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“No, he never came along to the ‘Oktoberfest’”

“No, he never came along to the ‘Oktoberfest’”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Ingrid Dijkgraaf inspired by Hans-Jürgen Wester

It started during the interview for a postdoc place in Munich. Aside from his imposing appearance ("he is about two metres tall") and tasteful attire, professor Hans-Jürgen Wester pointed out a missed opportunity during her earlier PhD research. Wouldn’t she have been better off including certain control studies in her publication?

"Oh oh, I thought, what is this!" says chemist Ingrid Dijkgraaf (35), now working for the department of biochemistry (FHML). "I was already a little late because I had been sent off the S-Bahn for not having a valid ticket. But Wester was absolutely right. It wasn’t that obvious, but I actually should have included those studies."

Dijkgraaf studied molecular sciences in Wageningen. She loves creating molecules. "It is kind of like playing with Lego. Nature can do all of that much better, but in the lab you can produce substances on a larger scale. Taxol for example, a substance that can be found in the needles of yew trees, is used for cancer therapy. I myself create proteins that can detect cardiovascular diseases prematurely."

In the lab, Dijkgraaf sometimes works with radioactive material that has to be transferred to a small container by means of a syringe. "It is not life-threateningly dangerous, but you do have to be careful with it. Normally young researchers do that themselves, but it says something about Wester that he carried out this task himself, as protection. I spilled a droplet on my hand once and soon received a letter from the Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz. I never developed any symptoms. Hands can take a lot."

Wester, professor of pharmaceutical radiochemistry at the Technical University of Munich, was "strict but fair, " Dijkgraaf remembers. "I wouldn’t call him a control freak but he demanded a lot from his staff. Everything had to have been investigated in detail. That was not always easy. But I learned a lot from him, for example that you shouldn’t lose yourself in theory but that you have to focus on the potential application of the experiment for patients."

Wester is a man with many ideas, as Dijkgraaf found out during her interview. "He was extremely creative, not just when it concerned molecules but also where it concerned patient studies. He had a tremendous overview of the field. A real specialist but also a workaholic. You could easily phone him on a Sunday afternoon and spend an hour chatting about work. He also has his own business. He does that on the side."

You would seldom catch him having a personal conversation, says Dijkgraaf, who worked in Munich for two and a half years. "The research group went to the ‘Oktoberfest’ every year, but he never joined them. I sometimes thought that was a pity."

This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most

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