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Tim Bushnell (URMC) & Alfonso Blanco (UCD)

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About this episode

#1 — Our first episode of Flow Stars features not one but two big hitters in the world of flow cytometry, which creates a dynamic and energetic conversation. Join our host Peter O’Toole (University of York) as he chats with Tim Bushnell (University of Rochester Medical Center) and Alfonso Blanco (University College Dublin).

We find out about Tim’s love for brewing, including how he taught his kid to brew as a science lesson, and discuss Alfonso’s passion for kicking people (in organized sports) and how his Olympic hopes were dashed by an unfortunate knee injury.

While we get to know Tim and Alfonso on a personal level, work and flow cytometry is still a big focus, with both sharing their most difficult career moments and discussing the bright and colorful future of flow cytometry. From jumping over bonfires to vehicle theft, this episode doesn’t fail to entertain!

Follow Peter, URMC Department of Medicine and UCD Conway Institute on Twitter!

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

Intro/Outro (00:01):
Welcome to FlowStar candid conversations between Dr. Peter O’Toole and the big hitters of Flow Cytometry brought to you by Beckman Coulter at Bitesize Bio.

Peter O’Toole (00:12):
Welcome to the very first episode of Flow Stars, where we interview top names in Flow Cytometry, to get to know them on a more personal level. This first interview is a double headliner with Tim Bushnell over from Rochester Medical Center and Alfonzo Blanco from University College Dublin. In this episode we discover the importance to training in a core facility. So if you get people to understand how to use a machine, they don’t break them tips for writing up your thesis. I got out of the lab. I literally moved away from the lab so I could focus on, on the writing and the real reason Alfonzo wants to do a PhD in botany, because then we learn moments. You go as well outside the lab to go outside climbing one thing. So walking around and trying to pick up the plants for your analysis.

Peter O’Toole (01:06):
Hi, I’m Peter O’Toole and today on joined by Tim Bushnell and Alfonzo Blanco. Thank you. Hello, both. Hey, different time zones with Alfonzo over in the Republic of Ireland, Tim, over in the USA. So this is a bit confusing title, I guess one of you is going to completely different time points of day. So which one of you is drinking wine? Which one of you having a cup of tea, drink wine, you know, each other really well. Where did you first meet?

Tim Bushnell (01:42):
I was over in Dublin to give a training course with a company called Flowsite and it had been sponsored by Accuri. So that was the first time that the two of us met and I think we hit it off then. And ever since then, I’ve been causing antics around the world as much as we can,

Alfonso Blanco (01:58):
And more.

Peter O’Toole (02:01):
So it was a memorable meet then?

Alfonso Blanco (02:04):
Very true.

Peter O’Toole (02:05):
Yeah. You must have been to Ireland more than once. Tim.

Tim Bushnell (02:10):
I think I’ve been to Ireland now. What? Three times Alfonzo.

Alfonso Blanco (02:13):
Yup. And we tried to bring you a couple of times more, but no successfully.

Peter O’Toole (02:18):
So does this explain the what, what is this exactly

Tim Bushnell (02:24):
On my time I went over to the Guinness brewery in store. I was there to find William Gosset’s original journals to study about how he developed the T test. But while I was there, I had a couple of beers.

Peter O’Toole (02:35):
So you got a masters brewer license.

Tim Bushnell (02:38):
They give them out to everybody. So it’s, you know, it’s

Peter O’Toole (02:42):
And you didn’t get enough to sort their use into different profiles so they could get different Guinnesses and different strains. They weren’t, they weren’t too receptive to that. That would have been quite good. I think I cell, cell sorting yeast is a fairly, yeah, I, not the thing that everyone wants to do on their own sorter. So you’ve done a lot of work together since I believe.

Alfonso Blanco (03:09):
Yeah. That was the first time that a Tim came here was for a training course that we organize. And then I was telling him I really like training. And then he recruited me as a Flowsite instructor. And we organized a training course in, in Lisbon with Rui Gardner. And then we went together over there he was my, my main instructor, he was basically checking the list of courses we can teach. Yeah. He knows how to teach no clue. He was checking the put in the tape boxes. But it was a good time together as is then we, we have been working together all the time just running, organizing courses, making medicine, things like that. So that’s

Peter O’Toole (03:53):
Gotcha. I’m just thinking, how did you, how did you learn? Where were your skills picked up from of how to become a good train of Alfonzo?

Alfonso Blanco (03:59):
I’m a good trainer.

Peter O’Toole (04:03):
Last time we met might’ve been a York.

Alfonso Blanco (04:06):
Yeah, that’s true. But that was that was was not a good quality to be honest either. It was looking around because I liked training. So I was looking around where is the best training courses? So I, I realized that yours were super popular. So I went to your site to check and I told you on the first day, I was honest with you. I want to go there to learn how you teach to copy you. And that’s exactly what I did. I just copy you your scheme. I, I, not just that also, and this is funny when when we are talking about trainings, every time that you train, even if it’s the same material you always learn from the others, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same as light. Somebody comes with some different point of view, with a different approach, with a different example, different way of explaining. And it’s what I really love was training with another people. So I really enjoy your training, you know?

Peter O’Toole (04:58):
Yeah, no, I it’s. It’s it’s unique maybe, or maybe not so unique if you’ve copied me.

Alfonso Blanco (05:03):
No, I made my version jokes for a minute.

Peter O’Toole (05:12):
And what about yourself Tim, obviously you do a huge amount of teaching as well.

