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Ricardo Henriques (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência)

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About this episode

#5 — There’s no doubt that Ricardo Henriques’ (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência) career so far has been stellar. He’s moved up the career ladder at lightning speed, starting his own group in 2013, following only a brief postdoc, to holding a professorial position and starting another lab at IGC. This is especially impressive given that his original BSc was in physics!

In this episode, Ricardo reveals how imposter syndrome can affect anyone, with his thoughts and feelings on his first day as a group leader at UCL. We also see Ricardo’s more light-hearted side, including dressing up as Batman at a monthly UCL cocktail hour (pictures included) and how playing with lego can help overcome grant rejection.

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Please note: this is a machine generated transcript that may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:03):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:21):
Hello, I’m Peter O’Toole and today I’m talking to Ricardo Henriques of the IGC in Portugal, only recently left UCL and the Francis Crick Institute. I spoke to Ricardo about imposter syndrome.

Ricardo Henriques (00:00:36):
Oh, I hope they don’t discover this, I’m a post doc after all and not a PI yet.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:43):
A study by his lab members that compares him to Batman.

Ricardo Henriques (00:00:48):
I’m not the tallest person on the planet.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:51):
And seeing his academic heroes battle it out live at his first ever conference.

Ricardo Henriques (00:00:56):
Obviously they hate each other, and nothing about the grudges they had against each other.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:03):
All in this episode of The Microscopists, stay tuned to the end. Hi, today I’m joined by Ricardo Henriques, which is brilliant to have joined me today from UCL, or should I say IGC? Cause I believe he’s actually running away from the UK as fast as he possibly can. Ricardo, hi!

Ricardo Henriques (00:01:26):
Hi Pete, thank you for inviting me to this chat.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:34):
It’s a pleasure and it will make a nice difference actually talking to you on a more casual level. Cause half the time we meet up, is it quite a serious meeting.

Ricardo Henriques (00:01:44):
It is either serious or with a beer in the hand, one of the two.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:49):
In fact it was those beer in the hands that I thought, you know, I’ve got to talk to you on this because, A, you got some great tales, but you’ve also, you’ve had a stellar career so far. It’s yeah, I think it was 2013, you started your first group?

Ricardo Henriques (00:02:03):
That’s when we started in 2013 at UCL it was very brief postdoc before that and the UCL has been amazing in terms of giving me the conditions to, to start the lab and do well.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:17):
That’s 2013, you start from a brief, brief postdoc through to your first, setting up your own group through to 2020 already have a Chair. So you’ve got Professor, professorial, (gosh, get my words properly) positioned for computational and optical biophysics. And now you’ve got your own, another lab, now down at IGC, which is, which is stunningly fast, I think by, by anyone’s recognition, that’s a fast career. So I’m going to work out how you got there and also what, what you’ve done in the meantime, juggling around that career, cause you haven’t been doing nothing outside of work either. I think that’s, I am going to start right back because, cause I find this interesting. I didn’t realize what was your BSC in?

Ricardo Henriques (00:03:09):
Um so I originally trained as a physicist and I originally thought that quantum physics and particle physics were cool. And by the way, through years I realized that not really, biology is much more fun. And that was actually lucky because my, my girlfriend at the time, which is now my wife is a microbiologist and I started realizing that many of the things that I was studying, I could apply it with some of the questions that she was also looking into. So I liked it that I fell in love with the biologists at the same time that I fell in love with my [inaudible] also.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:51):
I think it’s fascinating. Almost everyone we talk to, no one really starts off in the field that they’ve ended up in. And in your case, obviously you are now very much impacting life sciences. I, I noticed all your spots that you have today. I got just in case are just listening to the podcast. Actually, Ricardo has this great image behind him and he’s sort of putting this deconvolved super resolution image behind him. So obviously I’m not referring to his spots. No, obviously he doesn’t have spots. This coming out all wrong!

Ricardo Henriques (00:04:22):
I do, I do have some.

Peter O’Toole (00:04:26):
Cause I can’t see them from here. You did your, your, your undergraduate and then you went, I think this picture here is from you as a PhD student in South Africa.

Ricardo Henriques (00:04:40):
Yes, that’s me in South Africa. So this is a fun story. So this was one of the scariest moments for me, because so there, I wanted to do my PhD. There was a great lab just opening up in Portugal with something like that. And, and he’s an American South African researcher. So I wanted to join his lab. He was doing really cool stuff. But after he opened his lab, he also had the proposal to open the lab in South Africa. And he had told me, don’t worry, I’ll spend part of my time in Portugal and part of my time in South Africa and I naively thought that would happen. Uh but he ended up spending most of his time in South Africa. So what that meant is that I started jumping around quite a bit, I was doing research in Portugal, South Africa and also because I was jumping around so much, I also had the opportunity to do some of my research in [inaudible]. So I ended up spending about a year in South Africa and most of my time in Paris at Pasteur,uand it was at the moment it was crazy and it was scary because I felt like I didn’t have anywhere stable to be at, but after I finished my PhD and I look back, I was able to, just to see, it was amazing.

Ricardo Henriques (00:06:01):
I have all of these connections with all these different labs in different institutes, with different settings, with crazy life. Sometimes you just don’t need to see it because of all the need that you have to move around and not having your things put or stable spot where to sit. It was great.

Peter O’Toole (00:06:21):
Alright, I guess, as a biochemist, a cell biophysicist PhD, I was so dependent on my bit of bench space. Going anywhere else is a big upheaval, I guess that was different for yourself in this position.

Ricardo Henriques (00:06:36):
It was. But at the same time I learned to appreciate other things. What I mean with that, for example, it’s like I had certain resources in, in France and other resources in South Africa and again slightly different things in Portugal. So, so I started realizing that every Institute had its own personality and things that they were really good at and, and that if you planned it right, you could all use it to your benefit. And that without [inaudible] it took a long time for me to adapt to that. Yes. The not having my stable space with my microscope that I use every day is is a little bit daunting sometimes. But you learn how to cope with it. But it also helps you become adapted, which is quite important in research.

