It is so important to hear from young professionals! Dr. Natalie Chernets, our Scientist of the Week, confirms this with an amazing interview she provided to The Science and Engineering Cafe. She talks about the current status and future of Plasma Medicine, the Gordon Research Conference and some of the challenges that international students face. I have nothing else to add, please read the interview!
Dr. Natalie Chernets’ interview
1. You recently chaired the Gordon Research Seminar on Plasma Processing. How was the experience and what did you gain from it?
I shared the chairing responsibilities with Dr. Matteo Gherardi for the 2016 GRS. When preparing for the conference we changed the format to include invited speakers in addition to oral and poster presenters that were selected from submitted abstracts. Our goal was to increase international and gender diversity of the conference. In addition, we participated in fundraising and made decisions about who will give oral presentations. Moreover, we worked closely with Dr. Achim von Keudell and Dr. Peter Bruggeman to select the NSF and DOE award recipients. We also organized a mentoring session with Dr. Diego Mantovani that discussed the necessary steps for launching a successful career and the options that are open to PhD holders in the plasma field. This experience expanded my leadership and administration skills, provided networking opportunities and gave me the opportunity to give back to the plasma community. The newly elected chair of the GRS, Adam Obrusnik, will serve as a chair of the GRS 2018. There is an opportunity available to assist him with the GRS organization, and if any of the followers of “The Science and Engineering Café” are interested in serving as a co-chair with Adam, they can contact me. The only requirement is that they are either a graduate student or a postdoctoral student when applying.
2. In your opinion, why has the field of Plasma Medicine attracted a lot of interest in the past decade?
I think that the interest in plasma medicine is two-fold: 1) humanitarian- curing disease, improving life span, etc and 2) commercial. In addition, there are a lot of unknowns and its pretty easy to research and generate papers about plasma medicine and publish them in plasma journals. The potential of the technology is based on the fact that plasma produces multiple components that have medical potential: 1) production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and ions (chemistry), 2) pulsed electric field, current (electrical) 3) radiation, mechanical effects and local temperature increase. In addition, plasmas have multiple tunable parameters that allow us to control all three components. I think that the synergetic effect of plasma components is what makes plasma so effective. For example, current treatments in oncology include combinatory treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, radiation and hyperthermia, hyperthermia and chemotherapy. Plasma treatment already combines multiple components, but can also be combined with other technologies.
3. What are the biggest breakthroughs of Plasma Medicine so far?
It’s a tricky question. Plasma Medicine has a few promising applications including cancer treatment, wound healing and dental applications. Some of the applications are more advanced in terms of time to market, especially in European markets. One such example is the wound healing application. One the other hand, the mechanism of action still has a lot of unknowns. In addition, I think that we have only scratched the surface in terms of optimization of plasma for medical applications. Unlike other technologies, plasma has a lot of tunable parameters that can allow us to design a better treatment if we are mindful about the tissue processes during each application and the biological timeline.
4. What are the biggest challenges of conducting research in the field of Plasma Medicine?
From my perspective, two main challenges of plasma medicine are NIH funding and publication in biological journals (which also affects the NIH funding). I really enjoyed working in the Plasma medicine field due to its multidisciplinary nature. I learned a lot from conversations with medical doctors, biologists and biochemists. I think that working together on plasma technology development will lead to significant breakthroughs in the shortest amount of time.
5. Which is your favorite conference and why?
The Gordon Research Conference on Plasma Processing Science is my favorite conference. I participated in this conference 4 times, starting in 2010. The conference size is limited to 200 participants which makes it easier to network. In addition, the fact that there are no parallel tracks gives you the opportunity to explore all kinds of areas of plasma that you might not normally choose in a larger conference. For example, the past conference (GRC2016) included a session on Plasma Astro Chemistry and a session on Interfacing Plasma with Living Matter. Moreover, the conference format is really different than traditional conferences– you have sessions in the morning and evening, and free time that can be used for group activities such as a volleyball game. Lastly, since 2010, the conference offers a seminar (GRS) which is organized by students and postdocs for students and postdocs. During the seminar, students and postdocs have the opportunity to present oral talks, serve as discussion leaders, and interact with mentors prior to the main meeting.
6. Describe some of the professional challenges that you are currently facing and hope to overcome in the next few years?
As a plasma medicine professional, I find it very challenging to find a job in United States. On one hand, in Academia, the funding for plasma medicine is limited, and you have to conduct other research to support your lab. On the other hand, there are very few plasma medicine companies in the states. Lastly, my entrepreneurial attempt has been unsuccessful as well because a medical startup requires big initial capital, and venture capital firms prefer to invest in an established team with a strong CEO with impressive track record of success. In addition, as an international student, I also face visa challenges. My attempt to join the industry during last spring was ineffective primarily due to visa requirements, and the visa quota was filled. The new cycle will be opened next April. In the meantime, I sharpen my administrative skills by working in a postdoctoral office. If you need career advice, make sure to join the PLANET (PLAsma NETworking) group in LinkedIn. The purpose of the group is to provide peer-to-peer mentoring regarding career opportunities and to increase the chances of successful transition from graduate school or postdoctoral appointment to the career of your choice.