Tim Bushnell (05:16):
I’ve probably have to credit back to the fact that I like to play in front of an audience. And high school, I was involved in a debate model United nations did that in college as a grad student. I had to teach for my supper as it were and it just is natural. And when I took over my first core facility, it became apparent that the training was the most important. Because if you get people to understand how to use a machine they don’t break them. And that’s a huge lifesaver. And it’s just, you know, continuing to learn as Alfonzo said, you know, learning from other people, learning from, you know, the community, we’ve got a, you know, Flow’s got a great community of teachers and educators. We all want to, and we all, and

Tim Bushnell (05:58):
You know, we, we put our different spins on it, but at the end of the day we say the same thing. It’s just a matter of the flamboyance of it, I think.

Peter O’Toole (06:06):
Yeah. So that’s an interesting point. You mentioned the flamboyance of it. You give the same talk, you know, if you’re teaching, I noticed you give the same basics, at least talk every time. And that’s a lot of time given exactly the same script. I feel it’s a bit like being in a theater, you have to do the same performance every time, the same enthusiasm. And I just to be fair, maybe it’s not that hard because you look at the delegates and they’re enthusiastic. So I become enthusiastic. Absolutely. But you do have to be a performer to really get the engagement w which comes really actually some pictures Alfonso sent to me. So tell us about this Alfonzo.

Alfonso Blanco (06:43):
That’s a really funny story cause I’ve born in Saville. That’s a South of Spain. That’s where all the funny people and the spam and the accent is just for comedians. To be honest, they speak with a set set, set, set, and that’s because my parents they were working and they were living there for many years, but my family is from the North side from Galicia. So we moved when I was seven back to Vigo my hometown. And in fact, I consider myself from Galicia and this, the accent is completely different. It’s always like that kind of Irish. So when I arrived at school was not an easy time also because the color of my skin I’m really dark. And in the South, it was a lot of sun. I arrived there with the dark, dark skin, and everyone was looking at me with my surname Blanco, which means white. And there’s not much in the white. So the nickname it’s clear. I was negro all the time. So it was me. That was my starting point. But now I’m not a good flamenco dancer. No, no.

Peter O’Toole (07:53):
Well, so I know you very well from the dance floors at cyto. I don’t think I’ve got a picture of us, but I know you’ve got a picture of us. I have a picture of us that come on, your dancing obviously went up a step on this. This is what did explain.

Alfonso Blanco (08:12):
That’s a, in Santiago de Compostela that’s where I was studying. And this is a tradition. And in fact, it was happening two days ago. Basically you put a big bonfire and it’s good for cleaning up your bad spirits around you to jump over them. Or you have to jump at least three times. Of course I was jumping along. You can see my runners and that’s because I was playing handball. So those are the handball runners.

Peter O’Toole (08:40):
How long ago was this?

Alfonso Blanco (08:42):
This was a lot. I was 20 years, 22 years old. At that

Peter O’Toole (08:48):
And still wearing the same shirt

Alfonso Blanco (08:51):
Still wearing the same one. I haven’t grew up that much

Peter O’Toole (08:59):
Talking to dancing, Tim, this is a picture of you up a pole. So is this your equivalent to pole dancing?

Tim Bushnell (09:08):
Actually I was a boy scout and took a trip to a camp in Philmont Cimarron, New Mexico, and one of the challenges they had different camps there and one was a logging camp and that was learning how to climb a pole doing spur climbing, which is just with a couple of spikes and a belt and kind of little bit of conquering, a fear of going up a 50 foot pole by your, you know, to get to the top. And haven’t done it since, but did conquer it back then.

Peter O’Toole (09:36):
Yeah, I don’t envy that at all. And this is your scout group, isn’t it?

Tim Bushnell (09:41):
This is the group that I went with. You’ll recognize me because I don’t have a beard at the at the time. You know, I, that was a great trip. I was, I had earned my Eagle scout award, the highest award in the U S a couple of like six months before I went on that trip,

Peter O’Toole (09:58):
Getting back onto work a little bit. So I’ll, I’ll start with yourself, Tim, what have you found the most challenging time in your career

Tim Bushnell (10:06):
Other than right now with COVID? I think for me, the, the transitions from college to grad school and then finishing up my PhD were two of them were challenging times. In grad school, I took on a lot of projects trying to figure out what I wanted to do but eventually had to coalesce to one and came to a point where I needed to finish my finish. And so it was a lot of work going on, but I had a newborn baby and everything. So it was a, that was a very challenging time, both scientifically and personally.

Peter O’Toole (10:41):
Right. And so when he came to finishing off your PhD, which I know some people watching today will be in a similar position or not. What, how, how did you cope with that? What mechanisms did you put into place? What, what would you, what tips would you give to people in that position today?

Tim Bushnell (10:55):
I eventually, I, you know, the biggest one is I got out of the lab. I literally moved away from the lab so I could focus on, on the writing. And I wasn’t, you know, and, and that took a lot of effort because as a scientist, you want to be in the lab and, you know, I’m a kind of guy who wants to be sitting there figuring out what the next thing is and, and, and going on in that direction. So you have to, you have to put a stop at it and separating yourself, physically made it, made that possible.

Peter O’Toole (11:25):
Yeah. I actually, I did a similar thing. I actually had to buy a PC when PCs were not selling at the time. And yeah, it made a big difference working from home at that point, which during locked down, huh? Gosh, we all do now. Isn’t it? Well, some of us work at home. Other of us working, I know somewhere out in space, looking at what the Tim’s background

Tim Bushnell (11:48):
Talk about social isolation. I think I’m pretty isolated right now.

Peter O’Toole (11:54):
Certainly out of this world Tim, Alfonso What about yourself? Most challenging time.

Alfonso Blanco (12:00):
Yeah. Clearly, if it was a few years ago and we were talking before about teaching and training people and you want to have on the other side, people that really wants to learn, and it’s quite hard when you have to deal with someone that doesn’t want to learn

Peter O’Toole (12:16):
And you just want to help them as much as possible, but sometimes you don’t get there, I guess.

