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About this episode
#20 — In this episode of The Microscopists, we’re joined by Yannick Schwab of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Heidelberg, who is one of the pioneers of correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM).
We’ll discuss why Yannick considers himself such a lucky scientist and the role that serendipity has played in his career. We’ll also learn more about who has inspired Yannick in his career and why he feels motivated to pay it forward.
We’ll also discover how Yannick likes to spend his time off (prepare for some impressive holiday snaps), why nothing beats the smell of bread baking in the morning, and what his infamous ‘seminar face’ is!
Please note that this is a Machine Transcription and may not be 100% accurate.
Yannick Schwab (00:00:27):
And it’s more by opportunism isn’t that the first door that opened to me was direction microscopy. And then I jumped on it. I never regretted that choice,
Peter O’Toole (00:00:37):
A slightly unusual answer to what did you want to be when you were little,
Yannick Schwab (00:00:44):
One of my first career vision was to trace lines on the road,
Peter O’Toole (00:00:48):
Wild camping in Australia.
Yannick Schwab (00:00:52):
For two days you walk and there’s nothing
Peter O’Toole (00:00:54):
And he’s infamous seminar face. Got to see that one.
Yannick Schwab (00:01:00):
I had a face when I say that, that they feel they have to go
Peter O’Toole (00:01:05):
All in this episode of The Microscopist.
Peter O’Toole (00:01:13):
Hello and welcome to this episode of The Microscopist today. I’m going to be chatting to Yannick Schwab from EMBL over in Heidelberg. Hi, Yannick.
Yannick Schwab (00:01:23):
Hello Pete. Nice to see you.
Peter O’Toole (00:01:26):
Yeah, that’s been a little while actually, for obvious reasons. What’s it been like over EMBL?
Yannick Schwab (00:01:35):
You mean through the Corona crisis or yes,
Peter O’Toole (00:01:37):
Through the coronavirus virus? How, how has it coped with us?
Yannick Schwab (00:01:42):
No, I think it’s yeah, now it’s, it’s going okay. Most of the people are at work. Of course we have to be careful with the social distancing and wear masks all day long, which is annoying, of course, but at least the wetlab people, they can do something. I feel for the computer scientists though, because they are trapped at home and most of them are trapped at home and I’ve been there for a year now. So I, I think they would appreciate to go to the campus, but yeah, so far so good.
Peter O’Toole (00:02:13):
We will get there. So EMB, EMBL itself you, your facility head and the team leader, which is two distinct roles. I would already say. Can you describe both of those roles and what the differences are between them?
Yannick Schwab (00:02:33):
All right. So the the facilities, of course, it’s a service facility, which is open to the researchers EMBL to all the groups and also outside. And then my role is I mean more to entertain the group to make sure that there’s a good interfacing with the users a good dedication between the needs and so on. But I don’t do much of the service myself, right. In the facility, it’s a lot of interfacing with the users, which is fascinating because I happen to hear a lot about all the projects and so on. It’s fantastic. And then it’s more animating the team and we have fantastic specialists working there. So that’s on the facility side and on the team side, it’s a, it’s a research team. It’s a, quite a small research team in the cell biology and biophysics unit. And here we do methods development in qualitative. You mentioned. So it’s a lot of brainstorming. I try to have a multidisciplinary team. It’s also very often challenging because I supervise people who have skills that I do not possess at all. So here as well, it’s a bit of management. I’m trying to have the two groups working together as often as possible. Of course, in normal time, we will do retreats meetings together events and so on to link them together. Now it’s slightly different, but we try to work together as much as possible.
Peter O’Toole (00:04:02):
I, I, that makes sense that, that, that they work together, but it sounds like there’s a clear division in the expectations of the roles that you mentioned that as a facility side, that you’re there to serve. I think it was a word that you used it was a service and on the, on the research side, it is very much, I would argue a selfish job. They’re meant to be doing their own research and not necessarily supporting lots of other groups, maybe collaborating, but not necessarily working in the same way. So how would the tension, or they are both sets parties that work in both sides? Are they quite happy in their job roles because they are quite different job roles equally important?
Speaker 2 (00:04:46):
I hope they are happy. Yes. I think the teamwork is a bit more focused. You know, we of course it’s, electron microscopy, it’s correlative imaging and there’s also correlative imaging the facility. So from outside, it may sound very similar, but in fact that the team is focusing on much more targeted job, and they try to find solutions to existing problems. And if the development is successful, of course, we hope to transfer that and to make that accessible as a service in the facility. But that would be on a very topical theme or that are very targeted, focused workflow or whatever. Whereas the facility of course, has to cover a much larger spectrums of technologies to answer to the user’s needs. That can be very diverse. It can be simple, negative staining for example, or MBM. And we don’t necessarily do everything in the team. And yeah. So in the facility, it’s a staff, people who are hired, whereas in the team, we have a PhD students, master students post-doc. So I think their career trajectory is slightly different. More short term for the team whereas in the facility is more long term now. I mean, I’ve been at EMBL for eight years. So I, I start to see a couple of generations of people having passed through the team. And I see that yeah, many of them are going towards facility or towards service jobs. So I think there’s probably an influence in in the way we
Peter O’Toole (00:06:27):
It’s very good. Cause actually my, my next question it’s, I don’t think it’s an awkward question. EMBL for those who I’ll let you describe what EMBL is in a moment for those who, who are listening or watching that haven’t heard of the EMBL properly before, but they also have an ethos that most academics that come in there only have a nine year tender sort of tenure most I think. And then, and then your meant to have made your name and move on somewhere else. Now you sit in quite a nice position, maybe that you, you were facility head, which doesn’t have that nine-year time limit I don’t think does as it does have it. Oh my goodness. So in that case, you’re one year eight of nine, what happens next?
Yannick Schwab (00:07:13):
So I’m one of the lucky ones I told you that I am lucky. Right. And I have the privilege and I’ve been granted an open-ended contract last year in November. So I will stay a bit longer than nine years. Of course it comes with some responsibilities, extra responsibilities, but yeah, I find that as a, as a great, great luck because it’s a fantastic place, you know, you can have crazy ideas and then you can work to make them come through. So
Peter O’Toole (00:07:41):
That is terrific. I think you just gutted load your electron microscopist who wanted that job. Yeah. Yeah. Cause it is one of the best places to work. I think in UVA, I, from a biology side, I think it is the best place to work, but you just want to describe what E M B L is for those who aren’t aware.