Peter O’Toole (00:07:30):
So was your first microscope, during your PhD times?

Ricardo Henriques (00:07:34):
So the, my first microscope predates the PhD. And so this is interesting, the, the institutes where I’m going to now, the IGC is the institute where I first touched a proper microscope. Because I actually worked there a little bit as a staff technician in the microscopy facility. And at the time we actually didn’t have that much funds to support microscopes. So, so the mentality was if it’s broken, open it, fix it. And that’s where I fell in love, right? That’s it’s, you know, in most microsciences institutes you have these beautiful boxes where you have to think where to put it, that’s right. But once you, you open the box, you realize how, how, how different it is, the mentality of the developer that is developing the optics and the person that makes the box aorund it afterwards, because often it’s the maps, and you start realising the train of thoughts of the optical designer in the system, trying to cram whatever they need in that small space. And there’s beauty in that because it’s done to be optically efficient and not pretty, the prettiness comes from probably someone that works on the marketing office that draws a box to put around the microscope. And so, so sorry, I started shifting a little bit. So the IGC was the first place where I touched the microscope and I always kept the love for being a student and I’m really proud to be attached with back again.

Peter O’Toole (00:09:22):
When did you choose to… I’ve got a picture, I guess if

Ricardo Henriques (00:09:29):
That’s that’s yeah. That’s a baboon trying to steal our stuff in our trek.

Peter O’Toole (00:09:36):
Even the baboons have an interest in the microscopes or.

Ricardo Henriques (00:09:39):
No, there’s no microscope there. So, so this is a time. So South Africa is beautiful, a little bites nature and, and one of the nice things is the institute where I was doing research there was the, in the middle of a natural park and not very far from it. We could go to Kruger, for example et cetera. So, so I’ve volunteered at some point to do game capture in the Kruger Park and that meant that we could actually go out foothills and then collect samples from on those foothills. And so whenever we went up, we had trucks and et cetera, there’s always baboons around, baboons are everywhere there and they’re, they’re super intelligent that they figured out where all the food is. And, and if you don’t lock a car that they figure out whatever way different way to open the doors.

Ricardo Henriques (00:10:41):
But there’s, there’s a, there’s a really funny story there and hence the reason why I’m interested in gaming capture because so buffalos there. They, they get attacked by TB. There’s a lot of buffaloes with TB. However, they’ve learned to cope with TB to be not really virulents and aggressive for them. So they’re still able to have babies and reproduce and, and and and multiply there, but lions that killed those buffaloes will get TB. And the TB is much more aggressive on the lions than it is for the buffaloes. Exactly. So, so, so buffaloes were actually killing off lions by being eaten by them and passing TB along for them. So it’s, it’s beautiful how you have these [inaudible] competitive system around in nature. That where disease actually helps out a species. It’s a little bit crazy. So why do you think that the lions crossed roads on that picture?

Peter O’Toole (00:11:48):
Oh go on, so why did the lion cross the road?

Ricardo Henriques (00:11:51):
Run away from the dominant alpha. So that’s why the lion and there’s an older lion not that far away. And that guy is scared and, and he’s after the ladies, but he has to be careful about not being in the radar of dominance, why I’m there.

Peter O’Toole (00:12:09):
Well that sounds a bit like the pantomime lion, because it’s behind you, that, that has the last laugh. So after, so after that you did a brief postdoc. Tell me a little bit about that.

Ricardo Henriques (00:12:23):
So during my PhD, I actually spent most of my time in Pasteur with one of the co workers of [inaudible] and that’s Christoph Seibre, he’s he pretty much built one off the first Palm storm supervision microscopes in France, and I had the opportunity to to work with him on that. And he’s brilliant. But I never actually had, although I was a lot of time in his lab, I was, ended up being his PhD student and then I wanted to actually spend a little bit more time with them in the lab. And so I ended up doing my postdoc there, but I also wanted to shift things a little bit because during my PhD, I mostly had focus on developing technology for super resolution microscopy. And because specifically, cell biology research institute there was also the opportunity now that I’ve developed a tech, what’s trying to answer some questions.

Ricardo Henriques (00:13:21):
So I that’s when I started doing research on T-cells signaling and HIV infection, which by the way, this is a signaling, sorry, this is the signaling T cell that you see on my backgrounds of all these CD4 and CD5 which are the receptors that HIV needs to come in. These yellow balls that you see here that’s, that’s an HIV virus. This is one of my passions, right. And pretty much, it’s not that I’ve invented a nail and a hammer. Let’s put some paintings on the wall. So, so I wanted to start addressing some biological questions with the tech that I have established, and that’s what my postdoc focused on.

Peter O’Toole (00:14:02):
So, and then, and then came,

Ricardo Henriques (00:14:05):
Yeah, 2013 first day in the job, the picture that you’re seeing there, it’s me in front of the main gates of UCL. And I guess I’m smiling and I look confident, but that’s not at all what I was feeling inside,

Peter O’Toole (00:14:24):
Because if this is a big thing, isn’t it you’re, you’re now starting off on your own with being you’re being cast out. You’ve got your own boat.

Ricardo Henriques (00:14:33):
I think probably everyone feels this right? But on the first day is you, you still think you’re a postdoc and you’re going like, Oh, I hope they don’t discover that I’m a postdoc after all, and not a PI yet. And the fact is that you know, there, there’s not a lot of training for postdoc that suddenly becomes a PI and the other PIs often they don’t remember anymore how it was your first day. So, so there’s a lot of things that people assume that, you know, but you’re just starting with a job and you don’t know anything. So, so, so we still want to show the confidence but at the same time, you’re going ‘Why can’t someone help me? Tell me how this works?’ yeah, but now it feels like a long time, although it hasn’t been and ah, it was a brilliant day. I was so nervous and so happy at the same time.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:32):
So did you, am I right? Did you what are your first grants? What was one of your first grants that you actually attained?