Alfonso Blanco (12:21):
No. And if you don’t want to get there, that’s even worse. I mean, when you’re the one to be guided into the right direction, it’s even worse and they don’t recognize those situations that’s even worse. So the first thing is recognizing, and, and usually w we know that we cannot know everything. It’s impossible that we can know everything. That’s the first thing, the first step of recognizing when you think you are too clever for everything, that’s, that’s a bad thing.

Peter O’Toole (12:50):
Yeah. I’ve been really lucky. York has been exceptional at those sorts of problems to have to deal with firsthand, which is fortunate. What about yourself, Tim have you encountered similar

Tim Bushnell (13:03):
Personal becoming a manager is a different skillset than being a bench scientist. And it’s funny, you know, as a, as a PhD, you’re trained in being a scientist and working at the bench and developing a hypothesis and all that. As you move in your career, you’re going to, you know, you become a manager. And so now you have to manage people, you have to manage their expectations. You have to manage their education, you have to motivate them. The hardest thing I think is actually the interview fig finding the right person. I’ve always, you know, in, in the staff that we’ve hired, we’ve not looked for somebody who has Flow experience. Cause that’s, what’s, we can teach, it’s finding those intangibles customer service, enthusiasm, you know, and, and bringing them onboard and then, then supporting them and always being supportive of, of their, their goals and checking in and saying, what do you want to do? You know, is this going to be your career? Or you want to, is this a stepping stone and supporting that growth is I think the hallmark of a good manager. And when you have a situation like Alfonzo and I’ve had similar situations too, it just, you know, it devastates you because of the efforts that you’ve put in and it devastates you because you question, am I good at this? Is this, am I doing the right things? So,

Peter O’Toole (14:17):
Yeah. So actually I’m just thinking about Alfonzo and you sent me this picture and obviously a very keen team player, and it’s important to find the right gut instinct is sometimes the best thing to go on. You know, if they, if they’ve got the personality, they can often carry around the role, hopefully, but not all. So Alfonzo what’s this picture of,

Alfonso Blanco (14:38):
So that was my last team. And that was my last game playing Handball which is kind of indoor soccer. You play with your hands and you kick everyone, which is quite funny, cause that’s really a release of a stress in picture I’m in the corner. But I was in the middle in the defense. I was really bad trying to score, but I was really good at defending and I was kind of controlling everyone within having the right position. And that was my last day because after the picture we started to play and have a really bad injury in the, in the knee. I broke the tri triad. So the three ligaments were absolutely broken. So that was my end of the career of handball. And, and, but that was really successful story. Lots of friends, we are still meeting each other every time that we have an opportunity, we have a barbecue, lots of beers, sharing stories, like all guys. Oh, you remember when you kick this guy? Oh yeah. He ended Up in the hospital and things like that. So that’s good.

Peter O’Toole (15:38):
There’s a lot of mention about kicking and where did this come from? [inaudible] Ability to kick people out into your lab. Like you were just saying about it or

Alfonso Blanco (15:52):
Look at my hands. So when I’m saying to my users don’t do that, or I could kill you. It’s real.

Peter O’Toole (15:59):
That was close to your mind on your labs and your Flow labs. I look

Alfonso Blanco (16:05):
So that was before handball, I was practicing football. I was not good at football. And then I move into TaeKwonDo. That was a new, a new sport in my school. I started, I was really good in, in TaeKwonDo. I arrived to the green belt and I was getting ready for fights in the, for the Olympics Barcelona in 92. And they have another injury. And in the, in the knee, they told me that I have to stop practicing TaeKwonDo. And at the end was a wrong decision because I should be, keep going and reinforce the human mortal, the leg. But I was too late for coming back.

Peter O’Toole (16:40):
I’ve noticed you should get very good at sports that not, maybe not maybe many people play

Alfonso Blanco (16:50):

Peter O’Toole (16:53):
So, so seriously, I know there’s some highlights. What I asked you, the difficult question about the most challenging time it was being some of the highlights, your careers. Yeah. Back to Tim on this one. What are your highlights of your career?

Tim Bushnell (17:04):
I think I have to say, you know, the biggest highlight was when I, the transition from postdoc to faculty, where I became a, the director of a core facility, I was hired by this recruit at the university who was starting a small Core at the time. And the job was support the five or six labs that were there and then the rest of your time was free. And so I had plenty of time to really play and get into the guts of the technology and get into the guts of what was going on and just really enjoy this opportunity to work with people and get them to a point where that they could then go off and finish it. So kind of that first Explorer discovery. And then, okay, here you go. Finish the work. Now here’s the protocol. So that was probably, I think my, you know, my favorite, you know, five, six years, about five years, I was in that position.

Peter O’Toole (17:55):
Yeah. Yeah. I’m always your first cytometer then

Tim Bushnell (17:58):
As a postdoc, I, I, before you know, becoming a post-doc, I was a plant biochemist, molecular biologists. So I had heard of flow cytometers because a colleague of mine was a Marine biologist and they took one on a ship. But we never had one. I moved into a B-cell development because there were no jobs for plant bio biologists at the time. And worked on the, on a three color effects, caliber. And it was like this, it was my star Trek. Tricorders I always tell people, I put cells in, I got these beautiful answers out. And I, for, for the five years of the post-doc, I’ve did everything by flow cytometry.

Peter O’Toole (18:35):
Yeah. But that, that, that you see way, it was all just science fiction coming out today.

Tim Bushnell (18:42):
It seems like that at times, but you know, there’s a little bit of science fact in there too.

Peter O’Toole (18:48):
My first was the caliber was well full, full color gas.

Tim Bushnell (18:52):
When we got our four color, when we got the second laser, I was over the moon. Yeah. Look what I can do.

Peter O’Toole (19:00):
Yeah. Always fond of the first system. What about yourself Alfonso? So start with, what was your first cytometer?

