Building connections beyond the lab

12 December 2019

Few materials shine light like diamond, and researchers are beginning to harness this property to explore the brain in minute detail.

At the Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, Marco Capelli uses these tiny crystals to measure magnetic fields surrounding neurons with the goal of having them side-by-side, leading to fresh insights on cell communication.

With colleagues in Japan, Germany and the United States, Marco’s research is a collaborative effort. He says that working at CNBP has helped him foster these ties with the global research community.

“I have been able to attend multiple conferences, both national and international,” says Marco, a postdoctoral researcher at RMIT in Melbourne. “I have had more opportunities to find collaborators.”

These team-building efforts have paid off. In November, Marco was awarded the 2019 CNBP Academic Excellence Award in International Impact for his collaborations with researchers abroad.

After completing a masters in physics at the University of Turin in Italy, Marco joined CNBP as a PhD student to study diamond fluorescence and its magnetic-sensing capabilities in 2016.

Marco in the lab credit: RMIT

Marco explored several diamond research groups around the world, but the diverse mix of researchers at CNBP made an impression on him. Here he found physicists applying their skills to biology problems, and chemists using their know-how to answer questions in physics.

“My studies had been really focused on physics and nothing else,” he says. “I wanted to work with diamonds at a centre that takes a transdisciplinary approach.”

Marco says that working with researchers from other fields has its benefits, particularly when it comes to finding clever solutions.

“I began to broaden my understanding of all the different kinds of sciences and how they intertwine,” he says. “This helped me view my own research from a different perspective and solve problems in a way I had not considered before.”

In addition to expanding his knowledge, working at the centre has helped Marco grow his research network. With funding support from CNBP, Marco has attended training events, conferences and media workshops, which have provided a boost to his contact list. “I had the chance to spend three months in Germany and a couple of weeks in the US,” he says.

These face-to-face interactions have also sharpened Marco’s ability to communicate his research to wider audiences, from international researchers to the general public.

In 2018, Marco was one of 10 researchers selected to take part in Fresh Science – a program which trains early-career researchers on presenting their findings to the media and general public. He says that the communication team at CNBP played a key role in getting his application up to speed.

“The entire centre has been like a communication mentor to me,” says Marco. “The general environment has helped me a lot in trusting my capabilities while also improving them.”