A trip to the US – cacti and cutting-edge research

Dr Louise Sternicki was one of the recipients of the inaugural CFBD Travel Grant in 2022. In the following, she writes about her research visit to Arizona and to Florida.

2023 got off to an exciting start for me thanks to the CFBD travel grant that I received last year. At the end of the first week in January, I left for an almost 3-week trip to the US. I first headed to the deserts of Tucson, Arizona where I spent a week and a half in the lab of world-leading native mass spectrometry expert Associate Professor Michael Marty at The University of Arizona. Michael had visited GRIDD a few months prior, in November 2022, and this placement provided the opportunity to further build collaboration and follow up on some of the ideas discussed.

Whilst in the Marty Lab, I got hands-on experience with cutting-edge MS instrumentation and the emerging technology of charge detection native mass spectrometry. This technique is only available in a handful of labs worldwide and this placement gave me an opportunity to develop skills not currently in Australia and the ability to analyse my biomolecule samples with a technique that wasn’t possible back home. With this instrumentation and technique, I obtained novel data for new and existing collaborations that revealed new biological insights. The placement also allowed me to learn sample prep and native mass spectrometry methodologies for the analysis of membrane proteins – knowledge that will allow me to further the progress of my own research projects.

The Marty Lab was very welcoming both within and outside the lab. It is always insightful to visit another lab and see how things are done differently. I learnt so much in one week from many members of the group across everything mass spectrometry. I also got to eat lots of amazing Mexican, go hiking in the Arizonan desert amongst giant cacti, see snow on the mountains and visit the cold war missile museum to see a real (and thankfully deactivated!) nuclear missile in its silo.

After my research placement, I then travelled to St Pete Beach, Florida to attend the American Society for Mass Spectrometry Sanibel Conference on Membrane Proteins and their complexes. This conference had been delayed twice due to COVID, so everyone was very excited for the conference to finally go ahead in person – perhaps also because it was hosted at a beachside resort! Attending this conference was an amazing experience, learning about all the fantastic MS-based research occurring internationally, including getting to hear from Professor Dame Carol Robinson in person, and meeting leading MS researchers over the meal breaks. I was also fortunate enough to get the opportunity to chair one of the sessions during the conference. I came away from the meeting with many new ideas and further experience and knowledge for how to go about carrying these out, or the people to follow up with to achieve this. This was the first ASMS conference I had attended in person and the sense of community was incredibly welcoming. I will be looking out for further opportunities to attend their conferences in the coming years.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the award of the CFBD travel grant. Originally, I only intended on attending the conference, however, I was also awarded a Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery Director’s Circle Professional Development Award that provided me with further financial support that enabled me to include the research placement. Both experiences were incredibly valuable for my professional development and also created some great memories.