Alfonso Blanco (19:08):
There was a big monster, was a cultural excelite a leader and there was a sorter and the chair was super comfortable for Spanish to be on it.

Alfonso Blanco (19:18):
I, it was in a botany department and I just hear about it because I was in, when I was doing my degree the last the last year I have to do like a job for getting points and things like that. It was polyploidy implants. And the teacher told me that they, the university has bought that machine that has lasers and computers. And I was like, Oh, wow, cool. I want to go there. I was not botanist. And I was not really into the plans for just the lasers and the computers call my attention. So when I arrived and I saw all these things and, and touchable screen I just fell in love with it, with that. And that was my first instrument.

Peter O’Toole (19:59):
And what’s been your favorite instruments over all your career?

Alfonso Blanco (20:05):
My favorite one was a CyAn, to be honest. And there were quite a few things I really love on the CyAn and I still, in fact, I still have two of them here. I still got two and they’re fantastic at the time were so robust and so fast, so easy to use the software. I love the software. And the fact is I was doing a lot of teaching and training with the software, even with data from another computers. I, I just love science.

Peter O’Toole (20:40):
Yeah. I think the main flow legacy has a lot to go with. I think it would scare most people know that that was, you would just a one with a legacy. You just, you just felt it breathed it. It was just an extension of you literally just, it was like a growth to you on your hands. I, yeah, I kinda missed that, but yeah, I haven’t lost any CyAn’s yet, so I haven’t had to say goodbye to them, but yeah, the legacy was, was sad to see that one go for us. So what’s been the highlight of your career Alfonso that you’ve, I’ve heard you about your low time and that I heard that just had stressful and that was, he could feel it in how you’re expressing it. What about highlights?

Alfonso Blanco (21:24):
Highlights too many?

Peter O’Toole (21:28):
I’m looking the side of my head. Oh, no, I see. No, just highlights.

Alfonso Blanco (21:33):
Yeah. A few things. If I have to pick up one is quite difficult. But I would say one is a share highlights with Barry Moran. We organize here the ESCCA back in 2011 and was a very successful meeting. We made lots of friends was quite risky because we, we hire a center. The conference center of Dublin was still under construction when we ha we decided to go for it. And the construction is not the best thing on times in Ireland, but we met the bets and we were quite successful there. And, and it was really a big effort between Barry and I to put together that, but also on, at that time, there was something that we try to put together and it was quite challenging. And there was a first sorting course with 14 different instruments onsite without being onsite.

Alfonso Blanco (22:32):
And now it’s back into place because we are, we were doing that sorting course remotely. So that was with John Tigges, Yvan Saeys Rui Gardner there John Daley Barry Moran and myself and was with [inaudible] as well. And we put that course together and we connected 14 different sites to train 32 people in a very small room. That was again, a big challenge. And when we finished and we not, even when we finished, when we run the course, it was so fantastic, the feeling. So it was definitely one of the best situations I ever been.

Peter O’Toole (23:10):
Well it’s obviously it has its highs. It has its lows usually long hours. I’ve got to say I think both appreciate that. Well, what’d you do outside of work to take your mind off work. What’s your other focus? So Alfonso, I’ll start with you on this one.

Alfonso Blanco (23:25):
First family. I enjoy a lot of the kids playing around with them. The other thing that I really love is traveling the same, traveling, looking at sites walking around places. And I don’t care if it’s a city or if it’s nature. And if I can do with the family, it’s even better. If not, I go alone. There you go. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do PhD in Botany because that will allow me to go as well outside the lab to go outside climbing mountains or walking around and trying to pick up the plants for your analysis. That was also quite funny. So that was really the compliment for my job. I wanted to be in the lab. I wanted to be in the nature. I wanted to walk around. I don’t want to be supervised all the time and stock into some timing.

Alfonso Blanco (24:22):
So I found the perfect balance in doing these things. And this was in the North of Spain where I have to pick out those plants. My friends isolate each one of them and classify them. So we, we, we use them. If you see them, their ferns, they are not many characteristics around them, but they have different DNA contents. So they go for 2,222 pairs of chromosomes. So counting them was difficult and that’s why flow cytometry ended up. So I was in flow cytometry, each one of them to quantify the amount of DNA on the plants. And that was my, my beginning of, of cytometry with only the ones I have to water every single day, make sure that they don’t have any, any worms hitting them. And it was quite funny with my father. Cause I told him that I have to go to the greenhouse where he brought me to the greenhouse. He thought he loved flowers. She felt like he will be full of flowers and we have ferns and grass. What is that? This is a greenhouse. Yeah. That’s what I’m working. You will not end up anywhere with this.

Peter O’Toole (25:29):
Like I said, I think the picture is just fairly typical. I to, it feels sometimes when I go to conferences, I just have Alfonso on my shoulder constantly talking. Yeah.

Alfonso Blanco (25:39):

Peter O’Toole (25:41):
That is mostly family. Any other activities at work? No, not really. Yeah. I can get that. And Tim, what about yourself? I, I think were you a farmer once

Tim Bushnell (25:58):
A farmer wannabe the that was one of my first houses we had about a half an acre of property and I’ve got an acre now and I’m not the best Green thumbs, even though I grew plants and my plants were water firms, so I didn’t have to water them like Alfonza did. But this is funny because for, I don’t even remember why I shaved off my beard and my kids when they saw me for the first time, didn’t know who I was. They were scared. So never again.

Peter O’Toole (26:26):
No, actually I remember my dad always had a beard and he shaved that off. It was very weird. Very strange. Yeah. You don’t know as a child, it confuses you a lot, but yeah. Hey, Parents why do they do things like that to us? I have no idea. What else, Tim? What else outside of work do you do?