Ricardo Henriques (00:15:39):
So the, the BBSRC new investigator research grant so there I was proposing to develop a new type of probes which we call the [inaudible]. Now we call them super beacons and they just got published a few months back.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:59):
But so, so wait, so, so, so you started this back in 2013? And it’s now 2020, and it’s just got published.

Ricardo Henriques (00:16:07):

Peter O’Toole (00:16:09):
That that just about sums up science? Doesn’t it? Published so much in, in the, in between time, but what you started off doing as we’ve just heard, it’s taken you seven years to get that initial idea that really set your track off

Ricardo Henriques (00:16:23):
Even more, I would say because the, the, the super beacons they are actually based on some first experiments that I didn’t solve during my PhD. So, so first seen in the PhD, I then started to [inaudible] work on it during the beginning of my lab, and it just got published. And, and, and, you know, you often think of these experiments as, Oh, it will take me six months and then it’s years until you finish up and meanwhile stuff that were plan B suddenly becomes something enormous. That step works extremely well, but for you, it was just on the sides project. So it’s, it’s, it’s interesting. And sometimes I laugh a little bit when we make projects for PhD students, where you make the plan for three years with here’s what you going to do every three months. And here’s the check boxes for it. It never pans out like that and science shouldn’t plan out like that it would be just too boring if you knew exactly the road that you’re going to take from A to B it’s one of the fun things, right, that you end up in many side streets to what you want to do initially, and those side streets have beautiful views and beautiful stories to tell also.

Peter O’Toole (00:17:45):
So okay. So let me take you back. As a child, what did you want to be? What was your dream as a child?

Ricardo Henriques (00:17:54):
Oh maybe, maybe that’s not the most exciting answer to give you but here we go. I, I have an interesting family where my, I have two male brothers and, and my parents always pit us against each other in terms of who will do better and who will be the smartest one. And my older brother Paolo, he fell in love with physics, and I fell in love with the competition with him. Uso I kind of followed his track and, and always tried to do as well, uh,never better. That’s never what I want, but I always wanted to do. I always wanted to make him proud and I always wanted to make my parents proud, but I guess that’s how I ended up going into physics. But I, I’m also fortunate because I realized that there was a certain passion for biology that came out of it. There is one thing that I really know, which is I was always taken by patterns.

Ricardo Henriques (00:19:01):
I’m the kind of person that if there is an old clock in the room going tick, tock, it gets me crazy because it’s the only thing I can focus on. And, and, and I have to take that out of the way and any repetitive sounds, it’s, it just gets stuck in my mind. And the, the, I started being annoyed by that, but also loving it. And I had an initial passion for music. And as a kids, at some point, I really wanted to be a musician or a music writer to be more specific. And I think that tendency to go after patterns, it’s what led me to do artificial vision at the end, which is pretty much what I do with biology and physics. I detect patterns in images, which represents cellular behavior and, and the reparative behavior of cells ends up being patterns. And I think I always had that tendency to go after that. That’s, that’s the thing that always feels natural, or that attracts my attention at the end of the day.

Peter O’Toole (00:20:10):
So, so it wasn’t competition per se, with your brother, but you were very careful to say you are not competing against him, but always wanted to do as well as one of your brothers. Was that like that outside of your work ambitions? Did you do any sports or hobbies together?

Ricardo Henriques (00:20:26):
Ooh, good question. Never to, to to a proper level where we do it on a repetitive basis, et cetera, but, but even in sports, we would compete with each other. But the, the, you know, when you have older brothers, they will normally be the ones that will always win because they’re more physically fit, they’re older than you, and they will do better. So, so, so my goal was always trying to do as well as them. There is one thing that I was always proud of, which is I had severe asthma as a kid. And because of that, I always actually tried to learn tricks to hold my breath as a relaxing exercise. But holding my breath in the swimming pool is one of the things that I loved the most, particularly because at times it scared the, the guards that are there. Um but the, the, it’s

Peter O’Toole (00:21:25):
Only if you start floating cause it’s…

Ricardo Henriques (00:21:29):
The, the, it’s the always thing where I was easily able to, to do slightly better than my brothers. I could just swim under water for five minutes without having to take a breath.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:44):
Geez, that’s a long time!

Ricardo Henriques (00:21:46):
Yeh, I practiced everyday. I remember when I was in France, that I would hold breaths between tube stops which in, in Paris, it would be about two minutes and a half between tube stops. So the true trick would be to see if I could hold breaths in between two tube stops, or if I could hold on to a third one or not. I think at times it would scare off people.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:13):
You get that sort of involuntary movements to start with don’t as you’re holding your breath and then, I guess that calms down after that. But surely when you get then there’s a big outlet of breath, when you pull up at the stop. You must have got some strange looks?

Ricardo Henriques (00:22:27):
I, yes, I think I did. But you know what? It’s a great calming exercise because you will only be able to hold your breath for a long time. If you fully relax and slow down your heartbeats and take it from there. And it’s super useful, right? It’s useful when you’re about to read that paper of what happened to your paperwork for your grant, it’s even useful when you’re having your baby, because I was doing breathing exercises in parallel to my wife.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:00):
What just to outcompete your wife? You were competing against your wife? Never!

Ricardo Henriques (00:23:05):
I was just trying to relax.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:09):
Is that what you told her? That’s brilliant. Utterly brilliant. So you’ve got two children. So obviously your first one was inspired by your work. So she’s called?

Ricardo Henriques (00:23:30):

Peter O’Toole (00:23:31):
Iris, brilliant.

Ricardo Henriques (00:23:33):
So, so Iris had a couple of meanings to, to for us. One of meanings was, and I told my wife and, people joke and say, don’t tell my wife about this. But we had it from, from beginning that it is also a part of you would normally call it an annulus or a diaphragm. But another name for it is, is Iris. The other meaning for it is that it’s also one of the Greek gods, which is the one that’s or demigod that carries the message from, from the gods. And the interesting thing is I often wonder who has the most power, if it’s would be a God or the messenger of gods that actually takes his message to whoever easier and to, to a large degree as a scientist, you kind of, are trying to be the messenger of nature. You’re trying to explain how nature works and, and you for good or evil, you have some, some say in the how that message is interpreted and carries across.

