Mai Tran

PhD student at the University of Heidelberg

Hi there! I’m currently a PhD student in Goepfrich's lab at Heidelberg University, where we explore the fascinating world of DNA/RNA origami and synthetic cell engineering. My journey has taken me from Vietnam to France, the USA, and now Germany, allowing me to experience diverse cultures and perspectives. This global adventure has nurtured my love for storytelling as a way to connect people and ideas.

In my research, I see myself as a bit of an artist. We’re working on building artificial cells from the bottom up, with complete freedom in choosing materials and imagining new forms of life. A big part of our work involves DNA and RNA origami, where we creatively fold these polymers into different shapes and functions—using them in ways distinct from how natural cells utilize them—very much like art. I’m passionate about blending art and science because they both tell compelling stories. Whether it’s the beauty of nature shaped by evolution or the marvels of technology created by humans, I find narrative and inspiration in both. My aim is to make scientific concepts both understandable and engaging through storytelling.

When I’m not in the lab, I love spending time in nature (my favorite outdoor art museum)—hiking, bouldering, and biking are some of my favorite activities. I also enjoy visiting art museums, watching films, and creating digital art. One of the highlights of my journey was tutoring adult students in France, which taught me how to communicate science in a relatable way. I’ve also dabbled in digital media, making YouTube videos and creating conceptual scientific figures to visually and engagingly explain scientific ideas. This experience showed me how powerful visual and auditory tools can be in making science accessible to everyone.

At the Locarno Film Festival’s BaseCamp Laboratory of Ideas, I’m excited to meet young, creative minds from around the world. I’m looking forward to discussing the Future of Survival, creating art together, and having fun while doing it. Whether we're talking about digital, environmental, or social survival, I’m ready for thought-provoking conversations and creative works.

Let’s bridge the gap between art and science, inspire collaboration and understanding, and create something wonderful together. See you in Locarno!