A researcher is born
Daniel Aili has grabbed a spot as one of this year’s LiU research associates. His goal is to develop his own internationally competitive group. He’ll be getting good support on the way from tailor-made leadership training and his own mentor.
Despite his youth, Aili has already achieved a lot. He has a civil engineering degree in technical biology and a doctoral degree in sensor science from LiU. He then continued as a post-doc at the Imperial College in London and in Singapore. Since August he’s been conducting research in bionanotechnology and regenerative medicine as one of this year’s six LiU research associates.
“I’m incredibly glad I got the position. For the next four years I’ll conduct research with my own funds, and finally, I intend to form a research group that will conduct competitive research.”
It was no coincidence that thirteen years ago this promising young talent from Södertälje applied to study at Linköping.
“I’ve always been interested in the environment; I knew early on that I wanted to contribute to ‘green’ education and biotechnology was entirely appropriate for me. The city also has an active rock-climbing club, and since I enjoy nature and an outdoor life, that also drew me here.”
Following his doctoral degree, Aili moved to London as a post-doc to work with a research group that concentrated on bionanotechnology and regenerative medicine; material that aids the body heal itself. The adventure and research eventually continued in Singapore, which collaborated with Imperial College in London.
During this time he also managed to get married. But his wife still lived part-time in Linköping, and he grew more and more homesick. In addition, their daughter Rut was on the way. His joy was therefore immeasurable when he applied for, and following stiff competition, received a four-year research associate post at LiU, with his own research funds.
“This is a unique opportunity to receive considerable financial assistance in order to get established. It is difficult for young researcher to become established; with a heavy dependence being placed on senior researchers and their projects. Now I have the opportunity to research that which I am most interested in.”
Which is? Self-organizing nanomaterial has caught his interest.
“You could describe it as Lego that builds itself, although the pieces are really small. Under certain conditions you produce a material with useful properties.”
Aili prefers to make use of small artificial proteins as his building blocks, known as peptides.
Apart from material for regenerative medicine, these ‘building blocks’ are used to manufacture biosensors that can be used for things like screening for medicine in order to detect active substances. He is still in close contact with the research centre in Singapore, which is working on fundamental nanostructures that will be used to discover botulism toxin, for example, one of the world’s deadliest poisons.
“They are formed from bacteria and can be found in food; people can become very sick and a few die every year. Most of all it’s easy to fabricate, and research is focusing on preventing its use as a weapon of terror.”
Aili is also researching the possibility of detecting proteins expressed when someone has cancer in order to chart and supplement cancer diagnoses.
“They have two subjects; sensors and materials for regenerative medicine lie very close to each other from a research perspective. In the future, I intend to develop a number of different Lego blocks that I can ‘take off the shelf’ and blend for the material I need.”
For his part, there is a great advantage in conducting research at Linköping University.
“Since my research falls outside the traditional boundaries of technology, biology, and medicine, conducting research here at Linköping has an advantage. There’s a lot of openness between the departments and institutions, which is conducive to interdisciplinary work.”
It’s the freedom and opportunity to think outside the box that gives research its charm for Aili.
“You have to let yourself drift away sometimes while holding on to the focus. I’m constantly getting new ideas. The biggest motive is the creative bit: I get an idea, go down to the lab, test it and in the best-case scenario it works!”
He often gets ideas during conversations, but just as often during his free time, such as when he’s out cycling.
“I really never let go of the job; it’s also my hobby.”
Through the LiU research associate program, he will receive substantial education ranging from leadership to presentation techniques; he also has his own mentor. When the programme is finished, he intends have established his own stable research group that can hold its ground internationally.
“Research is a process, an exercise in constantly reconsidering your train of thought. You can never stagnate in intellectual dynamics; you always have to take in new ways of thinking and ideas. I’m setting the bar high. The Nobel Prize” he laughs.
Last updated: 2012-01-20