Yannick Schwab (00:08:05):
So it’s an intergovernmental organization. We have, I should know that by heart, but I think 24 member States at the time, mostly from Europe and we have two associated States, Argentina and Australia, and each country you contribute to the lab. Of course with spending but also with people. And then, well, the global mission of the EMBL is to work in molecular cell biology and to provide the member States with, you know, cutting edge advent state of the art research and technologies. And there are different missions in developing technologies, of course, performing research, but also providing training and so on and so forth. And then for the, for the nine years thing, the, the initial concept is to hire very junior group leaders from their postdoc and even some of them from their PhD and to help them to become the next generation of group leaders in insights. So I think this is really the core concept and, and that’s also the justification for the nine years. So they, they are hired, they grew up at the EMBL, they absorbed the the spirit you know, the collaborative spirit, the collegiality and so on. And then they move on in their career. And very often they move on very well becoming, you know, high-level directors, Max Planck institutes or other places or patrol for group leaders, but also for heads of facilities or even staff for facilities very often when they do work for nine years at EMBL afterwards, they move up in the career and they become heads of facilities somewhere else.
Peter O’Toole (00:09:51):
It takes a very encouraging environment, high pressure for a lot of those who don’t get that, that, that lifetime contract and it’s nine years. And, you know, you are going to be having to find another job what a great incentive to make sure you always succeed. And it’s a really great environment to enable that which enables people to succeed and then go over. And actually, I think it spreads the benefits of EMBL to all. They take that magic with them into whichever university, whatever Institute they end up at. And it gives that network, that broad network.
Yannick Schwab (00:10:29):
Oh, that’s true. Yes. No, I think that’s also the real benefit from the member States. I mean, you know, we always have these discussions. What do I gain contributing to EMBL as an States? How many PhD students do I have currently at the EMBL, but I think it’s not only that it’s also what they become. And I see that myself, right, that they are becoming leaders and their scattered across Europe and the world. I think that propagates what is being taught here at EMBL?
Peter O’Toole (00:11:05):
What’s he like to live over in Heidelberg? Where do I live? What’s it like to live in Heidelberg or close to Heidelberg?
Yannick Schwab (00:11:15):
It’s very we feel like a, in a bubble. I think Heidelberg is a very privileged place in Germany itself. It’s very international. There are many international companies around, you know, we have like the big BSF chemical chemistry company that is just teaching kilometers. They have SAP headquarters John Deere and so on and so forth. So it’s very, very international and the city is very quiet and nice bubble. You are when you wandering the streets, you hear, I don’t know how many languages, it’s pretty fun. And for raising kids is also fantastic. It’s super safe. Now, for people who are used to big cities like Paris or London, it might become a bit boring. So why? Because it’s very provincial. It’s 150,000 and everything’s in Heidelberg and it’s pretty small, but,uno, I, I love it. It’s, it’s pretty nice.
Peter O’Toole (00:12:18):
So just to go back, so obviously I actually, maybe not, everyone knows your expertise is in Electron Microscopy, Correlative Light and Electron Microscopy, Correlative Electron microscopy full stop. It goes beyond lights, I think now and also looking at the 3D Electron Microscopy. So there’s a lot, it’s all based around the electron microscope, but where did you first get an interest for electron microscopy?
Yannick Schwab (00:12:43):
Hmm. That was doing my master’s. I believe I did just a very short two weeks internship in in the lab that I did my master. No, it was not during the bachelor actually. And then in that same lab, I did my master natural. So it was, I think, more or less by serendipity, you know, you have to make your choices of rotations in the labs and it sounded good. It was in neuroscience and electron microscopy because back then I was studying neurosciences and that’s how I started.
Peter O’Toole (00:13:23):
So, so it’s never an ambition to be an electron microscopist or a microscopist. It was more a case that you found yourself in front of an electron microscope and up you enjoyed and found a skill for it at that point.
Yannick Schwab (00:13:36):
Yeah. I think it’s even worse than that. You know, I, I, I think I never had the ambition to become an electron microscopist. It was more by opportunity, but it’s a, it was a very good luck at the end of the day. I mean, I made the choice during my second postdoc actually because there was a very good job opportunity. I knew I wanted to work in the facility business and I wanted to be at the bench. I never wanted to become a PI. So for me, my career plan was to become what we call in France. [inaudible] The research in Germany, it’s stuff in a electron microscopy. And yeah, because there was one position opening in the in the electron microscopy facility in the Institute I was working in, I jumped in because I felt that I could do something there. And at that time I was, you know, debating between an extra facility or confocal microscopy, or like for instance, microscopy or EM, because I love them all. And it’s more, yeah, by opportunism that the first door that opened to me was Electron microscopy. And then I jumped on it and never regretted that choice. That was almost 20 years ago now. And I it’s the best choice I’ve ever met.
Peter O’Toole (00:14:55):
Yeah. You say you never regretted it. I noticed that you left the light microscopy behind to electron microscopy posts and immediately bought light microscopes into your lab.
Yannick Schwab (00:15:04):
That’s true. Yes. But that’s also actually a, another serendipity because I took that, that job to work in the electron microscopy and I was kind of from, and I’m going to give us on the, on the colorful images and I will enter the gray world. And then a couple of months after starting the job, I take these EMBO course. So that was in 2005 and I meet Heinz Schwarz. I do, you know, Heinz he’s a pioneer in quality of light and electron microscopy has been doing that on sections with immunofluorescence leveling and so on. And he was one of the teachers in that course. And suddenly during the course, I, I started to to take his practical’s and so on and I discover CLEM, and then that was fantastic. I said, wow, but I don’t have to give up on the fluorescence. We can do both. And that’s when I discovered CLEM really young, it was a turning point in my career for sure. Because back from that course, I started to go around the Institute and I was looking for partners who would be interested to, to implement correlative methods and then later on development. So, yeah, it was definitely a turning point
Peter O’Toole (00:16:23):
That was back in 2005. Did you say you’ve moved around if I recall correctly, quite a bit in your academic sort of PhDs, post docking in different places. So very quickly, which countries have you actually postdocs or PhD and worked in?
