The Microscopists Podcast

The Microscopists

A podcast from Bitesize Bio - sponsored by ZEISS Microscopy

The Microscopists takes you into revealing, entertaining, and personal meetings with the great microscopists of our time. Your host is Dr. Peter O’Toole. Peter will help you understand what drives great, successful scientists, what really inspires them and what they enjoy most in life.

This set of candid, fun, and engaging interviews serves not only to help inspire upcoming scientists but to show how career tracks and work-life balance are managed by some of the best. Not only are they great at work, but they have some amazing stories to tell about their lives outside science.

More episodes will be released every two weeks. Follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, or via RSS feed and stay tuned for inspiring guests!

Brad Amos

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Brad Amos, Emeritus Scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, joins Peter O’Toole in this episode of The Microscopists to discuss his varied career, from zoologist to confocal microscope designer to amateur artist. We’ll discover how Brad developed the confocal microscope taken up by Bio-Rad, as well as the Mesolens microscope, which he is using in his work as Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde. We’ll hear how Brad has never fully retired and how his artwork ended up on a stamp for the Ascension Islands. Brad also reveals how he has played Robin Hood, the Pope, and Boris Johnson is his legendary lab skits and where to put your hands when scuba diving with sharks!

Teng-Leong Chew

HHMI Janelia Research Campus

Ever wondered just what it’s like working at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus? Teng-Leong Chew, Director of the Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia, joins Peter O’Toole for episode #39 of The Microscopists to let us know.

We’ll also discover what it was like moving from Malaysia to Wisconsin during a blizzard-enforced University of Wisconsin shutdown, and hear more about street art and unexpected violin recitals. We’ll learn about the challenges that Chew has faced in his career, as well as the highlights, and hear why he is so passionate about equitable access to microscopy technology.

W. E. Moerner

Stanford University

W. E. Moerner of Stanford University is a pioneer in the field of super-resolution imaging for cell biology. Tune in as W. E. joins Peter O’Toole and discover more about the work that led to W. E. sharing the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

We’ll hear why interdisciplinarity is so important in science, why W. E. has had to overcome his tendency to procrastinate, and how a love for Gilbert and Sullivan music led to him meeting his wife. We’ll also learn how the backyard “Clubhouse” that W. E. built with his father sparked a lifelong love of science and find out what it was like moving into academia after many years in industry. Listen now to hear more!

Holly L. Aaron

UC Berkeley

Peter O’Toole’s guest for episode #37 of The Microscopists is Holly L. Aaron, Director of the CRL Molecular Imaging Center at the University of California Berkeley. Tune in to this candid episode and discover more about Holly’s aversion to grant writing, her plans for her self-built dream home on Hawaii, and why there’s nothing quite like the sight of lava flowing into the ocean. We’ll touch on the career challenges that Holly has faced (please fess up if you spill something on a microscope!), her barista skills, and what to do when you’re not remotely prepared for polar bears. All in this episode of The Microscopists.

Sir Paul Nurse

The Francis Crick Institute

Today’s guest on The Microscopists is Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive and Director of The Francis Crick Institute in London. Paul’s early career used microscopic screening to identify temperature-sensitive cell-cycle mutants in fission yeast. This work led to the identification of the cell division cycle 2 gene (cdc2), which encodes a kinase critical for cell cycle progression. It was for this work that he was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside Tim Hunt and Leland Hartwell.

Sir Jeremy Farrar

Wellcome Trust

You’re in for a treat in this episode of The Microscopists as we’re joined by Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome. We learn more about Jeremy’s work as an infectious diseases specialist, his rugby- and cricket-playing pedigree, being a member of SAGE during COVID, and unusual wallpapers. In this inspiring episode, Jeremy also reveals his ideal dinner party guests, how to cope with imposter syndrome, the wonders of All-Bran, and how he stays curious.

Michelle Itano

University of North Carolina

Michelle S. Itano is the Director of the Neuroscience Center Microscopy Core at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. In this episode of The Microscopists, cellular biophysicist Michelle tells us about her role as Editor-in-Chief of Biotechniques, the importance of improving staff retention in core facilities, and how being a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Imaging Scientist has proved both empowering and inspiring. Michelle also reveals more about her fossil-hunting childhood, her love of science fairs, and her “Texan stomach”.

Mark Ellisman

UC San Diego

Mark Ellisman, Director of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR) at UCSD, is a leader in the development of 3D light and electron microscopy and its applications for studying cells of the brain and nervous system. In this episode of The Microscopists, we learn more about Mark’s early passion for taking things apart and putting them together again, what it was like studying the brain and perception in the late 1960s, and how a plane ride led to him consulting on Fight Club. We also discover Mark’s thoughts on the importance of generosity in scientific collaboration and hear his advice for early career scientists.

