you, what, what period do you find the most difficult or challenging time throughout your career?

Ernst Stelzer (00:52:07):
Difficult or challenging? I have to, I don’t know really, because I think it’s always the, the the presence, the present times. These are always the most difficult ones. Yeah. I still, also, I also think that right now. Yeah. So, but at the moment I’m more concerned with, am I doing the right stuff? That’s put it this way. So that’s a real concern of mine. Yeah. So I do a lot and I work on a lot of things and I, and I’m not trying, I’m not wasting my time. Probably I’m not playing any games or also not watching movies also to a large extent. So even if I go on YouTube, I probably watch, I don’t know the latest video by Wolfram on Mathematica issues or something like that. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:03):
I’m offended. You’re not watching The Microscopists.

Ernst Stelzer (00:53:09):
I watched one tomorrow. It’s not a promise. No, but I always think the present, the present time is always the most complicated

Peter O’Toole (00:53:17):
W which I think is good to hear actually, because yeah, you’ve got every reason to be super confident in your work. You can look back great honor, and pride with what you achieved today. And yet still you were worried that you might be taken a misstep or something that isn’t going to be mainstream, or as impactful as what you’ve done before. And I think it’s incredible that you still have that, that fear, that worry.

Ernst Stelzer (00:53:44):
It’s not a fear. It’s also, let’s say there’s also a part of it is also disappointment. Yeah. Yeah. Because I, you know, I’m, you don’t get any credit for being right in the past. Yeah. Because I mean, there’s something like, you know I always think there are various stages and amongst them is that people don’t care. Yeah. Or they tell you it’s not important or it’s complete or rubbish or whatever. And then people accept it now. And there are probably various other stages and in the end, it’s their idea. Yeah. So, and if you’ve achieved that, then, you know, well, okay. Then it, must’ve not been so stupid and I have experienced this more than once. Yeah. So I’m really surprised by this. Some, you know, and there’s this saying that success or failure is an orphan. Yeah.

Ernst Stelzer (00:54:36):
But success has many fathers. Yeah. Yeah. So, and that’s a German saying, I’m not quite sure whether you can translate this translate perfectly, perfectly, but you get the idea. Yeah. So also in the very beginning, it’s just, well, it just changes and that has happened various times. And it, and, and it’s, and there are also some grants, which I applied for, which I still think were absolutely brilliant, but they were not funded. Yeah. And then we, we had, we, we, we did it. Yeah. But in which proves us, right. Or me. Right. Or whatever. Yeah. But that doesn’t help me now. I mean, what I’m, what am I supposed to do? Go take the grant and slap it into somebody’s face and tell them, see, that has worked. Nevertheless, although you did not fund me. And this has not happened several times. And I was thinking is also serious problem.

Ernst Stelzer (00:55:26):
If you really want to be ahead of your times, then you just have to accept this. Yeah. The fact that people don’t understand you or that they don’t believe you or that they don’t regard something as important, you know, don’t forget. I mean, I know you mentioned this before I start with confocal microscopy, but at that time, it, it filled the whole room. Now the laser was huge. Yeah. And then going to a lab and telling the people, I think in a few years, I’ll confocal microscope will be in every lab because I know that for a fact people said, this guy is absolutely crazy. Yeah. We’re never going to fit this into this room. But that was not the way that we saw it. Not only me, but many other people too. They, they realized it was, it was just the device and the same also with light sheet microscopy and two don’t forget.

Ernst Stelzer (00:56:10):
I mean, I’ve been through this several times, light sheet microscopy the same. Yeah. You are. You permanently had to convince the people they permanently, even nowadays they tell you about the problem is the sample preparation. No, the problem’s the sample preparation. That’s a, that’s an opportunity. Yeah. You can do it differently. Yeah. You don’t have to do it on cover slips for Christ’s sake. Yeah. Do it in a natural manner. Yeah. Keep it in, keep it in 3d, maintain it. Yeah. Keep it viable. Yeah. That’s, that’s the way you should see it, but that’s not the way that people see it. They see it as well. But all my peers use this and this and they work on that. Yeah. And if you, I follow your line well, but then I have to convince my peers. And then of course I have to make all sorts of controls and at the same work and how am I going to be able to publish it? Yeah. Okay. So that’s it. Yeah. And then you have to overcome this. Yeah. These discussions more than once. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:12):
Yeah. So when you walked in and you were suggesting these things, I would argue, you were seen as the clown of of the field at the time. Beautiful picture of you recipe one, two years old. Yeah.