Peter O’Toole (00:24:44):
So this, this is I think, is this Iris?

Ricardo Henriques (00:24:47):
That’s Iris! So she’s in our lab in this picture. She’s playing with Lego and, and you know, this, but some, maybe some of the listeners don’t, we actually use Lego a lot in labs to build hardware for, for microscopy. We particularly use it to build microfluidic systems. There you go, here is the design of one.

Peter O’Toole (00:25:14):
So this is a design. And I think if I’m right,?

Ricardo Henriques (00:25:18):
Yeah, that’s it, that’s the microfluidic array in the Lego working. There’s a, there’s a really fun story behind it. The reason why I got it was, why I started doing this was because I once wrote a grant around using microfluidics to, to see some biological processes. The grant got rejected and the grant was to fund a microfluidic array that we would use in our experiments. It got rejected over Christmas while I was seeing my niece playing with Lego, my old Lego and, and I was annoyed that the grant got rejected, but in the back of my mind, I started thinking, what is a syringe pump?

Ricardo Henriques (00:26:03):
And what do you need to make a syringe pump array? And then I realized, well, this is pretty simple mechanics and we can likely do it in Lego. So we decided to, to do it. And I remember when I first told this idea to, to, to Pedro the PhD student that was going to work with me in terms of developing it, he, he was a little bit scary, scared because he, he thought no one would ever take it seriously because they would see it as a toy, not as a scientific device. And I think it took a while for him to be convinced, but then he was fully on board and did some amazing designs that extended some ideas and we got it working, and it’s beautiful that there’s a few labs in the worlds, they’re using design for their own experiments.

Peter O’Toole (00:26:56):
And this was called pumping, was that right?

Ricardo Henriques (00:26:58):
Pumpy McPump Face. We didn’t have enough courage to put that name on the publication. We call it NanoJfluidics on the publication, but everyone knows it’s Pumpy. So Iris would come play to our lab, we would be building this kit in Lego and she would see the Lego there, and then she would want to play,uwhich was great. But also I had to try to explain to her that what I was doing with Lego was both toy and work,uand it can be at times difficult to, to, to distinguish.

Peter O’Toole (00:27:37):
Cheap parts, cheap labor. This is what you do if you don’t get one of your grants that are successful, you just kind of put in very young children.

Ricardo Henriques (00:27:47):
I like to say that the Pumpy is so easy to build that the 14 year olds can do it unless you’re Iris. If you’re Iris at four, you can easily build.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:00):
And have you never gone to Lego and ask for sponsorship to help research and develop this?

Ricardo Henriques (00:28:05):
We did a few times. We didn’t get much feedback from them, but I also understand why I think they get probably hundreds of bits from other people in the world’s going after them.

Ricardo Henriques (00:28:21):
Not withstanding I had the pleasure to, to have some of the people behind the Lego founding family coming to visit at Crick and and it was completely random by nature. They were interested in investing into research and they were interested in, on what they were doing at the Crick in terms of improving. And we had the chance to show Pumpy to them. And they were very proud that Lego was being used to do research. It didn’t pan out for anything beyond that, but it was nice to, to show that, you know, that’s their, their family is helping us doing research.

Peter O’Toole (00:29:07):
So that was a Christmas gift come early is not getting your grant. And actually then having huge success through that side. So I’m gonna ask you some quick questions. What’s your favorite Christmas film?

Ricardo Henriques (00:29:20):
Favorite Christmas film? Ooh. Die Hard?

Peter O’Toole (00:29:27):
I seem to recall that now. Every year we watched Die Hard as a, as a family. I’m not sure you’ve shown it Iris yet. It’s a bit young, maybe?

Ricardo Henriques (00:29:35):
No, I, I haven’t. But you know, I I Die Hard when it came out, he had exactly that that’s age where I was maybe, I don’t know, I was a teenager at the time, right? And it rings a bell in, in a little bit, you know, a gun slinger fighting the world alone, bare footed, trying to get through bad guys out. And as a teenager, you’re trying to establish yourself and you see the world as something, trying to push it back. And there’s this guy that you know, just has the courage to go for it. And that’s kind of, it becomes a little bit like a role model, maybe not the perfect role model, but when you’re a kids, you, you, you use what you get.

Peter O’Toole (00:30:22):
I’m going to come back to these quick questions. Can you say that he’s a role model. I’ve just got to look down here and I hope I have this picture of you. I’m searching through frantically and failing miserably to find the picture I want. Oh, that’s shocking. I’m sure I had a picture of you dressed as Batman. Tell me about that. In fact, I had several pictures of you as Batman. Oh, got it! I’ll be Superman and you can be Batman.

Ricardo Henriques (00:30:59):
So, so the LMCD, the institute at UCL where I work or the department at UCL where I worked it was super fun. They have cocktail days or cocktail hours once every month on a Friday. And it would have a topic, right. And the ones that are organizing the cocktail time are the ones who set the topic. And when we were organizing Jason’s night, when we started organizing a topic, we were like, wait, this can be a chance for us to dress up as our favorite characters. So, so he went Superman and I went Batman, and were, you know, exactly like in the movie were, were, were best friends, always trying to step on each others toes.

Ricardo Henriques (00:31:56):
Yeah, so, so Batman is, is cool. Is he’s very weird, right? Because he’s just a rich guy who is trying helpful for the city to, to help fight crime. And he might make more damage than the people that are committing the crime themselves. But, but again, the courage of a person trying to change the world is something that we can all empathize to.

Peter O’Toole (00:32:21):
So is he your, would you argue, he’s your favorite super hero?

Ricardo Henriques (00:32:28):
I have no, it’s maybe Spiderman would be, I think Batman is the coolest there is, you know, when you start thinking about it and start thinking about all the crazy stuff that Batman does, that is incorrect, and most people don’t notice, it starts eating on your soul a little bit. And then maybe Spiderman, you know he’s a scientist he’s proving out how to amplify his powers.