Yannick Schwab (00:16:42):
In fact, I think I was born in Strasbourg and did all my studies in Strasbourg and France. And then I went for less than two years in Canada in categories like postdoc and then came back to Strasbourg started the second post-doc and then I found a job in Strasbourg facility. So I didn’t travel that much.
Peter O’Toole (00:17:07):
Okay. So a really quick fire question to got to answer one or the other as fast as you can. What’s better Canada or France,
Yannick Schwab (00:17:16):
Peter O’Toole (00:17:20):
France, or Germany,
Yannick Schwab (00:17:25):
You should ask as us or Germany. And I would say it’s the same, well, my grandmother would kill me.
Peter O’Toole (00:17:32):
I was actually trying to play you into trouble. Maybe it just didn’t work. Did it, you paused, you stopped, you thought you were in a no win situation there I, at one way or the other, you’re either going to fall out of your family or fall out with your employers. One of the two I thought was a brilliant idea.
Yannick Schwab (00:17:49):
Well, I would argue That my employers are not German, you
Peter O’Toole (00:17:52):
Know, you’re right.
Yannick Schwab (00:17:55):
Governments also very often you know, people tell me yeah. But you know, the French, these time is not good as he he went to, to Germany to work there, but I’m sorry. I mean, EMBL is as French as German. So
Peter O’Toole (00:18:10):
And as British and as Swedish and
Yannick Schwab (00:18:15):
[Inaudible] and so on. So yeah, it is not really Germany.
Peter O’Toole (00:18:19):
Yeah. But your neighbors went to liked you tho
Yannick Schwab (00:18:24):
Well, in Germany, living in Germany or living in Heidelberg is super cool. And without hesitation, I would say I prefer to live in Germany than in France.
Peter O’Toole (00:18:33):
What about Canada then put, Canada and Germany in there?
Yannick Schwab (00:18:38):
Canada is amazing. It’s my second home. And even though I stayed there, like less than two years, I loved it there. Of course it’s for the outdoors. The science was fantastic as well for me. And, you know, I, I left my hometown and I discovered like big Northern American cities and the open spaces and also the mentality, the research mentality, was was pretty different than what I knew from France. And yes, I can you believe I never came back to Canada since I left 18 years ago. But yeah, I would go back there one day for sure. It’s a fantastic place. Fantastic. People
Peter O’Toole (00:19:20):
Time to hold a time to hold the 3d EM meeting over in Canada then isn’t it. So, so you, you like Canada, you mentioned the outdoors and you actually sent some photos through. So actually if you’re listening to this, this is worth just catching quickly consider YouTube bits of this. So can you explain what this picture is and who they are?
Yannick Schwab (00:19:39):
Oh, this picture is in Norway, Northern Norway. So we are very we’re at the polar circle actually. And this was the first time I went to Tromso. So, and on that picture, you have Randall Olsen and Heinz Schwarz, both of them teachers in that EMBO course that I took years ago changed my life. Very good friends and colleagues, electron microscopist. And and then you have two colleagues from from Norway So Karen and Maud both of them working in Tromso biologists. And we were yeah, you wouldn’t believe that, but we were at that time doing a workshop to prepare a course. So we, we did a two days retreat on a very cute Island, close to Tromso in Northern Norway to brainstorm about how we would best set up this course on EM and quality, lightening electron microscopy It was a beautiful setup.
Peter O’Toole (00:20:36):
Yeah. Yannick, can I set a course up with you sometime? That sounds quite good. And so this is now go, go, go on. It’s not
Yannick Schwab (00:20:48):
The same year, but almost the same place. If you move your head like this. Yes. It’s 70 degrees North. So we are really talking about the polar circle. So this is near Tromso it’s called the Kjerringoy. It’s a very smaller Island, beautiful place as well to to sit there and to talk about microscopy and many other things with Heinz Schwarz. My definitely my mentor and good friends. And here it was also just before a course. So we went there to design and Randy has a very nice cabin there. And yeah, we spent some very good time in that in Norway.
Peter O’Toole (00:21:25):
Yeah. I, I wish I’d put some by, by winter hat on and stuff. It, it would make it look as I was with you too, but two of you,
Yannick Schwab (00:21:33):
So in terms of that’s where you find the northernmost electron microscope on the earth, very interesting to know
Peter O’Toole (00:21:42):
The Northern most electron microscope. Did you say yes.
Peter O’Toole (00:21:46):
And Was this the same time? These are the Northern lights.
Yannick Schwab (00:21:52):
Yeah, absolutely. Same time with it together with Heinz. Yeah. And they’re the Northern lights,
Peter O’Toole (00:21:59):
Plenty of parallels with the the radiation that’s been used for this and the excitement and the emissions. It’s not too far off of your some of your classmates.
Yannick Schwab (00:22:09):
Yeah. It’s beautiful. Isn’t it?
Peter O’Toole (00:22:11):
That’s why you need light in images, not just black and white.
Yannick Schwab (00:22:16):
Peter O’Toole (00:22:17):
I can. I can hear electron microscopy screaming right now.
Yannick Schwab (00:22:22):
Yeah. I mean the, the old guys, I remember the green screen, it was still a good course.
Peter O’Toole (00:22:29):
Thinking of the images themselves that you are getting for those who have not seen correlative light electron microscopy CLEM, would you like to describe what w why is it so important? Because again, not, everyone’s going to appreciate the fine points of this. So I’ve got an electron microscope image on the one side and a fluorescent image on the other side, why is it so important to be able to connect these?
Yannick Schwab (00:22:51):
So there are different levels of interest for doing that. So one of them is for navigation. So the light microscope has a very large field of view, and it is very useful to get an idea of the context. And then of course if you play with the light microscope, I mean, you have all the very important topics. Like you can image, living things, you can control your environment, you can explore it and sworn into force, but then with the labeling techniques as well, you can have molecular information on your specimen and therefore the browsing or the, the contextual information is becoming very meaningful in terms of those cell types you are looking at, or, you know, the physiology of the cells, you can follow the iron concentrations. So, so many things, and then correlating that to the EM is adding the, a of course, the, your trust structural scale, the structural scale. And you can add to those contextual information or to those molecular information, or the nitty gritty of a, of an electron microscopy. You mentioned. So that’s the motivation to combine both.