Tim Bushnell (26:48):
Like Alfonzo I like to travel we do a lot of, we try to do a lot of stuff locally. I’m I like to cook. I like to barbecue. Taught my, like to teach, you know, be with my kids and teach them still active involved in, in the boy Scouts with my son’s troop. Then I’ve been a brewer on and off for about 20 years as well. When the mood strikes me, I haven’t, you know, I’ve, I’ve done beers, I’ve done ciders. I’m in Apple country, in New York. So it’s always great to get fresh and pressed apples and make cider. And of course, beer, my favorite times is we’d homeschool our children in the U S and as a science project, I taught my son how to brew. Cause it was a septic technique. It was microbiology and it was great. Cause I had to drink the results for him. Oh, darn

Peter O’Toole (27:40):
Say, this is your son. Is that correct?

Tim Bushnell (27:42):
That’s my youngest son. That’s Nathan took him to England last year for the first time visit a friend of mine who just got off the red eye in the taxi, getting to the hotel. And shortly thereafter we were downtown London, hitting the eye, going over to the the various sites for a couple of days, including they’d have a Jack the Ripper tour, which was interesting to walk the streets where where that those crimes were committed. But it was also, it was extremely hot too. It was like the, the heat wave last year that, that you had. So it was 95 degrees and you’re walking through, you know, a city which has hot anyway because of all the pavement.

Peter O’Toole (28:24):
What time of year was that? It was end of August last year. Okay. Yeah. Last time it was at hotties for a long time.

Tim Bushnell (28:31):
Yeah. We eventually made it down to the Bournemouth area and my son’s into military. So we went to the tank museum down there and he had an absolute blast.

Peter O’Toole (28:40):
Ah, I’ll try to think. Well, the Tank museum’s cooled down there, ah, can you remember what it’s called?

Tim Bushnell (28:46):
I think I was the tank museum. It just it’s, it’s in the,

Peter O’Toole (28:49):
I need my son to come in and tell you you’ve been there as well,

Tim Bushnell (28:54):
That, you know, he was excited to be able to see, you know, the, the first tanks and stuff. And this this year in his schooling, they studied the world war one, world war two. And he just, you know, was really had a lot of additional facts to provide to the class and stuff. So,

Peter O’Toole (29:10):
Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s full of tanks and you go as well, including the demonstrations actually have them running as well. Very true. Just going again, back to the day job for a minute we’ve heard about challenging times, you’ve heard how you got into flow cytometry itself. How do you find core management? Because how long have you both been running a core facility? Alfonzo, how long have you been running a cool it? 16 years,

Alfonso Blanco (29:42):
One month, three days.

Peter O’Toole (29:46):
I’m still counting down to retire. I count down to retirement until just a day off.

Alfonso Blanco (29:52):
I have to say it’s a wholly more than the job. And that’s what make it nicer for me. It was, it was quite funny cause I was in my PhD was a long PhD and I was almost nine years. Phd master’s degree. And at the end of that per year, at the time I was in France, in Paris and I had a supervisor there in Paris six [inaudible] and after three months there, she told me he looked Alfonso can I talk to you? I say, yeah, sure. Look, you are not a good scientist. What? You will never be a good scientist you are not, you cannot be a researcher. I said nine years of PhD, come on. What are you talking? Oh, you’re a good technician. I say, no, no, I’m not technician. I, I cannot be a technician. No. You know, cause I look at you, you’re going all around, looking at everyone, what they are doing, how they’re are, you’re helping them with imaging chopping and things. So you want to learn how to do it and then improve them. And these are kind of job that you could be good at. I’d like, yeah, but still a technician. No, but they have good jobs. They have permits. They are well paid. I was like, Oh wow. Now we are talking. No.

Alfonso Blanco (31:09):
As Tim said after that period of time, when you’re writing my thesis and I was isolated as well and writing my, my PhD, I was thinking on what he said. I say at the end of the day, I want a job. I, science is good, but I want a job. And I applied for a job. And, and I remember my first official kind of a core manager. I applied for that one in Southampton, in Marine biology. And I went to the interview was the worst interview ever, If you think on, On the movie it was the name, Billy Elliot to be a dancer. I want to be a dancer by ballet dancer, but with Flow Cytometry. They want to put someone in a submarine, shipping them all around the world. That’s, that’s exactly what I want. This, this kind of matching what I told you before. Right? So that, that was a dream. And that dream didn’t come through because I couldn’t dance. So I was just absolutely blocked. As soon as they say 30 minutes for our question, turn on the timer. I couldn’t even talk. I was just blocked. Absolutely block was here in Dublin, changed completely the style. I was far more relaxed on it started here.

Peter O’Toole (32:28):
I’m so gobsmacked that something actually made you quiet Alfonso that, that Tim will back me up here. You have a reputation of never stopping.

Tim Bushnell (32:37):
Very, very true.

Peter O’Toole (32:41):
I’ve got to say whoever it was, who interviewed you? I want to know who they are and exactly what they said to stop you talking.

Alfonso Blanco (32:50):
It was quite intimidating. You have the light here, dark room, three guys on the back. I am professional, whatever professor or whatever. And you have 30 minutes, this is a job description, blah, blah, blah. And you’ll have 30 minutes for questioning. And we will ask you if 30 minutes and the time of starting out suddenly was like, everything was just erased from my mind. And I have no idea how they did it, this.

Peter O’Toole (33:14):
Brilliant, full of admiration, Tim what about you, how long have you been in the core business?

Tim Bushnell (33:22):
I’ve been in the core since 2003, so 17 years. Again at the end of my postdoc, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wasn’t going to be a traditional scientist, much like Alfonso. I’m like discovering things. I like improving things, but as we preach about all these additional experiments and confirmation, I’m not as good at that. I I’m I like to explore. And so I started exploring the options of, of joining the core facility when this this guy got hired at university and hired me and basically turned me loose from that in 2008, I took over the core here at the, the Flow core at the university. And in 2012, I’ve since 2012, I’ve been running all overseeing all of the major facilities here at the university. So I have seven core facilities that report to me.