Ricardo Henriques (00:32:57):
He’s trying not to damage anyone. He’s caring about his family. He’s caring about his work at same time, trying to crime fight to fight crime. So he’s, he’s pretty cool, but I think I still prefer to dress as Batman.

Peter O’Toole (00:33:11):
I, I, I’m a diehard Batman fan, so put two films together, Die Hard Batman, for sure. And so which one, Michael, Michael Keaton, or Christian Bale as the best Batman? And the others are just out, but they’re just not in the equation, I don’t think.

Ricardo Henriques (00:33:28):
Michael Keaton, I mean, Christian Bale is outstanding, but, but, you know, sincerely, you shouldn’t take Batman too serious. It’s not…

Peter O’Toole (00:33:38):
The first Batman with Michael Keaton was, was the film.

Ricardo Henriques (00:33:44):
And look for me, it was a great film. Michael Keaton was great, but the, the, the music

Peter O’Toole (00:33:52):
Aw from Prince.

Ricardo Henriques (00:33:52):
From Prince, I mean, it was super nice. It was so in the mood or set the mood of the film so nicely. That’s, that’s, it’s all connected together. You know, it feels like the way this Batmans they’re they’re action movies. Wjile the first ones were more like action comedy. And I really enjoyed that.

Peter O’Toole (00:34:20):
Thinking about action comedy – take it your lab made this, did they?

Ricardo Henriques (00:34:28):
Yes, yes, they.

Peter O’Toole (00:34:28):
They have actually puts you, it’s Lego bat, you’re just a little bit bigger than a Lego Batman.

Ricardo Henriques (00:34:33):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. They yeah, I, I’m not the tallest person on the planet. I would be one of the smallest Batmans ever

Peter O’Toole (00:34:47):
There’s something else about this. It’s your head is disproportionately bigger than any other Batman. Now, is this your lab having a dig at you?

Ricardo Henriques (00:34:56):
Yes. I think as, as a PI, I might have a big head at times, they’re just trying to highlight all the features that should be there. If I was, if I was Batman.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:11):
I’ve never seen the big headed side of you. And that, that, that is for sure. I have been in some meetings where, I’m in awe of you and, you know, I’ve seen a lot of your work firsthand before it goes public or anything else, and it has been inspiring. And, and certainly it’s never come over as that. I, I think you said at the start that imposter syndrome, when you start, I’ve never seen you overconfident in any of these, and worried, I think.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:37):
When you put a grant application in, I’ve seen you worried about how it’s going to do? How it’s going to be? Has someone picked a hole in it? Is it right? Is it wrong? Is this what’s really wanted and, but a lot of your research has really been to make our jobs easier. You know, it’s never been about being clever about using your talents and your group’s talents. It’s always been about them solving problems to make it easier for the biologist, the end user. I think that’s really, I think that in itself, keeping it simple for the user is really smart, which is what you’ve done so successfully. And we’ve, we’ve met each other on I, how many different panel meetings?

Ricardo Henriques (00:36:20):
Maybe four or five?

Peter O’Toole (00:36:21):
Quite a lot of different ones, both equipments and a new technology ones. So how did you find, not everyone gets to sit on the grant panels or awarding panels or committee panels in a similar way. How did you find the first time you turned up for one of those?

Ricardo Henriques (00:36:42):
Um that’s a very good question. And that was very positively surprised. And, by the way, thank you for kind words Pete. I really appreciate it. UI was,ureally surprised because I found the panels to be extremely ethical,uin the sense that, you know, there, there are ground rules that are immediately put forward and some of the ground rules are, for example, we do not tell them names of where papers are published. We just talk about if someone is working on that aspect of research or not, nor do we talk about the fact that that lab is already well established. We talk about how good the science is and will there be an easy capacity to tackle those questions by a lab or not independently of it being a well established old lab or a junior lab? So, so, so, you know, the, the, the panels are really set to, to manage the grounds and make it fair for everyone else.

Ricardo Henriques (00:37:44):
Of course it’s never completely fair because it’s not completely fair because of the panels, but because of either you know very well how the game is played or not in the sense that,uif you’re writing a grant and you have access to other grants that were successful,uyou start understanding what’s the style of writing and what’s the style of pitching a story. Uthat often a new PI might not have. Uso, so I found that extremely ethical. What was surprising to me is how ruthless reviewers can be and that reviewers will often make sure that you know who they are when they are rejecting your grants. And I remember, you know, going through my first 50 or 60 grants as a panel member, and reading through reviews and on the first box is it’s kind of asking, for BBSRC grants, is asking, why is this reviewer,uhave a background to correctly elect this grant?

Ricardo Henriques (00:38:50):
And then they will say often because they work on this fields, and have referenced this kind of papers, but it’s also a chance to, to kind of mentally a little bit of who you are, right? If you say, I am a UK researcher working on super resolution microscopy for the last 7 years, you will know who that person might be. So, so the first time I saw someone kind of signing their name into a review, I thought, okay, it’s a buddy, it’s going to be a great review. They’re going to help out, but then, NO! They would be ruthless and it’s like finding a [inaudible] , and making sure that’s the other PI knows who you are. And I find these, these, these games strange, it almost sounds like vengeance. It’s something that we do to each other. And because someone has done it to you once you will propagate that. And it’s one of those annoying things. It’s not about science anymore. It’s, it’s about competitions and I understand why it exists. At times it’s a question of survival. But it’s still, I know panels try to tackle it. I have tried to tackle it, but unfortunately there’s no easy solution to that. What’s your take on it by the way?