Peter O’Toole (00:24:05):
So it’s important, isn’t it? Because you have a resolution scaling electron microscopy that goes really in the Nano nanometre that the single digit anatomy to and lower resolution. And yet your fluorescent images are typically around 200 nanometers with a bit of trickery we can get down to 20 nanometers, a hundred nanometers, certainly no far more feasible. That’s a big gap between the two. And if you said the ultra structure, you miss that with a light microscope, you see that with the electron, but the electron microscope gives you a very small window.
Yannick Schwab (00:24:41):
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So you can easily get lost in a sample that is highly heterogeneous and college, and microscopy saves your life in that respect, because you can use the tricks of colleges microscopies to navigate your specimen and go and take your where you need. But very often the EM is missing the dimensions of molecular identity of the cells or what’s happening, or how they interact and how dynamic they are, where you are missing. This is history, right? So that’s, that’s why I like to combine those. This, image for me is a historical, because that was my very, very first college microscopy experiment in the, in the EMBO course that I mentioned before in 2005, I couldn’t believe it. You know, I, I for many aspects, I don’t know how much time we want to spend on that, but it was a crazy day for me. First, this is a cryo section. So for, for those of you who don’t know, this technique is called the tomography techniques. Basically you chemically fix your sample, you put sugar in it, and then you freeze it and you put that in a cryo microtome and you try to get sections and for beginners in, or even not beginners, but it can be very tricky to play with those cryo sections. There is no reason
Peter O’Toole (00:26:04):
Yannick Schwab (00:26:05):
Have you tried that yourself?
Peter O’Toole (00:26:07):
Hi, I just, Lucy Collins is a person for that. I think of the samples that you’re cutting in this case.
Yannick Schwab (00:26:16):
So, so that was a very tiny piece of tissue. It was less than a cubic millimeter, you know, half of that,
Peter O’Toole (00:26:23):
And the section thickness that you microtomed.
Yannick Schwab (00:26:26):
So, I mean, we were aiming for thin section so less than 100 nanometers thick.
Peter O’Toole (00:26:32):
And what, so say it’s not 100 nanometers thick as it’s 100 nanometers thin you can never use the word thick when it’s a hundred anatomy. Dustin. Yes. That’s true. Why do we always say, well, everyone says it’s thick it’s thin it’s definitely,
Yannick Schwab (00:26:46):
She wants to be a bit, even more snobbish. You would say you’ll trust him. Right. But yeah. So, so this, this one in particular it was the first time I tried to do cryo sections during the EMBO course. And, you know, I had those big shots behind me. It was like [inaudible] Randy Olson that I mentioned before. And there was also a Peter Peters. And I was like, they’re, you know, stressing on the microtome. And honestly, I was producing crap chips. I mean, it was looking like nothing. And then Garreth Griffith, I mean, came by and I looked over my shoulder and say, Oh, that’s great sections pick them I pick them up. And I said, no way. I mean, it can be, you know, there was no rebuilt, nothing, so, okay. I listened to what the teacher was saying. I picked them up and so on. And then I put them into a, a quality of microscopy workflow, immunofluorescent staining, and so on. That’s what you see here. I couldn’t believe it. It’s a piece of retina and you actually see the layers of cells. The green is GFP GFP, and the red is anti GFP and the blue over behind your shoulder. And that was just that P background. But that’s, that’s where I, I fell in love with this, you know, because it was actually working from the, you know, beginner’s, Rookie crappy sections. You could actually start to see things. And then I took concentrated sections and I didn’t even know golden. That’s what you see on the right against GFP again. And here, you see one partner of the, of the signups at the photoreceptor or micro cell signups that, that is expressing the GFP. So, yeah, it was an eye-opener and definitely I, you know, I took the, the finger and the mechanism, and then you get Colton and that’s it.
Peter O’Toole (00:28:37):
And that’s because you thought it was easy. And that’s interesting, actually, if that had not worked, if that had actually not gone well and you’re answering for whatever reason, it hadn’t worked very well. Do you think your career might be different today?
Yannick Schwab (00:28:55):
Huh? I don’t know. I really don’t know. Maybe. Yes.
Peter O’Toole (00:29:02):
Nice, nice. Those magic moments that trigger a career and develop it. And it sounds, it sounds like one of those, and I think courses are so inspirational and being on the right course with the right tutor, inspirational figures around it, like huge difference. And so not just, you know, in your case, you said how many of your staff go on to lead other facilities? So you’ll be inspiring them at that point, but you’ve inspired by that course back then.
Yannick Schwab (00:29:30):
Yep. So I’ll tell you, that’s why I also am, I’m so much keen to organize courses and to try to pass, to pass it forward. You see what I mean? For me, definitely. I mean, of course it was also super fun. I mean, we had incredible fun during the practical’s, but also in the readings and so on. And it was amazing atmosphere, but also we were like doing experiments and it was so hands-on and was fantastic. So of course, retrospectively, it’s always easy to say that moment in my career. I don’t know if it’s really true. At least I feel like it today. Yes.
Peter O’Toole (00:30:10):
Hmm. So actually say, I think you’ve probably answered this a good question. Is who, who, who inspires you in the workplace? What, so who’s been the most inspirational person in your career.
Yannick Schwab (00:30:25):
Oh yeah. I mean, totally this, this crowd of teachers at the end, of course, I think they, they inspired me a lot too, you know, for their, for their spirits, their collegiality their wealth of knowledge also their accessibility, you know, that, that was, that was fantastic. So I think they, they are the ones who had the greatest influence and, and for sure, Gareth Griffeth’s, Heinz Schwarz Randy Olson [Inaudible], I mean, I should name the whole gang, right? It’s like 15 people
Peter O’Toole (00:30:57):
It’s not the Awards, ceremony, don’t worry. But
Yannick Schwab (00:30:59):
Yeah, no, no, totally. Yes. I think
Peter O’Toole (00:31:03):
Outside of work, is there anyone that inspires you outside of work?
Yannick Schwab (00:31:09):
Hmm. Hard to hard to say
Peter O’Toole (00:31:17):
Then being as you completely left them out of that answer, do you have a wife and family? Yes. I’m glad you thought them first. You have three children, is that correct? Yes. And this is, it sounds like an inquisition. It’s not meant to Yannick. How old are your children?
Yannick Schwab (00:31:45):
They are almost 18 16 and 15. Ooh boys. Yeah, two boys and one girl. And the girl is the youngest. Yeah.