Martin Chalfie

Columbia University

Today’s guest on The Microscopists is none other than Martin Chalfie of Columbia University. In this inspiring episode, we discover more about the work on the discovery and development of GFP that led to Martin sharing the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. We’ll also hear about some of the early challenges that Martin faced in his career, why he temporarily gave up on science, his various jobs before applying for grad school—including selling dresses for his parents’ manufacturing company—and his lockdown signature dish.

Joerg Bewersdorf

Yale University

Joerg Bewersdorf is a leader in developing fluorescence microscopy techniques for biomedical research, such as Pan-Expansion microscopy. In today’s entertaining episode of The Microscopists, we chat to Joerg about his early dreams of space, training as a physicist, straight talking, the (very important) hierarchy of deserts, and making a microscope out of gingerbread (it even had a lens!). Tune in for more inspiring insights.

Prisca Liberali

Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research

Prisca Liberali of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) is a pioneer in the field of cellular self-organization and collective behaviors during developmental and regenerative processes. In this energetic and inspiring episode of The Microscopists, Peter O’Toole chats to Prisca about her training as a chemist, her research into organoids, her inner drive, and why it sometimes pays to take risks. We also learn more about her love of sport and the outdoors, who she was rooting for in the Eurovision Song Contest, and why she started buying herself Lego during lockdown.

Jan Ellenberg


On this episode of The Microscopists, we chat to Jan Ellenberg, Head of Cell Biology & Biophysics Unit at EMBL, Heidelberg. Jan’s current pioneering work focuses on cell division and nuclear organization, and we learn more about this, as well as how Jan got to grips with the political aspects of his role. We’ll discover more about the role of EMBL in kickstarting scientists’ careers, the inspiration that Jan drew from his PhD supervisor, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, and how he likes to relax with Pilates and a bit of fusion cooking.

Markus Sauer

University of Würzburg

Markus Sauer of the University of Würzburg is a super-resolution microscopist and one of the pioneers behind dSTORM (direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy). In this episode of The Microscopists, Markus joins Peter O’Toole to discuss his career path, from imaging combustion to imaging single molecules. As we get to know Markus better, we discover more about combining seminars with a day’s skiing, Markus’s beloved Triumph motorbike, and the importance of scientific collaboration.

Judith Klumperman

University Medical Center Utrecht

Judith Klumperman of the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht is one of the leaders in the field of electron microscopy and her work has contributed hugely to our understanding of diseases of the endo-lysosomal system.

In this episode of The Microscopists, Judith chats to Peter O’Toole about the importance of scientific collaboration, why a sustainable financing system is essential to ensure the future of microscopy, and how her husband’s passion for bird watching has led her all over the world. As well as learning more about some of the challenges Judith has faced in her career, we also discover what Judith’s favorite food is and how she relaxes after a hard day in the lab.

Elizabeth M. C. Hillman

Columbia University

You may know Elizabeth M. C. Hillman (Columbia University) as the pioneer behind SCAPE microscopy, but in episode #26 of The Microscopists, we’ll learn more about her early inspirations, how she positions herself between the fields of physics, engineering, and medicine, and how it was while in hospital with a gymnastics injury that she decided what she wanted to do.

As we touch on diversity, machine learning, and how often to clean your oven, we’ll also discover more about Elizabeth’s experiences as an ex-pat, how working for a start-up removed her doubts about academia, and why seafood is never a good choice for dinner.

Harald Hess

HHMI Janelia Research Campus

Harald Hess is a pioneer in the fields of high-throughput electron microscopy and super-resolution 3D microscopy, and today we’ll discover more about what inspired him, his move from academia to industry and back again, and who comes off best in his tennis matches with Eric Betzig. We’ll hear how Harald and Eric built the first super-resolution microscope for PALM microscopy in Harald’s front room, what his mother thought of the first PALM images, and why science needs different approaches to progress.

Chris Lintott

University of Oxford

Today on The Microscopists, we’re joined by astronomer Professor Chris Lintott of the University of Oxford, co-founder of The Zooniverse citizen science platform, and a presenter on the BBC’s The Sky at Night programme. In this wide-ranging and enlightening chat, we discuss early inspirations, the importance of public engagement in science, the wacky rules and regulations of real tennis, and why the public like counting pictures of penguins. And we’ll hear how Zooniverse projects such as Etch a Cell are helping life scientists with their research. Chris also tells us more about the most difficult time in his career and why, when you don’t know what to do, it’s always better just to do something!