Peter O’Toole (00:40:11):
I got to say, I’m fairly ruthless in my refereeing, I know that but I also score highly. So I see the weaknesses and if there’s very few weaknesses and you read it really easily, it’s almost, well, I’ve missed something. And weaknesses can be good. Cause you can, if they point out a weakness in how they’re going to address it, it’s a good indication. I, I think it’s pretty open and transparent. I’ve I’ve certainly had some really bad referees in the past, which are very easy to rebutt, if they’re really bad, because it just stands out a mile. The hardest referees are those that are, yeah, that was nice cause they’ve, they’ve given you nothing. They’ve not giving that to grab, to push off. But I think they’re pretty, pretty open. I think even if you’re on the grant committee meet, if you’re on the panel, as you’ve been on panels, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. You know, once you walk out that room, you have no idea what they’re saying about you. You know, it can be good. It’s bad. Actually, my tendency is not to look particularly at who the, who the applicant is to start with. I try and read it blind. I get to feel for how good the application is. And I’m dread, I’m so bad at remembering things. I will, I will look at who it’s from, where it’s from, I’ll review it and at the end I’ll go,

Peter O’Toole (00:41:34):
I can’t remember who’s doing this work, which hopefully keeps me very unbiased. Without that, I, if it’s bad, I’ll always go back over it two or three times. Yeah. If it’s bad, I have to go back and check I’ve not missed something. You know, you want everyone to win, you just the pecking order. And actually I get cross with a bad application.

Ricardo Henriques (00:41:59):
You know Pete, I think I might have told you this before, but there, there is something I love about you in these panels, which is the fact that perhaps above anyone else, you, you worry about the staff that will be hired in grants to, to, to make sure that they actually are within that there is several conditions for there, there there’ll be a capacity for, for, for a career there. They’re just not being hired to, to work on the monotonous role under the supervisions and ideas of a PI.

Ricardo Henriques (00:42:37):
And I, if I hadn’t seen that from you, it would be something that I wouldn’t have valued, you know, because all of us are thinking about, what’s the big question. What’s the science that you want to do here? Are those resources done? And we often forget about the people behind that science. And then in reality, we should actually be worrying very much about the training experience that some of these projects will give. Because you know, people behind these projects will be the future PIs and they, these projects will set them up on topics they want to do research, but if we break their legs by giving them often support for only a year or not really enrolling them on somewhere they can progress and grow. We’re not doing a favor to, to, to research. And I think you’re really special from, from that perspective. And I hope to, or I’ve learned from you on that I hope to, to still keep on learning from that side, also.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:39):
You make me blush now either that or it’s gone very hot in here. Thinking of careers and [inaudible]. This is a lot of your group. I like the fact that you’ve obviously done well, cause you’re looking up at them. So, they’re looking down to you, you’re looking up at your group. I know a lot of these have got great track records and going big for themselves. And then I think you are, they all sing to your song obviously, but genuinely quite serious half the time. I know this is serious one. There you go. I don’t know what you said, but they look pretty moody on this side. Not so on the other side.

Ricardo Henriques (00:44:23):
I was blessed with a great group when I started, it’s still a great group now, but it’s, it’s a critical time when you start a lab that you get very good people working with you because you need to start fast, need to establish yourself. And, and, and you need to count on your researchers the same way that they count on you. And I couldn’t be more proud of the first set of researchers that were there to help me on that side. And I had the opportunity to at times cherry pick people that I wanted to work with me. Cause as a postdoc, I was already for some time kind of saying, I’d love to have him or her working with me. At the same time, there was outstanding surprises that of researchers that I didn’t know before they interviewed to come into the lab and they were outstanding researchers that helped us become better than I ever imagined. So, so this is really a picture from, from maybe year number two or number three of the lab. So many of them have left and I miss them very dearly actually.

Peter O’Toole (00:45:46):
Don’t regret, we saw them at conferences. You did a great thing from your side, you developed their career. They had their own voices. They were presenting at conferences. They were out there with their posters. They were very out there mixing as well. But as for singing, what is your, I asked youwhat your favorite film was, what’s your favorite song?

Ricardo Henriques (00:46:06):
Oh, favorite song? You got me there. What? Let me think,

Peter O’Toole (00:46:17):
A favorite group? Favorite artist?

Ricardo Henriques (00:46:23):
Oh, a perfect group? Probably it’s still Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam. Songs is so hard because there are so many good songs that you always go back to or gets happily surprised.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:41):
Do you remember your, you must have been to a concert, I presume?

Ricardo Henriques (00:46:44):
Yes. Yes.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:46):
What was your first concert?

Ricardo Henriques (00:46:48):
My first concert? Uh

Peter O’Toole (00:46:54):
You’ll see where I’m going in a minute with this.

Ricardo Henriques (00:46:58):
It’s really hard to make consult with [inaudible]. Let, let me. It was, okay, Carmen Bizet where I was one of the singing elements in the choir. That was my first concert. I was trying to think about what was my first rock concert, where I was not a singer in it.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:23):
You’re certainly into your songs in your music and stuff, so.

Ricardo Henriques (00:47:26):
I think it was Radiohead. I, I think Radiohead when, when, when they came out with, it’s Okay Androids, likely my favorite album ever. And, and I wonder if Karma Police is my favorite song. It might be my favorite song or it’s, it’s the song where I cannot help but hum too it when I listen to it. Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, they also bring back so many beautiful memories of my teenage years. And that’s it often you enlace songs with the experiences that you have in your life and they just bring it back. And it’s crazy beautiful like that.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:21):
So certainly in your younger years, it’s harder now, but yeah, if you hear a song, it can take you back to that exact place, that time, so you know what year it was. I think, yeah, you get to the point where everything starts to blur. When you have your children ? And Iris, you might remember the songs around their early years or when you’re feeding them or walking and trying to get them to sleep. After that, everything is a blur. Thinking of the first concerts in a way, what inspired me was just how good a live electric performance. I saw INXS, Michael Hutchence live. It was just awesome. His energy, his activity. Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil, it was the performance they gave and they gave it night after night. The same performance with such passion. I think this then takes us to concert, not concerts, but conferences. You must remember your first talk.

