Jessica Winter – Q&A

Jessica Winter, on life in science

Editor’s Note: We asked each of the QSTORM investigators to respond to a set of questions we thought could help web visitors understand a little bit more about the personal side of working in science. These are Jessica Winter’s responses.

Q: In what ways do you feel that you don’t fit the stereotype of a scientist?

I like to think that I am “cool” although my family might beg to differ. My husband and I compete in ballroom dancing, not your usual scientific stuff. I’m also pretty feminine. I wear a lot of pink, have a pink computer, and a pink labcoat. And, I’m from Texas.

Q. Was there a particular person or life experience that caused your interest in your area of expertise? Who and what?

I really love the work of Richard Feynman. His books have been really influential for me and I would be happy if I could be half the scientist that he was. He was a beloved teacher and researcher and that is rare.

Q. How would your friends describe you?

High energy, always happy, successful, crazy.

Q. What quirks do you have or are you known for?

A little OCD. I can’t throw out newspapers but don’t always have time to read them and will end up reading 2 weeks in one go. Also, the interest in teenage fiction is a little odd. I am a huge fan of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” and yes there are costumes involved.

Q. What are you most passionate about in life?

Life itself. I just love being here.

Q. What are your main interests or hobbies outside of your work?

I really, really love yoga and am scary flexible. It helps me to be aware of myself and my surroundings. I also like meditation. Balance is good. Dancing. Teenage fan girl stuff. I also have a women-in-science blog that I’ve been running for about four years.

Q. What about your family?

I have two kids: Max (6) and Ali (8). My husband has an MS in Computer Science and an MBA, and is currently a consultant on financial software systems.

Q. How you would describe your work to an eight-year-old?

I make particles that glow in the dark so that we can see things that are really small.

Q. What led you to this particular collaboration?

I saw the announcement for the NSF IBIV workshop, and since I work in bioimaging I was immediately interested. Originally, I was part of a different team, which I was also excited about, but not sure that I could really contribute much to. At lunch one day, Peter asked me if we could make quantum dots that could be turned on and off. I told him I wasn’t sure, then remembered that we had already done this using pH as the trigger. I had never really thought of it as “turning them on and off,” rather as pH sensing, but that’s what it is. Then, he asked if we could do this with light instead of pH, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that we could. Then he explained STORM microscopy, and QSTORM was conceived.

Q. Do you remember a particular moment when the pieces of the puzzle clicked together? If so, please describe.

Definitely the lunch, and the conversations that followed.

Q. How would you describe the goal of this collaboration in one sentence in non-technical terms. OK, maybe two sentences.

We want to make a microscope that can image molecules inside living things.

Q. How do you hope this collaboration, if successful, will advance your research? (non-technical terms, 1-2 sentences).

Just having the opportunity to work with such a diverse team will enhance what we do. I am really excited about working with biologists, and I can see potential for Peter and I to continue to work together beyond this project.

Q. How do you hope it will advance your field? (non-technical terms, 1-2 sentences).

If we could image molecules as they move in living things, we could learn so much more about the biology. In particular, I am interested in how nerve cells move. This would help me to see which molecules are involved in cell movement.

Q. Why should a non-scientist care about what the QSTORM team is trying to do?

Being able to directly see molecules is really cool! Plus, we will learn so much that could eventually be applied to human health.

Q. What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of the QSTORM project?

The [quantum dot] particle synthesis will be really challenging, but I am up for it.

Q. How do you cope with obstacles and failures along the way?

It’s always important to point out successes. In this field, there is not very much of that. Celebrating when you are successful helps you to get through the times that you are not. Also, it’s important to remember that we are doing something that has never been done before. If it were easy, it would have already been done.

Q. Where do you find inspiration when challenged with a difficult problem?
Yoga and meditation. I get my best ideas in that state halfway between asleep and awake. It is not uncommon for me to jump up at 3 in the morning and scribble an idea on a notepad for the next day.