Peter O’Toole (00:31:57):
Any of them following in your footsteps? Interesting science.
Yannick Schwab (00:32:01):
Not, not for now. I don’t think they will. I don’t think they will do biology. One, maybe two of them will probably do some sciences. And the other one is very much attracted to anything international doing with languages and so on. So maybe a bit of an influence here, because I mean, we’ve always been evolving in a very international setup, especially since we moved to to Germany. But no, I think they will, they will go their own way. I’m very curious to see what they will become, you know?
Peter O’Toole (00:32:36):
Yeah. One of the biggest stresses outside of work, I think is just wanting to see your family succeed and to, to try it out successfully. So what did you want to be when you were a child?
Yannick Schwab (00:32:52):
Oh, okay. I think one of my first career ambition was to trace lines on the roads. Don’t ask me why
Peter O’Toole (00:33:03):
Trace lines on roads.
Yannick Schwab (00:33:04):
I was fascinated by those guys who were painting the white lines in the roads. I should ask a shrink what that means. Then I wanted to become a fireman, but I was a bit afraid of fire later on. I wanted to become a cook. So that was during the college. I was very much attracted by, by cooking and also traveling. So at one point I wanted to become a cook on a, on a Navy boat. And I actually wanted to to register for the for these hostelry schools, they call it. Yeah. And in fact, I, I didn’t register for just all laziness because there was a file to to feel and a form to fill and so on. And I couldn’t bother. So I just kept going. That was when I was 16. I, I didn’t want to graduate or anything. I wanted to go to that school, but yeah, I didn’t do that. So I just kept going with my studies.
Peter O’Toole (00:34:13):
So can you talk about serendipity and hence you’re, you’re a completely different committee would not have even known existed probably at the age of 16. And here you are today with a very successful career. What’s your ideal job? What would you love to do
Yannick Schwab (00:34:32):
Beekeeper beekeeper? Yes.
Peter O’Toole (00:34:36):
Well, I suppose you’d get a buzz out of it if nothing else.
Yannick Schwab (00:34:39):
Oh, that’s a good one. Yeah. I don’t know why I’m attracted by that. Maybe. Yeah. I’m attracted to anything that has to do with land. You know, I, you know, growing vegetables, gardening being a beekeeper or something like that, I [inaudible], yeah, exactly.
Peter O’Toole (00:35:03):
That explains this picture. I would warn you being a beekeeper has a sting in its tail, so I wouldn’t recommend it. So you said to picture, so obviously you’re very into your garden or gardening for food.
Yannick Schwab (00:35:15):
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. This is like my, my place of meditation, you know,
Peter O’Toole (00:35:21):
Tomatoes, I presume.
Yannick Schwab (00:35:23):
Yup. Yeah. And that’s the easy part this year. I’m a bit more ambitious last year I failed. Totally. And no excuse, it was locked down. I was at home. So you would assume plenty of time to take care of that, but it was a disaster. So this year I’m trying to take care of for it.
Peter O’Toole (00:35:43):
Just thinking about things that we wanted to do coming back to work and that have how successful that’s been. Do you have a favorite publication or co-authored yourself?
Yannick Schwab (00:35:58):
Yeah, I think probably the, the one from last year on the Corona virus, actually. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the most recent, but I really love this publication because it’s, it was a crazy time, crazy story and an absolutely marvelous collaborated work. So I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen the paper, but we we’ve done. Yeah. Electron microscopy on, on Corona virus, SARS-cov-2 infected cells. And I think we’ve done in in three months, what we would take one year and a half to do in normal life. And that’s because it was, and then believable collaboration and I’m, I’m super happy on how it turns. It’s, it’s sounds a bit odd to be happy about a pandemic and about the situation, which, which is like really, really sad. And it’s putting many, many people in very hard time, but work wise, it was, you know, one of those moments where as a, as a boss, as a manager, you are very proud of, of the team that is working with you or for, or for whom you are working. You know you know, it started by as a simple request from a collaborator downtown virologist Ralp Bartenschlager and they, they contacted us to see if we could help them image infected cells. And this turned out into probably one of the biggest team work that we’ve done. Since I arrived at EMBL, everybody took part of it.
Peter O’Toole (00:37:38):
So, so that lets you know, coronavirus with COVID apart that enabled, or you said year and a half’s work to be done in three months. Why can’t science be done like that all the time people will ask that question. The public would ask that question. Why, why can’t you, why does science take so long? And you can do that in three months.
Yannick Schwab (00:38:01):
Well, it’s all a matter of resources. I mean, we had between the team and the facility, we had 15 people working 200% of their time on that. So of course it’s much faster, right? So in a, in a normal time, I mean every staff of the facility, they are dealing in parallel or with 10 to 15 projects here, we’re in locked down. Right. So we would only be enabled to come to able to work on a cognitive related projects. So we were full steam working on that.
Peter O’Toole (00:38:36):
So would you say that that three months was more expensive than a long 18 month project, but you’ve got probably yes. Okay. That’s interesting compromise. Isn’t it of, you know, it’s really expensive to do science fast, but there is quite slow to do science on normal funding at and 18 months, actually, not that slow in many projects, many can take action. What’s the longest thinking of your publications, which publication actually took you the longest from the start point to the end point to actually publish that work.
Yannick Schwab (00:39:12):
The one that we just deposited from my archive
Peter O’Toole (00:39:17):
And I’ve got how many years?
Yannick Schwab (00:39:19):
Well, eight years, yeah, eight, eight, eight years. But I mean, it’s not that we worked on that for eight years. I mean the last three years we were just, you know, working in bits and pieces here and there and it’s totally my fault. It’s just because took forever to write it. Other than that, I mean, there’s a fantastic story that started a long time ago, which is also a highly collaborative, which is on BioRxvic now on, on the [Inaudible]. so we are trying to correlate a gene expression Atlas with a very large volume yet. And this is also taking a lot of time because, you know, it’s, I think it illustrates well the, the effect of putting their heads together and each time you meet, you have new ideas and Oh, we should try this. And what about that? And six months and then you meet again and you have new ideas and so on and that’s such a fantastic project that builds over time. Again, it was supposed to start as a very simple yes and no answer to a question. I mean, we wanted to some, do some volume imaging for connect on each and then it builds up and build up. And I think the result is outstanding, honestly,
Peter O’Toole (00:40:43):
Better than your COVID publication?