Ricardo Henriques (00:49:20):
Do I remember my first talk? I definitely remember the most impactful talk I’ve ever seen. Do I remember first talk? I think I do. I think I do remember my first talk. Yeah. But let me tell you about the, the, the, the, the, the first big conference I went to it was a conference at EMBL where I don’t remember the title of the conference, but it was a microscopy conference. I hadn’t started my PhD yet, but Stelzer and Stephen Hill were giving talks there. And this was a time where Stephen Hill hadn’t, wasn’t I didn’t, I don’t think he had published stats yet. So his talk was about [inaudible] and Stelzer’s talk was about light sheet and obviously they hate each other. And I didn’t know that,uand they were my heroes; while I was reading the papers.

Ricardo Henriques (00:50:24):
I knew nothing about the grudges they had against other and it’s like being concerts, seeing your, your A stars and people like, YEAH! And so the, the, the conference organizers had Stelzer just after Stephen Hill, and they go with each other. And I, I didn’t really realize that they were going the chair, right. There were talking about things, Stelzer was saying microsopes should actually have two objectives. Just people just put it on incorrect angles to each other. They should be at 90 degrees from each other. Otherwise they’re just burning stuff up. And that was going, like, is he talking about? What’s going on here? And then the questions come and they go at each other on the questions like, wow, it’s like WWF fighting in the arena.

Ricardo Henriques (00:51:26):
And I, you know, it was my, my, it was a conference, it was an action movie. It was a surprise. It was seeing a classical music concert, where were the talks just sounded like perfect music, often once they were going. And it was one of the things I did entice me to want it wanting to do development of microscopy. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:56):
I think EMBL actually it’s the same experience I saw both Ernst and Stephan talk EMBL at a course at that point back in 2001 I, along with loads of other really inspiring speakers. And that, that, that, at that point I saw that actually microscopy is my career. Nonspecific question, but the technology itself has a long way to go. Cause I guess back at 2000, a microscope was a microscope. You had confocal. It was doing okay for itself, but wow, there was a lot to explode and yeah, we started this conversation seven years ago, you started your new super probes, and it took seven years.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:39):
They were talking back in 2001 about 4Pi STED as it evolved towards over time light sheet. And it’s really only the last 10 years or so, it took them years before these became really widespread, commercially, commercially available, useful tools. They had the reason to drive it forward, but wow they needed perseverance to get it there. To both of them are stellar stars, I would say, but yeah, but they were both really good speakers.

Ricardo Henriques (00:53:13):
They are and they’re incredibly defensive of their path. Maybe I shouldn’t say defensive, maybe the best way to say this, proud and have confidence in their path. So, so anyone that tries to challenge, they will explain to you why that is the most useful path someone should, should take I think at times it takes for you to become recognized and the really good PI, I, I’m always fearful of it at times. And I realize that it’s sometimes you have to wear that hat, unfortunately, or fortunately,

Peter O’Toole (00:54:02):
I think, I remember my first, my first seminar was actually the first seminar I gave was in Australia, which was an elavating place. I was on holiday, then got invited to Melbourne and it was awful. I gave the worst presentation you could, it was so over rehearsed. I gave it to script and I swore never again. And the best bit of advice I was given, just know your first sentence. And if you roll off the first sentence, just talk about your science and you’ll be fine and it’s getting that energy into it to keep the audience engaged is really important. And yeah, your group, yourself and your group certainly do that at conferences, we look forward to their presentations and your presentation because it has energy. It has excitement you know, truly believe in what they’ve got and the other thing that I point out. So this is I haven’t got the full wide screen on zoom. Unfortunately, I didn’t pair it down, but just how international your group are as well. I think that’s really important. It’s the best scientists coming together to work together, regardless of nationality that makes a group really successful. And you need a good leader to keep them working as a team and not competing against each other and just look across, you’ve done exceptionally well there.

Ricardo Henriques (00:55:26):
I remember when I told you that a different institutes, different personalities have their advantages or not. I, I often find that bringing in different countries also give you different ways to look at things and, and different perspectives from, from what you, what you have. One, one acceptable data, like two to think about is for example having the, bringing Portugal in terms of even wanting to use research, we didn’t have that much funding. So, so, so we learned to two wing it and you’ll see that a lot of the research that I do, I try to make things cost effective and accessible, and it comes from that need and background that I have in terms of trying to, to keep things accessible to people that don’t have money at the end, because we are in privileged conditions and many research labs are not.

Ricardo Henriques (00:56:30):
But that might be something that’s you might have more empathy if you come from that condition, you might not perceive it in the same level when, when, when you come from a place that has more privilege, but also if you come from a place that has more privilege, you have access to more technology and you have, you, you have a better view of, of how to exploit everything that you have at hand, instead of trying to build something from scratch, and just focus on that. So, so I think I was blessed with researchers with many different personalities. That’s looked at the problems in many different directions. I, I hope that the places, the diversity of places that they come from contribute towards that, and that’s always been my kind of perspective. This is also a great picture for Brexit, right? And then maybe we should mention it just for a second.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:27):
You can’t talk about it. You’re running away from us! You’re leaving, you’re up sticks, you’re gone!

Ricardo Henriques (00:57:36):
It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not the main reason why I’m leaving, but it is one of the reasons. But, but I think the UK is a very special place by having been able to attract such a diversity of researchers to come through research here. And, and I think that the, the the UK researchers benefited so much from that and the foreigners that came, benefited so much from getting to, to interact with the UK researchers. So it is, it is, it will become more difficult, but goddamn, I will try to keep the connection alive with UK. Even if, if I’m forced to swim, I will be there every time I can. And it’s, it’s the place where I’ve made my lab and I will be attached to it in some way or the other.

Peter O’Toole (00:58:31):
Yeah. Without going into politics too deep. I truly hope that the borders stay open for science because it is the only way. I think COVID is shown that as well. You can’t work in isolation. We cannot be an Island to ourselves. We have to work together to be far more efficient, far more productive, and why put money and try and compete against someone else when we can work together and get places faster. I do think. So this leads on to, is this the team that you have here? You obviously got a good cameraderie with so I’m just going down a few images. So it’s not all work and no play. So if you could explain, it looks like you’re hanging up some silver foil here.

