“The lab was built specifically for my research”

She went from a doctoral studentship at the University of Gothenburg to a postdoc fellowship with a Nobel Prize winner at Stanford University. Now Anna-Karin Gustavsson is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Rice University in Texas, where she is in the process of building up her own lab – with her own research team too.

I’m based at the Department of Chemistry at Rice University where I work on super-resolution microscopy. It allows us to see very small details – individual molecules – in cells. My work focuses on cell imaging and trying to understand how cells function when you get an illness, or how different drugs act inside the cells.

I did my postdoc with Nobel Prize winner W. E. Moerner at Stanford. I wanted to focus on super-resolution microscopy, so I got in touch with him. We met in Gothenburg after one of his Nobel Prize presentations, and after discussing my research project, I got the chance to join his lab. I ended up spending five years there as a postdoc. I learnt a great deal – about the field as well as about being a researcher.

After my postdoc, I wanted to continue my research and start my own research team. Rice was hiring for a position in physical chemistry which was the perfect fit for me. So far, our research team is small: four doctoral students and two undergraduates. Thanks to generous grants from both the National Institutes of Health and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, we will be in a position to expand significantly in the coming years. We have built this lab from the ground up and we are finally ready to start work on actual research!

Thanks to my education at the University of Gothenburg, I have a solid, fundamental understanding of physics. I also benefited from good role models who helped shape the way I carry out research and supervise students. I am very grateful for my years spent at the University of Gothenburg.

My background is in physics, so I had not really expected to become a chemistry professor. However, my work includes aspects of physics, chemistry and biology, given that we are working at a molecular level within cells. So ultimately, my work is very interdisciplinary in nature.”

Anna-Karin Gustavsson

Age: 35.

Lives in: Houston, Texas, USA.

Family: Husband and two-year-old daughter.

In her spare time: I like hiking and outdoor activities in nature with my family.

The best thing about Houston: I’ve barely had time to look around since I’ve had my hands full getting settled in at home and at work. But Rice University campus is really beautiful! A green oasis in Houston.