Ernst Stelzer (00:57:22):
I, I, I probably two years. Yeah. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:27):
Wonderful picture. But yeah, I guess it was a bit like that. You, you felt like the clown saying these absurd things and people weren’t listening and yet you were proven right in the end

Ernst Stelzer (00:57:40):
Don’t own. I’m not telling you that everything was right. But I think in general I was quite right. Yeah. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:47):
But the other thing is quite interesting. There’s two things. One is a failure of getting a grant and just accepting that some grants that, you know, or you feel fundamentally are good and a right, that they aren’t successful, but for whatever reason, in some cases, just because there’s other ideas and that panel thought it was better at the time and it doesn’t get pushy, keep going at it and you will get the funding if it’s going to be right. You’ll get there. You also mentioned how the academics, who are risk averse, but of course, they’re scared if they try to adopt a new technology with new labeling processes, it’s going to take time. And that time means they’re going to publish not as quickly. And it might not work. It’s a gamble. And if it doesn’t work, they’ve lost a year, two years, maybe even three years of not being able to publish, which means getting their next grant is more difficult. And I think that’s an academic. It’s hard. It’s hard to describe. It’s a very, it’s high risk stakes. Your career can come, can go very rapidly if you don’t, if you’re not always succeeding and maybe that’s a problem with the way the academic community works.

Ernst Stelzer (00:58:58):
That’s what I think we’re missing a lot of opportunities because a lot of people don’t take any risks,

Peter O’Toole (00:59:04):
But those are, do take the risks. If it succeeds.

Ernst Stelzer (00:59:07):
Yeah. We, we, you don’t know about all those people who failed. They take a risk and they fail. I mean, whom do we know? I mean, you, you go to an American lab and you see 10 postdocs. So how many of them are you going to see five years later? Yeah. Maybe one and the other nine, what do they do? They drive a taxi or whatever. I often wonder where they are. You know,

Peter O’Toole (00:59:31):
I think for those listening, it is a difficult world, but it’s a, world, you can succeed in it. I think you do have, you do have to have a lot of tenacity. You have to keep going at it and determination and you have to re spin things I’m sure with the grants that were not successful, but you eventually succeeded. You must, you must have solved it in a slightly different way next time to get that funding. Yeah.

Ernst Stelzer (00:59:51):
Yeah. Well, I’m the law, I’m probably the last person who can seriously complain about grants. I mean, I mean also here in Frankfurt. Yeah. So, I mean, I got, we got so much money and I think, I really think we took, we used it. We spent it very well. And but there was a kind of basic funding. Yeah. So I did not have to go to somebody to somebody’s lab and tell them that I had invented this fantastic microscope and we can all look at bugs in a completely different way. So I didn’t have to convince a biologist or a physicist or an engineer. Yeah. I just did what I thought was, right. Yeah. Yeah. And so that of course helps. Yeah. I, and I’m actually convinced that it is absolutely essential. That’s, that’s what I’m afraid of. You know, that in the end, that’s the only way you can really do science.

Ernst Stelzer (01:00:43):
Yeah. Yeah. If you permanently have to work and wait, I mean, Janelia farm is exactly it’s more or less following this. Yeah, yeah. No grants, if you have a good idea EMBL was like, you know, going, I have this nice idea, but I need somebody. And I found somebody, I went to Leonard Phillips who was a pH D director at that time. And he would say, well, okay. I think that’s a good idea. And by the time you went back to your lab, he had already told the HR department to, to employ this person. Yeah. Or even I remember when we purchased the first laser, which at that time was also around 102 photon. Laser was around 150,000 Euro a market at that time. Yeah. I mean, you just went them, talk to him. You didn’t write any texts that you tried to talk. You told him what was possible and is that okay to it? And then yeah. And then you move ahead quickly. Yeah. And the others, they apply for the laser and then it takes them two years. And then by that time we had already published.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:52):
Maybe we’ll see the times change. I, I’m more of those type of facilities that institutes come forward because

Ernst Stelzer (01:01:59):
I hope I’d be very surprised. And unless you find a private person who funds your research, then maybe you can do that. But not with public money. Yeah. They are. All the administration is increasing and increasing and increasing it’s worse and worse and worse. I mean, in the past you just did your work. You went home, you stayed in the lab for the night and now you have to keep a time sheet. And the time sheet is maybe only valid from eight o’clock in the morning until I don’t know, seven or six o’clock in the evening. Yeah. Because if you, if you stay there longer than you are not following all the rules, whatever,

Peter O’Toole (01:02:40):
You really stick to those hours

Ernst Stelzer (01:02:44):
To which hours. Yeah. Yeah. I’m just saying that you have a time sheet, which does not allow you in present does not allow you maybe to enter a different time. So I’m maybe I’m exaggerating this, but you get the idea. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So people expect you to, to work office hours and they, yeah.

