“In science you start with an idea and create something that wasn’t there before”

A Lab Visit to Dr. Milos Galic / interview series by the Cells in Motion Cluster of Excellence
Dr. Milos Galic, Cells in Motion Junior Group Leader at the Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics at Münster University

Dr. Galic, what scientific topic are you working on right now?

The overriding question for me is: how do cells manage to move or to change their form? Cells have no brain, but still they know exactly what they have to do. What’s decisive is, among other things, forces which have an effect on cells and, in doing so, trigger certain reactions. The thing that makes these forces so interesting for us is: regardless of whether a cell moves itself, or is bent by a force, in every case the forces impact on the membrane – i.e. on the outer layer of the cell – and bend it. My team and I want to know how this mechanical deformation of the membrane is converted into a biological signal. Hundreds of proteins in the cell react to these membrane deformations. I want to understand which proteins are activated in the case of which force – and how. In my experiments we use a trick for this. We take a mechanical finger which measures less than one millionth of a metre, make an indentation in the cell membrane and then look and see what happens.

What characterizes you personally as a scientist?

Science doesn’t stop at the laboratory door. I come from Switzerland. My wife, who is also a Junior Group Leader, comes from Slovenia. We both undertook research for several years in Stanford, USA – which is also where our child was born. In spring last year we moved to Münster and we both enjoy being able to work as researchers in one place. For scientists this is not always something you can take for granted.

What is your great aim as a scientist?

I’ve only been a Junior Group Leader in CiM for just over a year now and am now doing research complete independently for the first time. As a doctoral and as a post-doctoral student you still have an experienced mentor who you can talk to about the direction of your research. Now I want to be a successful scientist myself – and I want to demonstrate that. In addition, I’d also like to be a good mentor for doctoral students – one who does not restrict them in their work but, rather, motivates them.

What’s your favourite “toy” for research – and what can it do?

An old microscope that I was allowed to tinker with during my time in America. There I learnt that it’s not always necessary to buy new equipment in order to solve a problem. You can often make progress with creativity too. I get pleasure from assembling a piece of equipment myself. For example, I’ve just ordered the components for a light sheet microscope and they cost just a fraction of the finished version. In the next few months I’ll assemble the microscope and then, hopefully, be able to watch a brain cell growing in 3D.

What big scientific question would you like to have an answer to?

There are lots. Where does life come from? Is there life on other planets? Were the Neanderthals absorbed by us? What is free will?

How much artistry, creativity and craftsmanship is there in your scientific work?

I think that artists and scientists have a few things in common. We both start with an idea. There is then a process in which we create something that wasn’t there before. Also, neither researchers nor artists are primarily looking for a secure job. What’s more important is the pleasure their work gives them.