A Physicist in Cell Biology

Timo Betz new professor at the Cells-in-Motion Cluster of Excellence at the University of Münster
Prof. Timo Betz, a physicist, studies the mechanical properties of cells.
© CiM-Peter Leßmann

To bring more physics into biology is the great aim of Dr. Timo Betz, a new professor at the University of Münster. At the Institute of Cell Biology at the Faculty of Medicine, Timo Betz, a physicist, is a bit of an exotic creature among the biologists. At the Institute he studies the mechanical properties of cells. This is important in order to be able to understand how, for example, cancer cells travel in the body and form metastases. This approach is one that is in demand at the Cells-in-Motion Cluster of Excellence (CiM) at the University of Münster. Timo Betz joined CiM 18 months ago as a junior research group leader and subsequently applied for the position of Professor of Cell Mechanics that was being advertised. At the Cluster of Excellence more than 90 groups of scientists from the fields of Life Sciences and Natural Sciences are undertaking research into the behaviour of cells in organisms. Since 2012 seven new professorships have already been created at the University of Münster to strengthen this focus.

Before he came to Münster, Timo Betz (40) worked as a junior research group leader at the Institut Curie in Paris – which was an eye-opening experience for him. “I was engaged in research in a very broad-based environment there, and I noticed that it wasn’t important which discipline I worked in, as a physicist,” says Timo Betz. “Rather, I saw what impressive results could be gained from interdisciplinary collaboration.” This approach is one that he can pursue perfectly at the Cluster of Excellence too, as doctoral students of both Biology and Physics work closely together in his research group.

A Scientific Career

Becoming a professor is not always easy, because there are only a few professorships at universities in relation to the many suitable candidates. “It wasn’t my aim from the outset to become a professor,” says Timo Betz. “My belief is that first of all you should want to become a good researcher.” He published many scientific papers while he was still working on his PhD thesis. “After I obtained my doctoral degree I was at a kind of crossroads,” he says, looking back. “I had to decide whether I really wanted to stay at university or go into industry.”

A career in the academic world means moving around a lot and taking on jobs at different universities. “You have to be prepared to change your place of work in order to broaden your horizons,” says Timo Betz. This means that it is not always easy, he adds, to balance a career with your private life. “I often took my family along with me to my job interviews,” says the father of two children. “Looking back on it today, I was making a pretty clear statement.” Now he is all the happier that he will be staying with his family in Münster.

Prof. Timo Betz