Yannick Schwab (00:40:47):
Ah, better. I mean it’s as cool or it’s different. I don’t want to to put a tag,
Peter O’Toole (00:40:55):
You talking about networking, talking, interacting, collaborating. So this picture here is a group. There’s a lot of people in this picture. Yeah.
Yannick Schwab (00:41:04):
Who is EMBO Course 2005. We talked about that already.
Peter O’Toole (00:41:09):
That’s so this is, this is the group, this was this was the co how many others within that group you’re still in touch with or aware of their careers from the students? Not, not, not as tutors, but the actual delegates, the students themselves.
Yannick Schwab (00:41:25):
I would say a handful maybe a bit more, a bit less than 10, I would say. Yeah.
Peter O’Toole (00:41:31):
Which Is still a lot, isn’t it? Yeah.
Yannick Schwab (00:41:34):
You know what? EMBL is a very small community idea now,
Peter O’Toole (00:41:40):
But, but they’ve got to stay in. And of course the other really important part of socializing is it’s not just the serious teaching and the workshops, it’s the out of hours relaxing and that’s where your mind can free up and your chat can go in directions that you maybe would you be constrained to in the lab. So, so what is the, I can see lots of beer
Yannick Schwab (00:42:01):
Up to a certain limit. The the mind open. Yes. That’s why I was in Czech Republic, I believe. Yeah, sure. I, I think these are essential part of networking and establishing new contacts and some people may consider this is holidays and it’s useless out of the job, but I totally, it disapproved. I think it’s part of it. It’s I remember when I was in France, you know, the idea of going on a retreat with a group that was considered waste of time holidays. And when arriving at EMBL, this is the culture, you know, you take your groups to retreat and I was impressed by the depth of working that is happening at these, at these moments. So of course at this specific second, I doubt that Gareth and Randy were talking about science, but doesn’t matter, you know, it creates the opportunity. It creates the links between people and and also it’s a lot of fun now, you know, we spend a lot of hours at work in teaching and so on, and I think this is the reward reward as well.
Peter O’Toole (00:43:13):
I think it forms as you say, the bonds, I would guess that enabled you to work more openly together because you’re not always being precious about questioning someone else in there. They have academics standing because you make it, you know, I think Colin, Betty colleagues or friends. Yes. And I think it’s really important that your colleagues and your collaborators are friends, not just collaborators because otherwise I don’t think it works very well.
Yannick Schwab (00:43:43):
Yeah, that’s true. I, I, I think generally, at least I’ve been lucky that in all the interactions I had with people, it was always very, very friendly.
Peter O’Toole (00:43:54):
So in the lab itself I hear that you have something called a seminar face.
Yannick Schwab (00:44:01):
Yes. The seminar eyes
Peter O’Toole (00:44:03):
So what are the Seminar eyes?
Yannick Schwab (00:44:06):
So that was coming from from Matia and Nicole who who both left the lab. I then, but apparently, you know, I go to them and there’s a seminar going on at, at EMBL or, you know, in normal time there’s always a seminar going on, invited speakers or seminars from, from faculties or from students. So there’s always something going on and you get these emails with, with the titles and so on. And I would spontaneously go into the lab and say, Hey guys, there’s a very interesting seminar exactly like that. Right. But apparently, I have a face when I say that, that they feel they have to go, it was, it was not my intention at all to be bossy, but they experienced it as, as like that. So, so it became a joke. And that each time I would say anything, not necessarily about the seminar, they would say, Oh, these are the seminar eyes we should, we’d rather do it. Okay.
Peter O’Toole (00:45:05):
So I have to ask, when you tell them about the great seminar they should be going to, should they be going to it?
Yannick Schwab (00:45:11):
Peter O’Toole (00:45:16):
Seminar eyes say, Oh, don’t they obviously you’ve got a very good rapport with your lab overall. Yeah. And it’s good to have a lighthearted workplace at times. Can you think of a funniest moment in, in, in, just in work, doesn’t have to be in the lab or anything else it can be conferences, workshops, courses saying this really funny moments that, that remain with you.
Yannick Schwab (00:45:43):
Well, the first, first one that comes to my mind is I think when was that maybe for my 41st birthday or something that I show up in the morning in my office and it was full, I should have shared this picture with you. It was full of little balloons. It was gloves. You know, they were looking like elephants. It was all over the place. And so they, they did that the evening before. Right. And they snuggled into my, into my office and they decorated the full, the full place. And yeah, that was super moving. Fantastic. Even the, there was a pregnant glove because I, there was only four 40 of them hidden everywhere and I was turning 41. But if you looked at one of them, there was another one inside.
Peter O’Toole (00:46:47):
Yeah. I do. Wherever your lab have too much time on their hands to think of such clever things to do. So that was, that was last year then. Is that right? Yannick?
Yannick Schwab (00:46:54):
Peter O’Toole (00:47:03):
I kept coming back out of the lab. I’ll come back to it at the end back to the lab, but actually what do you do outside of work? So obviously you enjoy adventures and outdoors and you did send me some pictures. If I can just grab these, which look like very much like wild camping.
Yannick Schwab (00:47:25):
Yeah. That was nice. That was in Australia. 2018. Yeah. It was one of the, of the nicest hike we did with the kids with the children. Yeah. And my wife. Yes.
Peter O’Toole (00:47:42):
In a small tent. There must be more than one tent.
Yannick Schwab (00:47:45):
We had two tents. Yep. The same size. They had to be pretty small because you had to carry them. Right. So it was tracking and we were alone. It’s the giant truck. I know that you’ve been to Australia in the red center, close to the rail, to the Kings Canyon. And for two days you will walk and there’s nothing. So you have to carry the water. Exactly. Yeah. So, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And yeah, I love that you open wide spaces and you’re on your own. This is something that we started to do not so long ago. And I think we all enjoy it. I think so. At least I do.
Peter O’Toole (00:48:34):
You’ve got to get on well together. That’s for sure.
Yannick Schwab (00:48:36):
Yes. No, that was fantastic. I think we we still have like very vivid memories of that, of that too.
Peter O’Toole (00:48:43):
So, I mean, that looks really warm, hot even.
Yannick Schwab (00:48:48):
Yeah. It was all right. It was in August. So their winter and I think during the day was less than 30 degrees and overnight it would reach zero.