Peter O’Toole (34:16):
Yeah. That that’s yeah. Similar here that those core facilities give them a quick, give them a shout out.

Tim Bushnell (34:23):
Yeah, the Genomics facility. We’ve got a Confocal facility. We’ve got a Multiphoton facility an EM facility and Proteomics. Who else am I missing? Flow, obviously can’t forget Flow. And you know, we’ve, we’ve recently we have recently transitioned our our we’ll call [Inaudible]. Our, our transgenic core is undergoing some transition at the moment. but it’s, you know, it’s, it’s going up that ladder of, of finding how to administrate it and be be a businessman you know, in a, in an organization where you’re a nonprofit and having all those pressures. I mean, I’m fortunate. My growing up, my father worked for the Xerox was a senior executive there. So back in the eighties, I was reading all the books. He was, you know, everything from the book of the five rings and the art of war, which I still haven’t figured out how that applies to business, but that was the big thing in the eighties in us business culture.

Peter O’Toole (35:26):
Actually that brings me to some quick fire questions, if you don’t mind. Fair enough. So Tim I’m going to start with you on this. Okay. So very quick answers, tidy or messy

Tim Bushnell (35:44):

Peter O’Toole (35:44):
Tea or coffee.

Tim Bushnell (35:46):

Peter O’Toole (35:49):
Beer or wine,

Tim Bushnell (35:51):

Peter O’Toole (35:52):
Yeah. You can’t say yes on that one. Sweet or Savory,

Tim Bushnell (35:55):
Savory, but I want to be,

Peter O’Toole (35:57):
That’s obvious. Cause obviously in America, you don’t, we do great chocolate do you. Book or TV

Tim Bushnell (36:03):
Again, it depends. I like both.

Peter O’Toole (36:07):
Okay. Well you got to choose one. Okay.

Tim Bushnell (36:09):
Well, if we had to choose one book, what are you reading at the moment? Quick fire.

Tim Bushnell (36:14):
No, right now I’m reading a a book about negotiations or rereading a book about negotiations. Getting

Peter O’Toole (36:23):
Factual books rather than fiction

Tim Bushnell (36:25):
A mixture of both a lot, like a lot of science fiction, a lot of you know, I, I, I went through a Tom Clancy phase recently. I reread some of Tom Clancy’s books, but I just finished an MBA. So I spent a lot, you know, two and a half years reading nothing, but, you know, business books and, you know, going back to refining and, and improving my leadership skills, which have been invaluable in this, this whole COVID crisis.

Peter O’Toole (36:50):
Okay. So, so actually those books do sound a bit like a mix of fact and fiction themselves.

Tim Bushnell (36:55):
That’s very true. They are

Peter O’Toole (36:58):
Alfonzo. Are you ready?

Alfonso Blanco (36:59):

Peter O’Toole (37:01):
Some quick Fires eat in or Eat out,

Alfonso Blanco (37:04):
Eat in.

Peter O’Toole (37:05):
Cook or wash up.

Alfonso Blanco (37:08):

Peter O’Toole (37:09):
Not because your wife can’t cook?

Alfonso Blanco (37:11):
My wife cook really well, so she doesn’t allow me to cook. So thats how’s i wash up out.

Peter O’Toole (37:19):
Beach bum or do you prefer sightseeing, say it again. Beach bum or sightseeing when you go on holiday,

Alfonso Blanco (37:24):
Sightseeing sorry, Sightseeing. Sightseeing. Yup.

Peter O’Toole (37:30):
Home or being at work home,

Alfonso Blanco (37:34):

Peter O’Toole (37:34):
That’s a lucky answer as well. You’d have got in trouble for that. Ireland or Spain.

Alfonso Blanco (37:40):

Peter O’Toole (37:40):
Oh, UCD are going to fire you tomorrow. Alfonso.

Alfonso Blanco (37:45):
I know Spain is Spain it’s in my blood. I cannot deny it. And in fact, one of the things we are running here is a Spanish research society in Ireland. So it’s trying to create links between Ireland and Spain. Yeah. It’s trying to make a bridge in many different aspects. And one of them for instance, is trying to learn what we, what Ireland has really good and trying to bring that into, into Spain. So we are making some kind of connections with the government. They are asking us for our feedback around research, but also we are trying to bring things that we have here. We have in Spain back to Ireland. And one of them is of course, education and bringing new students in, et cetera, et cetera. So I’m divided. In fact, you can see quite a few of my pictures with a double flag Ireland and Spain. And it’s funny, cause sometimes I speak, we, the Irish are doing this thing. And on the other side I’m saying I miss Spanish. After 16 years, I feel quite Irish. I always fail.

Peter O’Toole (38:54):
It’s quite a big cultural change coming over to Ireland. How, how did you find that

Alfonso Blanco (39:01):
It’s not difficult because the Irish are quite quite Celtic and Galicia is Celtic. And in fact we have the Celts, the Celts were one of the first inhabitants here in Ireland. So the the way of doing things of the Irish is, is quite Galician. I mentioned before, the way we are talking Galicia talking like that, it’s kind of Irish. So from that point of view, even when you ask anyone in Spain how a Galician person answer a question, they never answer. They answer the question with a question, say, are you going up or down on you? Are you coming up or down? So that’s the same here? How are you? How are you? So it’s not difficult to adapt. There are differences. Of course there are differences. Well, I feel half of half.

