Algae Planet Interview by David Schwartz
The Young Algaeneers Symposium (YAS) was created in 2011 by a group of PhD students from Wageningen University who were tired of the traditional format of algal conferences and felt that the younger generation lacked a voice. The concept was considered extremely successful, and teams of young Algaeneers took up the challenge of organizing YAS symposia in Montpellier, France (2014), Malta (2016) and Oban, Scotland (2018).
In Malta, nearly 100 young Algaeneers met at a seaside hotel. Their highly developed scientific program included social events such as a GPS challenge of Valletta — that ended with scientific speed dating at the harbour. (A perspective on YAS 2016 was published after the event.)
This years’ event, of course, will be a little different. YAS 2021 — the fifth edition of the gathering — will be a virtual symposium. Designed and organized “by young scientists for young scientists,” it is being put together with the support of the European Algae Biomass Association (EABA).
Running from May 10-12, the event is open to MSc students, PhD students, Postdocs, early-phase Principal Investigators (typically first 5 years) and early career researchers in industry/young entrepreneurs. The third day opens up to “non-Young Algaeneers” who want to meet the EABA members and other industry professionals.
David Russo, a Postdoc from Friedrich Schiller University, in Jena, Germany, is running the show this year.
David is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Research fellow in the lab of Prof. Georg Pohnert at the University of Jena. His primary research focuses on how cyanobacteria use extracellular mechanisms to shape their environment and associated microbiome. He has a PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering, from the University of Sheffield, an MSc in Bioenergy from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and a BSc in Biology, from the Universidade de Aveiro.
Algae Planet checked in with Dr. Russo to learn more about his role in this unique opportunity for those of the next generation who are looking to advance in the algae industry. Here’s the view from the top:
So, David, how did you get involved in YAS 2021?
The YAS 2021 story started last year when a group of 25 young algaeneers were invited to pitch their work at AlgaeEurope 2020. I and my co-organizers, Alberto Niccolai, Marine Valton and Julie Zedler were among this group and we had the opportunity to network and present ourselves to the EABA community. Shortly after, Vitor Verdelho contacted me asking if I would be interested in heading an initiative to revitalize the “Young Algaeneer” concept. I accepted the challenge and YAS 2021 is a first step towards integrating the Young Algaeneers into the EABA family.
What can virtual attendees expect to experience at this year’s event?
Attendees can still count on the traditional scientific speed dating, career talks and opportunities to network, albeit in a virtual environment. However, this year we are putting more emphasis on discussing the future direction of the field. This will be done in the form of topic-specific steering groups that will discuss the past, present and future of different areas of algal research. Another novelty of this year’s edition is the opportunity to present the outcome of the steering group discussions to the public. We have also taken advantage of the online format to open up Day 3 to the whole field, where we hope to engage with senior scientists, members of the EABA and the European Commission.
And how does one sign up?
What topics do you think will get the most attention this year?
While I hope that YAS 2021 will touch upon a wide variety of topics, we are using the steering groups to highlight a few we find particularly important. For example, synthetic biology is a hot topic. We will discuss available tools, new directions and how to implement/certify these technologies in Europe where GMO regulations are so restrictive.
We will also focus on the use of algal communities. The idea of using symbiotic algal communities has been around for a long time but rarely implemented. Here, we want to address current challenges, best practices and industrial use.
This topic also ties into algae as a novel food. Large-scale cultivation will inevitably lead to contaminations. Are these a risk or a benefit? We will also cover current products and upcoming trends.
Finally, we must revisit the well-trodden ground of algae for bioenergy. Following the boom and bust of biodiesel, we will discuss the current state of the field and the most promising future technologies.
Will there be poster sessions?
Yes, we’re currently accepting abstracts for virtual poster presentations. Abstracts should be a single paragraph of text with no more than 250 words. Posters should consist of 3-4 slides to be presented in an informal environment during the social event. Abstracts will be made available to all participants in the conference booklet. Deadline for abstract submission is the 30th of April.
What is your definition of a Young Algaeneer?
For us a “Young Algaeneer” is someone who would like to take a future role in both the algal biomass sector and, in the longer term, in the EABA. Young Algaeneers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and inclusiveness is important to us. So, we decided not to impose an age limit but rather establish an experience threshold. This group currently includes MSc students, PhD students, Postdocs, early-phase Principal Investigators (typically first 5 years) and early career researchers in industry/young entrepreneurs.
Who are some of the supporting people and organizations, and what are they providing?
The general framework of the event is supported by the EABA in close communication with the President, Jean-Paul Cadoret, and the General Manager, Vitor Verdelho. Website creation, registration and publicity has been done in collaboration with Christie de Vrij from Building on Events. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the Portuguese company Atelier N8 — Design & Consulting who designed the great YAS 2021 logo.
What would you like to see as a result of this event?
First and foremost, our aim is to project and give a voice to young algaeneers. The current generation will be moving into leadership positions in the next decade and now is the time to establish our personal brands. A strong infrastructure of young algaeneers will also ensure a prosperous future for the EABA.
Following on from this, we hope the YAS will serve as a platform for the inclusion of young algaeneers in future funding calls. An excellent example of this is the upcoming European Innovation Council Pathfinder program. If anybody is looking to partner with young algaeneers, we want the YAS to be the first contact point.
Finally, in line with previous editions, it is also our goal to connect young algaeneers to each other. The past 18 months have led to a disruptive shock in the way we work and communicate. We hope the YAS will be a space where young algaeneers can reconnect, discuss and enjoy some time together.
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