Peter O’Toole (00:48:58):
Okay. And th this, this does not look like Australia now. That’s Norway again. So back to Norway and camping with the family again.
Yannick Schwab (00:49:09):
Yeah. So this was just with with the boys my wife and daughter, they decided to stay warm in the cabin. And now isn’t that fantastic. This is the morning. You know, you, you get up, of course it’s a bit cold. And and you see these, the fjords and the open space. I mean, this is refreshing,
Peter O’Toole (00:49:31):
You said we get up, but I can’t see anyone else in that picture. And there’s one photographer. So actually was it just you getting up that early in the morning?
Yannick Schwab (00:49:39):
Yeah. You know, what, if you want to look at the sunrise in August, in Northern Norway, you’d better get up super early. So,
Peter O’Toole (00:49:49):
Yannick Schwab (00:49:51):
That’s also also Norway, not too far away, that’s one of the most spectacular hike we’ve ever done. You know, if you follow that ridge this is the path. Right. So you can imagine. Yeah. That was amazing.
Peter O’Toole (00:50:07):
And how long are these holidays for
Yannick Schwab (00:50:10):
These Australia was three weeks. It was just before the microscopic conference in Sydney. That was a bit the occasion for us to, to all go to Australia. And this one was two weeks. Yeah.
Peter O’Toole (00:50:22):
So you like the great outdoors and finally, this is is this you?.
Yannick Schwab (00:50:28):
Yeah. That’s me. Yeah. That’s all our hobby. We go climbing
Peter O’Toole (00:50:37):
So where is this, Oh, so you’re obviously climbing, you’re on a rope at least, which is good.
Yannick Schwab (00:50:43):
Yeah. Yeah. We do that where we can, so it’s also quite a recent hobby. So we do a lot of bouldering indoor when we could. And and also we start going outdoors. I mean, I consider myself as a beginner in that, but I really love it. It’s really nice. And the kids are much more advanced now, of course, but that’s also super nice because you spent, you know, a nice moment in family. And luckily we all share the same hobby, including my wife. So the five of us can, can go and do this kind of stuff. So this is nice, nice weekends. And they do have a choice. Yes, absolutely.
Peter O’Toole (00:51:26):
So that, that explains what you’re doing in your free time.
Yannick Schwab (00:51:28):
Unless I have seminar eyes with the kids as well. I know let’s go climbing,
Peter O’Toole (00:51:34):
Possibly. We asked about the funniest time in the lab. What about one of the most difficult times you’ve encountered in your career?
Yannick Schwab (00:51:47):
I don’t think there have been any many as I said, I consider that I’ve been super lucky, always. So like, I can’t really think of any moments that are stressful. I mean, being now in this position for a long time, I see the generation, the generations of people coming, but also leaving and I’m, I’m not used to that yet. It’s, you know, one part is being comfortable in the steady state and it’s hard to see people leading, but also, I mean, you, you let friends go and I hate that, but then, well, we keep in touch and and then they thrive outside the nest, which is fantastic for them. But yeah, somehow I don’t like that. So yeah. Other than that, I think I, I, I’ve been freaking lucky always. And each time I wanted to, to go somewhere to do something, I managed to do it. So yeah, I think I’m a happy, lucky scientist. I hope it will stay like that.
Peter O’Toole (00:53:02):
I think Everyone who is successful has to have an element of luck, determination effort, but also luck as well to, to get there. But gosh, no, I think I’ve certainly had problems throughout it at difficult moments and challenges. God, what was the most exciting time of your career? What, what period of time was the most exciting point?
Yannick Schwab (00:53:27):
I think this, the time when I w I wanted to leave the IGBM Strasbourg, that was like super exciting in terms of, you know, you could, you cannot sleep. You think about it, you’re excited, you try things and so on. And, and, you know, I, I had a position, a lifetime positioning in France. I was one of those fonctionnaire’s Dean there. So I didn’t have to leave. And the IGBMC is a nice place, right. So, but somehow after seven years there, I, I wanted to see something else and we tried Singapore and I thought I would get the job over there. So that was super exciting as well, but it didn’t work out. And after, also by serendipity, I swear this job opening turned out I turned up at EMBL and that was like super exciting as well. Again, so this time, this transition was like very exciting.
Peter O’Toole (00:54:26):
So fate again, that Singapore didn’t pan out. And yeah, that’s one of the hottest jobs in the world for microscopy opened up for you. Which is brilliant. I can say so more quick fire questions. Okay. So remember, quick fire, quick answers, Mac or PC Mac, Mac, or PC Apple,
Yannick Schwab (00:54:52):
Peter O’Toole (00:54:53):
Newspaper, or web.
Yannick Schwab (00:54:55):
Peter O’Toole (00:54:57):
Minimalist or maximalist.
Yannick Schwab (00:55:01):
I don’t know.
Peter O’Toole (00:55:02):
You do pretty minimalist in your background right now.
Yannick Schwab (00:55:05):
Well, you don’t see the mess around. I don’t.
Peter O’Toole (00:55:11):
Yannick Schwab (00:55:12):
Is that when I start a new patient, I wants to buy all the gadgets that are around. So maybe Maximalist
Peter O’Toole (00:55:19):
Hmm. Okay. So you say you a gadget, man.
Yannick Schwab (00:55:22):
Peter O’Toole (00:55:24):
What’s your, you said you wanted to be a cook. What is your favorite food?
Yannick Schwab (00:55:30):
Ah, there are plenty of things. I love Italian food, Japanese cuisine, French cuisine. Of course we are all very proud of our French cuisine. Right? Who cooks it? I started the, this winter. I started to work on charmonted vegetables. This is amazing. Oh, no, yes it is.
Peter O’Toole (00:55:51):
Yannick Schwab (00:55:54):
I have to make you try a couple options.
Peter O’Toole (00:55:55):
Your taste buds are just getting old. That’s all. So who cooks at home?
Yannick Schwab (00:56:05):
Peter O’Toole (00:56:07):
Okay. And so go on. You want a conference dinner? What will you be? Drinking? Red wine, white wine, beer, spirits, coffee, water, Coke.
Yannick Schwab (00:56:18):
I start with a wines and I would definitely end with whiskey. Ooh.
Peter O’Toole (00:56:25):
Do you have a favorite whiskey?