Peter O’Toole (39:55):
So any, I could, obviously, when you come out to a PhD, one of the big questions you have is shall I go abroad instead? Do my postdoc, or should I stay in the UK? Yeah. Stay in the home country. And there’s a lot of pressure. I think going overseas really boosts your CV if you’re successful, when you come back obviously you don’t have to. I certainly didn’t I had the offer and then York job came up and that was more attractive. Yeah. So is there any, we are not afraid or scared or worried or

Alfonso Blanco (40:27):
I was, of course I was. I remember there was not so much internet, so I have no clue how Ireland looked like. I arrived to the interview, got the, the bus to bring, to bring me to UCD take the interview. They gave me the position on, on the same day, which is kind of shocking. I felt that I was forgotten something because you come out what I’ve lost. And then I came back and the only thing they gave me was a list of telephone numbers and for finding a location. So I arrived to the airport with a luggage and a list of telephone numbers for where to say. So it was kind of scary because I was not quite sure what I will face. Nowadays I will really encourage everyone to go. It’s quite simple. And especially now with the Spanish society, like we have, we have 18 different societies internet, Facebook, everyone is helping everyone to move and they are telling you all the tricks and tips to move, accommodate, all have to do with administration. And that’s something that I was really missing when I moved here. And so now society, embassies now I’m work working in, dealing with them. They’re extremely helpful. You think, okay, I will go there. Well, when I lose my, my passport, to be honest, there is a lot of work behind the embassies and I really recommend people if they are moving away or they’re going abroad, the first person to talk is the embassy and they will provide you huge, huge amount of information.

Peter O’Toole (42:05):
I think just moving aside from that, a little bit part of that success is the fact that you found and developed a network. Yeah. And I think in our careers, whether it’s academic or going into the core side of the business of the shared resource type site of business networks are vital. If you really want to succeed. I think, I think they’re very influential and turning over to Tim now. Actually you have a online resource now that’s true you to use for looking at reviews and that draws on that network to bring in those reviews, bringing those comments, the teaching use a network of tutors. Absolutely. That, that took something to actually set up and get running. So tell us more about that.

Tim Bushnell (42:50):
I mean, back to your point about networks, I think in the field of Flow Cytometry the, the, the community is, is very open, you know, very, very easy to work with very you know, wants to share which was different from some of the other societies I’ve been to. And so that really helped me build my network. I remember going to my first course, the course in a boat in Maine and everyone found out I was from Rochester. So they’re asking, do you know, Leon Wheeless? Do you know this person? I’m like, well, no, but I, I met Leon mean, you know, after the fact. And it was just, the community was so tight knit, it really helped. And then within, you know, building experts, cytometry already having a network of people like Alfonso, like really in, in, in Europe and having built connections over overseas, as well as in the US really helped pull that those people together to help, you know, start the process. And then it just also keep me honest. I would have to say about, you know, kind of the education, the training, making sure it’s as high quality as it can be, and we’re not, you know, things are, things are being taking the best practices and, and as things change, you know, going back to talking about those and so experts at how much it’s really grown with the online presence and also with face-to-face courses and we’ve we’ve done some great ones with Alfonzo and Europe and you know, ones in the US I mean, we’re, we’re working on organizing one in Poland, but is going to be very interesting if we can pull it off. And hopefully next, hopefully when people can start to travel again, not sure when that will be. I mean, especially since Europe is going to ban Americans from coming over to you know, rightly so, don’t get me wrong. I mean,

Peter O’Toole (44:39):
Nothing to do with COVID no, just no, not at all. No, never, never, ever don’t. How’d you juggle all of that with the, come on, you, you’re running your own core facility, you are directing the gamets of core biological life sciences, and you have this business on the side as well.

Tim Bushnell (45:09):
How Organization it’s, it’s really a matter of

Peter O’Toole (45:14):
You did the MBA as well. You did the other core course as well.

Tim Bushnell (45:18):
So, so, so the, the quick story about the MBA is my wife died three years ago from cancer and trying to find something to fill that fill some of that time. I either I had an offer to learn how to play the jazz saxophone or take the MBA. The guy with the jazz sax never called me back. So I, you know, never learned that. So I took the MBA and, you know, my stage of the career being, being in core facilities for 20 years and having experience it, wasn’t like I needed it, but I really learned a new way to think about things. So I think it’s important for everybody to explore that thinking, but it becomes, it becomes an organizational challenge to run multiple facilities with with the university. The first step was getting I’m a big fan of Jim Collins and one of his books. Good to Great. He talks about getting the right people on the bus. So I’ve got phenomenal people running each of the individual facilities. And so they don’t need me to oversee them every minute of every day. And I set, kind of the overall goal with them and they run it. And that gives me time, especially at night, you know, to, to work on, on other things

Peter O’Toole (46:26):
That that’s, that’s great. I have to press pause a minute guys. It’s just, just wait a minute. I think my neighbor’s cars just been stolen off their drive. I’m not joking. Just bear with me one actually, while I’m running off, can you surreal one of the most surreal moments I think I’ve ever encountered. I’ve got it. I’ve got to ring it in the really quickly. Can you talk about your favorite publication Tim if you can tell Alfonso about it? Oh, will be back. I will just delegate this job. Talk about your favorite publication that I’ll be back. Go, go for it.

Tim Bushnell (47:03):
Your favorite publication is always tough. I think the one that I liked the most was this paper that I was, you know, a coauthor on with this guy, Jim Palis group. And it was called the Ontology of Erythroid gene expression. And they were trying to build an Atlas of the different of the expression of different in, in different phases of the red blood cell. What was interesting about it that I liked is it was a to identify and sort cells because most of the stuff we do is lymphocytes and they behave in a certain way. Red blood cells don’t behave at all like that. We had to develop a new sheet fluids. We had to, we had to optimize the catch conditions. We had to come up with ways to see red blood cells. Cause there wasn’t a lot to do. So we really, you know, going through a lot of work to develop those processes and it was kind of, you know, really in the weeds kind of fun. And it ended up in a, what I think was a great publication from, you know, with the, with the, the, the gene work that came out of that.