Peter O’Toole (01:03:01):
It’s not just the office hours. It’s the ability to be innovative and risky within and not jeopardize your career because it’s only three years worth of funding, you know, EMBL Janelia, you have longer term positions there, which gives you chance to be more risky over that time considering you will succeed. If you’re good, something will succeed over that timeframe. And I think that’s, that’s a model that’s really good. And one that hopefully it will be mirrored in more places. So as you say, we need people, who’ve got the funds to invest because it’s often not from government funds. It’s got to come from private sources and there are, there is real opportunity for people to make an impact. They’re not just like Janelia as one. Very good example. So we have actually been speaking, I think for an hour. Sorry. I have to ask some quick questions. I always do. What’d you drink coffee or tea

Ernst Stelzer (01:03:54):
Tea I actually, I do both, but in the mornings it’s always tea,

Ernst Stelzer (01:03:59):
Cold tea.

Speaker 3 (01:04:01):
I don’t drink ice tea or something like this.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:02):
Beer or wine.

Ernst Stelzer (01:04:02):
Actually both depends on the depends. I would say on the, on the, on the, on the season. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:15):
Red or white wine.

Ernst Stelzer (01:04:17):
Probably or the both

Peter O’Toole (01:04:21):
Whiskey or Gin. This is an obvious answer. I always have a bottle of gin. I think your virtual background is probably just hiding a whole drinks cabinet of all sorts of things

Ernst Stelzer (01:04:35):
We always have about seven different whiskeys. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:41):
Yeah. And I think you mentioned you do not watch much TV. So would you rather read a book or watch TV to chill out?

Ernst Stelzer (01:04:49):
Again, I would probably do both. Yeah. So it depends.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:53):
So on TV. What, what sorts of Tv watch?

Ernst Stelzer (01:04:56):
I, I prob, I mean, I, I probably watch science fiction movies a lot. Yeah. So the last ones that I watched was Tenet, which I haven’t seen it yet, but I find it was fun. It was really, really, really, really clever. I was really impressed. And the other one that I just watched at the moment is on Amazon. It’s the Expanse. Yeah. But it’s more from, because I’m desperate. There’s nothing better

Peter O’Toole (01:05:29):
As far as it goes, because I I’m looking at the clock here. I’m sorry. I’ve got to ask what is your best science joke? My best science joke.

Ernst Stelzer (01:05:42):
I have to say. The only one that I remember is is the one that [inaudible] once told me was, and I think he brought it from Munich at that time. And that was something like what does a biofilm, when a biophysicist talks to a physicist, he talks about biology. And when he talks to a biologist, he talks about physics and what do two biologists. Biophysicists talk about, women

Peter O’Toole (01:06:20):
You asked for it. It wasn’t politically correct, but yes, we get the the stereotypical joke.

Ernst Stelzer (01:06:28):
You get the stereotypical joke and because we never knew any, any female biophysicists at that time, let’s face it. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:34):
Yeah. And, and thank goodness times have changed on that front.

Ernst Stelzer (01:06:39):
That’s that’s the politically correct statement. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:42):
Well, thank you. You just got to go back home. Petra Schwille is truly inspirational and actually Petra was on that site teaching on the same course as yourself back at that EMBL back in 2002.

Ernst Stelzer (01:06:59):
And you still remember the year, so I wouldn’t have known that.

Peter O’Toole (01:07:02):
No, just going along it’s 2001, when my son was born,

Ernst Stelzer (01:07:07):
I mean, I’ve, I’ve been doing these courses. I think the first course we ever did was in 1988. I’m not quite sure.

Peter O’Toole (01:07:15):
Yeah. Cool. Sorry, it was truly inspirational. It gave me so much and it showed me where my career should go.

Ernst Stelzer (01:07:26):
Yeah, I’m pleased to hear that really.

Peter O’Toole (01:07:30):
That was brilliant. Anyway, on that note, Ernst, thank you very much for being so honest and open, and it’s been great to catch up with you. These whole podcast series was actually thanks to a chat with yourself over coffee at Elmi in Dublin and also we Scott Fraser and just listening to inventing time machines and things like that. I think it’s just great for people to hear about the science, the scientists behind the science, if that makes sense. And you have been brilliantly entertaining, so thank you very much.

Ernst Stelzer (01:08:04):
Okay. Okay. I’ll probably not watch it for another year or so. Cause

Ernst Stelzer (01:08:10):
Well, I

Ernst Stelzer (01:08:11):
Don’t enjoy watching myself on these movies. I have to say, sorry, sorry. I wouldn’t call it a movie movie, but you know what on a, on a, I don’t know, when is it it’s a movie in a certain sense. It used to be a movie. Maybe something’s moving at least. Yeah. Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you all very much. All right. Bye-Bye

Intro/Outro (01:08:38):
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/Themicroscopists.


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