Ricardo Henriques (00:59:23):
Yeah so, uh Jason Mercer, he’s he, he was a PI at the LMCB at same time that I was. He’s now at Birmingham University. He’s one of my best friends and he’s great. And, and one of the first things that he did when I started my lab was at UCL, I was really stressed about my lab space because it wasn’t finalized. I wasn’t really even aware where to space will be. And finally, when it was assigned, then I had an office and the lab space and I go there one day and I get an asbestos notice on my door saying, danger asbestos detected, and then saying that the cleaning crew would start working on it. It would take at least six months for them to clear it out. And I was freaking out. And obviously, because we started at the same time we started, we became really good friends.

Ricardo Henriques (01:00:19):
He was one of the first persons I went to when I went to, like, I can’t believe what is happening and he played the role right? He was like, Oh, don’t worry. What’s, what’s the, let’s find someone we can have a chat with. And he’s the one that pulled the prank. So after that, for the next few years, we pulled pranks on each other. So because there was that cocktail time where where he was going to dress Superman and me as Batman, the day before we decided to cover his entire office in foil and what you see, there is a paper saying Fortress of Solitude, which is where Superman, it’s Superman’s home in the Arctic. Right. So, so the Forest is in the Arctic and said, yeah, that’s us after putting in all the foil on on his office

Peter O’Toole (01:01:18):
And that’s within his office, that it’s not just over the door is it? That is on his office?

Ricardo Henriques (01:01:23):
On that picture, do you see that there is a piece of paper on the right of the door, sorry. In this case it will be..

Peter O’Toole (01:01:36):
Above me head?

Ricardo Henriques (01:01:36):
Yes, above your head. Exactly. That’s, that’s a screenshot of a WhatsApp message that I sent him the day before, where he didn’t know anything about this. Right. And that just sent a message saying, Jason, we’re running out of foil in the lab. Do you have some I can borrow? And he goes and tells me exactly where all his foil is,

Peter O’Toole (01:02:01):
That’s brilliant. I’ve just never seen quite so much everywhere. And tell me, on that door opening, is that Superman’s feet or something.

Ricardo Henriques (01:02:09):
Yeah, that that’s, that’s his suit that he’s going to wear the next day that we just hangs on the ceiling. The thing that we didn’t expect is thatfoil heats up the room was reflected so much sunlight and somehow reflects heat so much that it was so hot inside? So, he loved it. He, he, he was amazed by it and laughed like crazy, but he wasn’t able to stand for more than 30 minutes inside that room because it was so hot.

Peter O’Toole (01:02:42):
Okay, good. We only have a couple of minutes left. So you sent me this. And I have no idea what this, these pictures are about.

Ricardo Henriques (01:02:50):
That’s my first prank for Jason’s office. So that’s the beginning. We covered that in pictures of Justin Bieber. And the funny thing is we gave, and we had small pictures that we cut around that we put everywhere. There was his running shoes that we had pictures of Justin Bieber inside. It was so contaminated by pictures of Justin Bieber that I think that even years after we pulled the prank, he was still opening drawers and there was pictures.

Peter O’Toole (01:03:27):
Beiber confetti everywhere.

Ricardo Henriques (01:03:28):
Yes, yes. The, you know, the, the, you need people like this, right? That the institutes can be so serious and can be so stressful at times. And, and you just need a buddy to pull a prank on you to, to bring you back to earth and to realize that, you know, things are fun. Research is not only fun for discovery. It’s, it’s fun for the interactions. And I’ve been so lucky to have him as, as a friend and partner in research for the last years. And I think we wouldn’t have done as well as we have without him.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:15):
So, leaving on this, this, this, this one that you’re now going over to Portugal to IGC, how many of your group are going with you?

Ricardo Henriques (01:04:24):
So thus far with no one is going to permanently move.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:29):
You’re going to be starting. If you’re going to, obviously you’ve got your position still at UCL.

Ricardo Henriques (01:04:34):

Peter O’Toole (01:04:35):
They’ll maintain everyhting and I think that’s fine for them. But you’ve got a whole new whole new chapter starting up a whole new set of group. So actually people watching this or listening to this, if you want good fun, entertainment, you know who to call? Oh no, that’s Ghostbusters? That’s no good, that’s not the right thing is it you’re going to, you got to get a big torch with that, basically that, Oh, I want a job sort Batman type style.

Ricardo Henriques (01:05:00):
The good news is that obviously I’m worried about the group in UK in sense of I wouldn’t ask anyone to move under a pandemic. But the good news is that Portugal is doing well, and I hope I will be able to attract researcher to the country. And when things are safe, I will bring some of the lab members that are in the UK to here. I have open positions and anyone that is listening, I’m always happy to chat about cooperating or even bring you onboard to the lab. So I hope it will remain an exciting place in Portugal. It will remain, it’s definitely an exciting place in UK. I will be remotely connecting back with the lab and it will be a fun new adventure.

Peter O’Toole (01:05:53):
And yeah, I I’m sure you’re happy to talk about Die Hard, Batman, Spiderman…

Ricardo Henriques (01:06:04):
Beetlejuice, I think Beetlejuice is a great movie.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:06):
It’s just a big game. You’ve ruined it for me. It’s never right, not on the top of it. Yeah. Much more we could talk about, but I do realize that our time is up. I had some more great photos from your group, storyboards and stuff. You just haven’t had time.

Ricardo Henriques (01:06:28):
We’ll do it over beers, then Pete.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:28):
Ricardo, you have been brilliant to listen to, hopefully give a good idea of how to balance some of that work and entertainment. Keep that energy. And when you get over to IGC, make sure you keep that fun, engagement can do attitude going. Cause it’s been brilliant to work with over here. I look forward to working with it wherever you end up next up. Ricardo, thank you very much.

Ricardo Henriques (01:06:52):
Thank you for the invitation, Pete. It was great fun to have a chat with you.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:56):

Ricardo Henriques (01:06:56):
All right, ciao.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:57):

Intro/Outro (01:07:01):
Thank you for listening to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. To view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit

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