Peter O’Toole (48:04):
Okay. And what about yourself? What’s your favorite publication?

Alfonso Blanco (48:09):
Well, he was talking, I was thinking about that question. My favorite one, no doubt is a calcium. We were talking about calcium flags in a continuous way. It’s not because of the paper. I will not say that the paper is a huge quality or anything like that. It’s the history behind it and it’s because these are accuri on the back of that one. And that’s my second funniest toy because of the history behind the accuri. And it’s when I arrived to Cyto meeting. And I was talking with the crowd and accuri, the buildup, these leaders saying that that was a flow cytometer and you can close your eyes, push the button, and suddenly you run everything. And I couldn’t believe it. And there was a beta test. They sent me the machine for beta testing. And during the first three months, I find out that application of, of being able to analyze and pull things inside of you and run them without the stopping them in continuance. So I asked for an extension of that time and working with accuri team at that time was fantastic because you also question and the engineer got it. They have implemented and you ask a question to Leo or, or Kate, and suddenly everyone was on board and your, your answer was just there. And suddenly on the following day, you have a software development was a fantastic period of time, especially because I learn a lot from the company, how the company’s move and working with that kind of people I really enjoy. And of course, with, with a crowd here he usually deep preparing the samples and excite them. And we have an amazing sample that we were running and floating all the glial cells. And I couldn’t believe what was, was a drug that made them just floating. And that was a real drug was the ecstasies ecstasy came into the glial cells and the cells were blasting. So all the history behind the paper is what makes that paper, especially,

Peter O’Toole (50:18):
I think that’s a really good point, the fact that it isn’t the highest impacting paper. Sometimes it’s, there’s something special about a bit of work, but yeah, it’s that, and that’s that contribution to it. I remember that work and I remember you doing it at the time as well. There we’re phone calls with you about it and looking at some of the data early on and saying you’re nuts. But anyway,

Peter O’Toole (50:39):
Before we finish off, I have a couple of questions. What are the, do you think the greatest unmet needs, where, where do we need to see flow cytometry going in the future? I’ll go left. What are you thinking first for that one?

Tim Bushnell (50:55):
I think it’s we’re in a, in a Renaissance with new fluorochromes coming out new ways to analyze data new ways to, to trigger and, and explore cells. And I think better understanding of these automated techniques is important because a lot of people use them, but they don’t understand what they’re getting out. Ryan Brinkman and, and, and folks like that are doing a really good job of trying to explain it, but the average person doesn’t understand it. They just want, I want a [inaudible] plot of this or whatever. But you know, really the, you know, the, the development of new fluorochromes and there’s a big emphasis on things to be coupled to proteins you know, antibodies, but we’re missing the, the time when molecular probes under Rich Hoagland was just developing fluorochromes and fluorescent target compounds, and they didn’t know what to do with them, but that’s how we got calcium flux. That’s how we’ve got, you know, reactive oxygen measurements. MDBR, we’re not seeing a push to understand that internal, you know, development anymore. I’d love to see some more probes being built up around other biological processes that we can, we can refine.

Peter O’Toole (52:10):
Okay. And Alfonso, Tim’s just give me some really good buying time. They’re all just completely blown you out. The water was really good.

Alfonso Blanco (52:21):
They’re really and Tim knows quite well, leis and you as well, cause you are always put in the flow on the top, right on the scheme where you have genomics and proteomics and Imagine and all the kind of imaging. And we can see all these imagining and the wraps or the, or the 10x genomics coming with single cell genomics and the spatial distribution that they have on the, on the tissue. And you can see all these sites of the technology coming up with a high period on the back again with tissue distribution. I think this is what we are missing in flow cytometry, but on the other side is the speed. What we, we have in our favor. Let’s say that way. So we have imaging on the other side with imaging flow cytometry with the Omnis. We are missing the sorting on that side. Uh we are missing a lot of these as a team, we’ll say in the possibility of analyzing all of these together in a quick way, in a visual way. So a lot of these is going into all these, these tools to visualise, to understand what is, what is happening to see that I have a dye and is coming here exactly where and how he’s interacting on the other side. All these interactions with the nanoparticles with the EVes Eves is, is an area that is still growing up. A lot of technology for sure will be developed very soon in that direction, kind of flow cytometry side with no new tools, new markers, to try to identify them with a smaller size micro fluidics, not nano nano fluidics and coming up to try to, to look at them, to show them as well, to, to be able to do a good characterization of them. Because at the moment we are limiting in 20, who knows if there’s something else, even a smaller than 20 sending things from one side to another. Cause we were talking about hormones a few years ago and they are the priests all messengers. Now we are talking about the, the EVes as one of the messengers or main messengers. So thinking all of that interaction is where we are. We are moving. And again, trying to put all this information together, a pipeline of all that information together, that’s where the challenge is all the artificial intelligence.

Peter O’Toole (54:43):
Well, I think from what both of you has said, the biggest challenge may actually be in the analysis of all this.

Tim Bushnell (54:50):
Hmm. The amount of data that’s being generated. I mean, Alfonso was saying it with all the imaging technologies coming out. Now when you can analyze on the Hyperion, you know, 30 different, you know, markers in a spatially defined manner, how do you put that together?

Peter O’Toole (55:08):
Hmm. Yeah, I think we were fighting that at the moment with the NanoString DSP, that that’s quite a simple approach, but 40 colors now going up into the thousands of RNA transcripts with spatial resolution, you still have to be asking the question and finding the answer rather than maybe trying to find what answers are in there. We’ve got a long way to go. I think, which is why it’s so exciting. Isn’t it? Huh? Anyway, Tim Alfonso you’ve been great. Fun, really great fun. Thanks very much for joining me today.

Tim Bushnell (55:41):
Yeah. Thank you.

Alfons (55:42):
Pleasure talking with both of you always.


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