University of Dundee

Robin Pflughaupt Q&A

Originally from Canada, Robin Pflughaupt is a postdoctoral research scientist in the laboratories of Dr Paul Davies at the MRC-PPU at the University of Dundee. Since March she has refocused her research efforts on COVID-19.

What COVID-19 project are you working on?

Currently I am working as part of a team preparing SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) proteins. My main role is to purify the disease-causing proteins so that they can be studied to better understand the virus and used to make antibodies.

What do you normally work on?

I normally work on a commercial project developing a new method to target protein modifications in the treatment of diseases. Modification of proteins in the body affects how cells communicate with each other and too much or too little communication between cells sometimes causes diseases of the immune system, heart, brain, and nervous system, in addition to cancer. Therefore, our research aims to prevent and treat specific diseases by precisely targeting problematic modifications.

What’s your typical day?

In a typical day, I am busy performing experiments within the laboratory. Although data processing, report writing, and meetings are also part of my role, currently, we are encouraged to complete these tasks from home if our experiments permit us to do so.

What’s it like to work in the School of Life Sciences?

The community within the School is incredibly vibrant and there has been a lot of activity facilitating this online. Those of us continuing research within the School have needed to adapt to new working measures and although these can feel isolating, I am currently enjoying having an entire work area to myself!

Why did you come to Dundee?

Dundee is the “City of Discovery”. As a scientist, need I say more? In all seriousness, Dundee is incredibly understated – amazing things are taking place here. World class impact in the School of Life Sciences is driven in a large part by extensive collaboration between academia and industry, and there is an excellent entrepreneurial track record here. Also, I really appreciate the wonderful outdoor lifestyle Scotland offers.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

Although I started my studies in life sciences, I quickly discovered that I was most enthusiastic in a chemistry laboratory. Once I realized that chemistry is fundamentally different from biology and physics in that it not only seeks to understand the nature of life and the universe, but also engineer solutions to problems, I appreciated that I was passionate about not just understanding but creating. Research within the MRC-PPU has enabled me to come full circle in my career, applying my chemistry skill set to medical problems, which is incredibly rewarding.

Tell us a science fact

Have you heard of molecular machines? I am still amazed by a video I first viewed back in 2006 in the supplementary data of a scientific article by Feringa and co-workers. The video shows a glass rod being rotated on a film containing a tiny amount of a molecular rotor that operates in response to light. Amazingly, the glass rod is 10,000 times larger than the molecular motor powering it!! How incredible is that?! Although applications of nanomachines are currently limited since the field is still in its infancy, exciting nanomachines with real-life applications are sure to become a reality.

What activities are you undertaking to de-stress?

Exercise

What can’t you wait to get back to once lockdown is lifted?

I am really looking forward to returning to my weightlifting club.

Quick fire questions:

  • Tea or Coffee? Both!!
  • Morning or Afternoon? Morning 
  • Animal Crossing or Tiger King? Neither. I prefer listening to podcasts or music, or reading.