Julia is a student at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where she is passionate about unraveling the mysteries of cells. In recognition of her academic performance during the first year of studies, she received the Young Talent Award sponsored by the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities) as one of seven biology students in the Netherlands. – My main interest is in the processes involved in the uptake of substances from the environment by human immune cells. I’m also fascinated by the dynamic processes of organelle formation and transformation in body cells and the equally plastic changes in the structure of dendritic spines. These basic functions in cell life are strongly linked to autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases, so the topic is not only interesting to study, but also highly relevant – Julia explains.
In parallel to her regular three-year university course, Julia is taking an additional one-year Honors College Program. The program provides the most able and motivated students with an opportunity to pursue their own research ideas and explore interdisciplinary passions in other university departments. Julia is a member of a team studying the effects of short peptides on the activity of the LRRK2 protein. Mutations of this protein have been linked to an elevated risk of Parkinson’s disease. Long-term goals of this project and similar experiments conducted in the Cell Biochemistry Lab are to discover the structure, activation mechanism and function of the LRRK2 protein, and to design effective drugs against Parkinson’s disease. Julia is dreaming of a career in science, so after earning her bachelor’s degree in Groningen she is planning to apply for a scholarship in the UK or Switzerland.
Asked about her greatest success so far, Julia says it was earning a first-class diploma from the State Music School. – Combining my love of classical music with my academic ambitions has always been a challenge, but preparing for my high school exit exam and practicing for the music school diploma was extremely tough. I went through a couple of rough weeks, but I managed to play a recital that I’m still proud of – she reminisces.