Michaela Slanska

PhD candidate at the Chemistry Department of the University of Basel

Thirteen days have passed since the Locarno Film Festival, and it is now time to reflect on my experience in merging the world of arts and science. As I am writing this, I am sitting in an office full of chemists and biologists, having not spoken with anyone outside of this scientific bubble for almost two weeks. And I must admit, I feel like something is missing.

After Locarno, I tried looking at my work from a third-person perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do, and I feel extremely fortunate to say that my job is my hobby. But no matter how cliché this will sound, by opening myself to the world of arts, and by creating such strong bonds with people from outside of the scientific world, I feel like I discovered a new part of myself. For as long as I can remember, I considered myself to be a very “left-brained” person. I liked it when things made sense, ideally if I could break them down into math equations. I don’t think like that anymore. In Locarno, I learned to appreciate the weird, the original, and the unexplainable.

I have attended film festivals before, but this was a completely new experience for me. Watching movies was just a fraction of what happened. I gained the most from the BaseCamp community. Except for the four of us, everyone there had some relation to the world of cinema. There were directors, actors, film critics, curators, people who planned to make their own film festival one day, and more. The conversations we had were so eye-opening and productive. Together, we came up with project ideas on the interface of arts and science, which we would have never thought of otherwise.

The festival only lasted ten days, but I know I made friends for life. Lilly, Will, Jacqueline, Lautaro, Tariq, “the sci-fi guys”, and so many more people from BaseCamp made my Locarno experience truly unforgettable. Thanks to them, I am not tied to my bubble of scientists anymore. I can really think outside the box now. But apart from the artists, I have to appreciate our scientific foursome. I had never met Maja, Tobi, and Eric before we embarked on this adventure together. But after just a couple of days, it felt like I had known them for years. I am truly grateful for our friendship. We will not let it go.

Simply said, the connections I made over just a couple of days are unmatched. Locarno showed me how important and fruitful interactions between scientists and artists can be if only we open ourselves to new ways of looking at the world. This got me thinking about how separated scientists and artists are in everyday life. What a loss. This is a gap worth bridging, that is for sure.

I would like to thank everyone who made this amazing experience possible. Namely Stefano Knuchel, Justine Knuchel, and Chiara Ottavi for making the BaseCamp PopUp a reality and giving us space to show our work and interact with artists. I want to thank Ralf Stutzki for guiding us through this whole experience and for initiating very interesting and stimulating conversations about ethical dilemmas. I want to thank NCCR MSE and its directors, Prof. Thomas R. Ward and Prof. Daniel J. Müller, for giving us this opportunity in the first place. I also want to thank Tom for pushing me to go. I was a bit skeptical at first because I thought going meant losing ten days of productivity in the lab. But it turns out that these were some of the most productive days in my Ph.D. studies so far, at least in terms of personal development.


My name is Michaela and I am a first-year doctoral student in the group of Prof. Ward at the Chemistry department of the University of Basel. Currently I am working on creating artificial metalloenzymes for new-to-nature reactions and their incorporation into E. coli cells. I moved here in autumn last year from my home country, the Czech Republic, where I studied my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Biochemistry.

My scientific interests include protein engineering, synthetic biology, biotechnology and enzymology. What motivates me most is sustainability and more specifically finding greener ways for production of industrially relevant compounds. This is why I am focusing on enzymes – nature’s catalysts. In many cases, biocatalysis in living organisms offers a more sustainable alternative to traditional chemistry. But not all relevant reactions in industry can be carried out by natural enzymes, which is why I am now focusing on artificial enzymes to introduce novel reactions to nature’s repertoire.

When I’m not in the lab, I love to go hiking, do yoga, spend time with friends and family and most of all I love to travel. I also enjoy going to concerts, music festivals and art exhibitions. My connection with performing arts is that I am a retired rhythmic gymnast and ballet dancer, so when I was younger, I would get on stage quite a bit. However, apart from dance, I am typically more comfortable as part of the audience than as a performer. But I do love to write, and would like to write a book one day loosely inspired by my life and my travels.

As I just started my Ph.D. not that long ago, my plans for the future are still a bit blurry. I would like to move closer to my family, maybe to Austria or back to the Czech Republic, but my career plans are not clear yet. One of things that could interest me is pursuing a career in science popularization, which is what got me interested in the Locarno Project.

At the workshop, I would like to learn how to communicate scientific topics to the general public in an engaging way. I believe that my scientific writing skills are quite strong, as I gained some practice in it when writing research publications. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to write for the general public, and this is something I would like to get better at moving forward. Generally, I try to stay off social media to protect my mental health and force myself to live in the moment, but I do have the platforms that are relevant for the scientific community – Twitter, LinkedIn and ResearchGate. I know however that social media can reach a lot of people, and I’d like to see how it can be used to promote natural sciences.