Yannick Schwab (00:56:27):
Anything Peter. Okay.
Peter O’Toole (00:56:30):
Anything named after me?
Peter O’Toole (00:56:34):
No, I don’t know that one. Yes, of course. Yes. Okay. Sorry. I’m slow today.
Peter O’Toole (00:56:44):
So book or TV book?
Yannick Schwab (00:56:48):
Book. And like more book now. I mean, I had a, like a TV period, but now I find that boring. So I like books.
Peter O’Toole (00:56:56):
What do you read? What, what, what type of book do you read?
Yannick Schwab (00:56:59):
No, it’s very diverse. During the Christmas period that I read again June the June saga. And now I’m reading the the, the book from from San Pablo about the Neanderthals’. , You know, all this research about finding DNA, Neanderthal, bones, and fossils. That’s amazing book.
Peter O’Toole (00:57:28):
So I say, start taking 3d EM images of the Neanderthal bones in the future then.
Yannick Schwab (00:57:34):
Yeah. Maybe it has been done already. Yeah,
Peter O’Toole (00:57:37):
No, it would’ve been a long time ago.
Yannick Schwab (00:57:40):
There’s probably does [inauduble] on this, you know, topology
Peter O’Toole (00:57:45):
Yannick Schwab (00:57:46):
Of teeth as well, because they, they, they managed to figure out the diets, looking at the grinds on teeth with cutting electron microscopy
Peter O’Toole (00:57:55):
Smart stuff. What’s your favorite movie?
Yannick Schwab (00:58:00):
Peter O’Toole (00:58:01):
Oh, okay. That was terrific.
Yannick Schwab (00:58:03):
No, I, I mean, I, I’m totally fascinated by this. I’m actually looking forward to the, like the, the new edition, which was supposed to be released last year, but because of COVID they postponed it. So I’m really, I hope I’m not going to be disappointed. The trailer is awesome.
Peter O’Toole (00:58:21):
And what about your music? What sort of style of music do you like?
Yannick Schwab (00:58:27):
Plenty of things. I don’t think I have a specific style. I can go from classic to alternative. Okay. I like one of the like Whoa moments. It was when I discovered the Jack Garratt. I don’t know if you know him. It’s like super cool. Try it. It’s amazing. That’s yeah. One of those days when I was like lazy in front of Tv and hours looking one of those iTunes concerts, and, and these guys started to play and was like, Oh my God, I need that. But it’s one alone.
Peter O’Toole (00:59:04):
Okay. And I should have asked this earlier, actually, if you were to cook, what is your, what is the dish that you most like cooking? So what’s your signature dish?
Yannick Schwab (00:59:18):
Maybe it would be Paoli so this is a pastry milk bread. It’s like small, small bread. I love doing that. And it smells so good in Sunday morning in the household.
Peter O’Toole (00:59:32):
Sounds good. We are. We are now I think just getting up to the hour, mark, see here we get easily. I’ve got to ask, we got to get back to correlative microscopy. So I think this is really quite important. 3D volume. EM. Clem, it’s still an rapidly advancing technology and technique and still being still being adopted by more and more people. What’s the next big thing in Claremore volume EM what needs to be addressed? What do you need for it to take the next step and become even more main become really mainstream.
Yannick Schwab (01:00:13):
We have to move to go much faster
Peter O’Toole (01:00:16):
With imaging or analysis,
Yannick Schwab (01:00:19):
Everything. The throughput, the throughput is the bottleneck now. And because we need to extract numbers from these dimensions, and that will only come with like repetition duplicates, multiplicator. And right now, I mean, you’re happy when you succeed one or two plan or 3d clinics payments. You’re super proud, but that’s not enough. Right. It’s, it’s a very nice wow and marketing thing. But if we want to do biology, like serious biology and, you know, to play with the assays and so on, it has to go much faster. And of course you mentioned that is totally okay, but it’s coming. I’m hopeful.
Peter O’Toole (01:00:59):
So controversially when, when, when Eric was live on this to Eric Betzig, he, he come into the electron microscopy’s like microscopy everything only watching the living that is important. So I do channel back. It was deliberately provided. I hope that, you know, I think he just believed that electron microscopy is dead. Cause he only looks at dead stuff. So go on. Rebut that comment that electron microscopy is not important because it’s that, you know, you need to look at life living tissues.
Yannick Schwab (01:01:36):
Why I agree that you need to look at living tissues because that’s how you can best assess the effect of an interference. Right? Yeah, of course I would dream to image the, you know, the wealth of what we have access to in an actual microscope, into a living cell. So, I mean, he is for sure developing techniques that are going along this line, you know, label free imaging of living cells at a highest resolution. So then I would agree that when we reached this resolution that we won’t need microscopes anymore still, I think there are still a long way, right? With the sample and all this expertise, you can go and look into the brain of a mouse with this, of course, intrusive distractive killing techniques, but really super-resolution fluorescence or nonflourescent, microscopy to go deep inside the brain of a mouse. I don’t think that will exist at a right at this level of resolution. So we will need complimentary. And I don’t like to oppose techniques. I think they have to work together. And so we must have this. So I would say, okay, I mean, we can play the controversies. And so on this, this is fun, but let’s, let’s put things together. And then we learn a lot from that.
Peter O’Toole (01:03:11):
I see I asked the wrong person because it is correlative and it is bringing in that clip, which explains the importance. I think really brings things to an end in a really nice light, it’s like really explains the importance of correlative life and electron microscopy and arguably x-ray and other technologies to really understand the cell, the tissue and everything else in far more detail Yannick, we are just over the hour. So hopefully not too long for people listening. Thank you for joining me today. It’s been great to catch up. It’s been great to have a coffee. I need my voice is failing. So I actually needed to pop a hot coffee today. Thank you so much for joining us for those who have listened. Thank you very much for tuning in game. I hope you’ve loved listening to Yannick and just, just how the careers can develop a long career paths you don’t foresee, certainly when you start out and how, how that can progress and to capture that wave and ride it successfully. And actually the pictures are well worth tuning into. So if you listen to it, just have a quick look at the the YouTube of this. Cause the pictures he sent are just, jaw-dropping both from the electron microscopes and actually just his camping trips with his children and family Yannik. Thank you very much.
Yannick Schwab (01:04:25):
It was a pleasure bye-bye
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 bitesizebio.com/the-microscopists.