A Personal Touch of Gert-Jan Bakker

Bakker, Gert-Jan.jpg

Please learn more about colleagues in our "Personal Touch" series setting employees in the spotlight. A light-hearted manner to learn about the colleagues you know and those you don't!.

This week: Gert-Jan Bakker






1. Name, nationality, current function, department & theme?
Gert-Jan Bakker, Dutch, Postdoc / Multiphoton microscopy specialist, Dept. of Cell biology, theme Cancer development and immune defense.

2. When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your childhood years. 
Inventor. At the age of four I plugged in a plug with a cut wire and I was literary electrified. Since then I’m fascinated about how things work. My grandfather used to give me old electronic and mechanical equipment and encouraged me to take it apart as far as possible, while an older friend learned me how to build electronic circuitry using old television parts. As a result I was constructing all kind of creations made of old electronics, wood  and mechanical parts. There was also this popup book called ‘The human body’, that must have played an important role, somehow.  

3. What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why did you choose that study/those studies? 
After one year of mechanical engineering I was fed up by all the rules of thumb we had to learn. Living with my parents was swapped for living in a student house on the campus of Twente University, were I studied Applied Physics with a minor in Biophysical Engineering. Besides studying there was a lot of other things to do, like improvisational theatre, sports and organizing a cultural student festival. Twente felt like home and I joined Niek van Hulst and Maria García-Parajó as a PhD student. The project was eventually aimed at deciphering the role of integrin  dynamics on the membrane of leukocytes. Maria worked together with Tumor Immunology in RIMLS and since Alessandra Cambi is a big fan of integrins and microscopy, she got involved in the project. At that time I was not knowing that more than 10 years later she would become the boss at Cell biology! Maria and Niek decided to emigrate to Spain and my wife and I joined. After 2 years we came back; my wife learned Catalan sign language, I learned biology the hard way, gathered a lot of data and a dog. Back in Nijmegen Peter gave me the opportunity to zoom out, from single molecule to mice. During that time I also finished my PhD project.  

4. The RIMLS motto is ‘to understand molecular mechanisms of disease’. What does this mean for you?
Biology occurs along many different scales, on one end there is the molecular scale, with many different molecules acting upon each other in a very dynamic fashion, in a tiny environment. On the other hand, many diseases are systemic, with the whole organism or even society involved. I want to combine established building blocks in biology, physics and other disciplines to visualize the molecular mechanisms of disease along the different scales, with a particular interest in microscopy.

5. Which international scientist inspires/inspired you the most? Please give a motivation why.
One of my great examples is Dr. Rick Horwitz. He was there as one of the pioneers uncovering and understanding the integrin family. Despite of all his achievements, he is a very humble and kind person, making people forget their ego and helping them to experience the fun and toughness of science.

6. Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud? 
Although LFA-1 movement on the membrane of leukcocytes appears mostly random, a closer look shows that modulation of the mobility of these molecules can truly influence cell binding.

7. Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform? 
Surely I would attract good scientists educated by Eric Betzig to build the lattice light sheet microscope in Nijmegen, and develop it further such that it would work better in 3D cell culture. And, a fluorescence lifetime option should be included as well. With such a live cell super resolution microscope we would be able to follow cell migration, adhesion complexes and their activation state at much higher spatial resolution and frame rate. With luck we will gain new insights in the regulation of the cytoskeleton during the different modes of migration, with length scales ranging from molecules to cell clusters in 3D.

8. What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)? 
A gentle mix between opto-mechanical equipment, papers, food, small to-do-list notes, lab journals and computers.

9. Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her?
Sjoerd van Helvert. Now the Force is with you, what are you going to do next?

10. You are nominated by Jack Fransen. What is your answer to this question?
What’s the structural difference between a biophysicist and a cell-biologist?

1. The desk. It is likely more of a mess, unless it is a computational biophysicist.
2. From his or her  background and ‘taking advantage of’ biological variation, a biophysicist likes to perform an experiment over and over again to obtain sufficient statistics to resolve the question in detail after tedious analysis. A cell biologist rather creates enough circumstantial evidence by performing many different experiments three times, all looking at the same question from a different angle.  

11. What type of person are you, quick insights:
a) Mac or  PC:
b) Theater or Cinema:
Arthouse cinema
c) Dine out or dine in: 
Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat:
Hipster bicycle
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic:
f) Culture or Nature: 
Both, Via Appia Antica 


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