Mark Bray and Pearl Ryder

Novartis and Broad Institute

In this episode of The Microscopists, we have a double-header for you as we’re joined by Mark Bray of Novartis and Pearl Ryder of the Carpenter Lab at the Broad Institute. Mark and Pearl share their career histories, from high school to med school to the lab. We take in their career highlights—including Pearl’s founding of the Future PI Slack peer mentoring group—as well as their thoughts on the importance of a holistic approach when making career decisions, wedding planning in a pandemic, and why in Mark’s experience, the move from academia to industry isn’t as scary as it sounds.

Richard Henderson

University of Cambridge

In this episode of The Microscopists, we’re joined by molecular biologist, biophysicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Henderson from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge. We’ll discuss some of his earlier career challenges in biophysics and what attracted him to biology, his pioneering work in the field of electron microscopy, his favorite comic books, and passion for electronics.

Stephani Otte

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

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Yannick Schwab


In this episode of The Microscopists, we’re joined by Yannick Schwab of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Heidelberg, who is one of the pioneers of correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM).

We’ll discuss why Yannick considers himself such a lucky scientist and the role that serendipity has played in his career. We’ll also learn more about who has inspired Yannick in his career and why he feels motivated to pay it forward.

We’ll also discover how Yannick likes to spend his time off (prepare for some impressive holiday snaps), why nothing beats the smell of bread baking in the morning, and what his infamous ‘seminar face’ is!

Jennifer Waters

Nikon Imaging Center

Prepare for some serious houseplant envy in this episode of The Microscopists, as we talk to the multi-talented Jennifer Waters, Director of the Nikon Imaging Center at Harvard Medical School. As well as directing the core facility and creating the successful Microcourses YouTube channel, Jennifer runs the Quantitative Imaging course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She also received a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Imaging Scientist award in 2019. And she still finds time to water her 100 plus houseplants!

We’ll discuss Jennifer’s favorite microscope, her career highlights – and challenges, and why she needs four different sewing machines.

Join us for this insightful and inspiring chat as we learn more about Jennifer’s passion for plants, painting, and pepperoni pizza.

Anne Carpenter

Broad Institute

You may know Anne Carpenter (Broad Institute) best as the brains behind the CellProfiler™ image analysis software, but today we learn more about what makes Anne tick, how she dealt with imposter syndrome, the challenges of setting up a lab and starting a family simultaneously, and her love of baking.

We’ll learn more about Anne’s move from life sciences to computer science, how her Valentine’s Day roses ended up being dissected by her children, and her love for home renovation shows. Anne also discusses the potential clinical impact of machine learning in the future and her next big career challenge.

Ernst H.K. Stelzer

Goethe University Frankfurt

There’s no question that Ernst H. K. Stelzer is a key figure in the world of high-resolution fluorescence microscopy, but did you know that his love of physics stemmed from a desire to build a time machine?

In this down-to-earth chat with the pioneer of confocal 4Pi fluorescence microscopy, we’ll discuss why scientists need to be able to take risks in their research, how Ernst also worries about pursuing the right research, and how problems should be seen as opportunities.

We’ll also learn more about Ernst’s inspirations, his bond with his grandfather, playing Age of Empires with his grandchildren, and his history of losing luggage while travelling.

Spencer Shorte

Institut Pasteur Korea

You may know Spencer Shorte as Chief Scientific Officer to Institut Pasteur Korea, but as we’ll learn in today’s episode, he is also the creator of the Imagopol and the founder of the core facility software company Stratocore. We’ll learn more about the globetrotting that led Spencer to Korea, the challenges that he has faced in his career, and his favorite publication.

We’ll also get to know Spencer on a more personal level, as we discuss his love of James Bond, his penchant for stout, and how he ended up driving the wrong way down one of the longest one-way streets in Paris.

We’ll also discuss how Spencer sees the role of science in society and how it was only when returning to Europe after a stint in the United States that he worked out what he really wanted to do in science.

Ottoline Leyser


Along with becoming a Dame, Ottoline Leyser also recently became Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a UK body dedicated to building a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system. In this informal discussion, Ottoline explains what the UKRI does and shows us just why she’s a perfect fit.

Discussing her career move, we find out if she has any regrets about leaving the lab and how monthly sanity checks help her juggle the full-time responsibilities of heading the UKRI with managing her research lab.

She also touches on more personal matters, including how her late husband was critical to her career success and why her children made her a better scientist.

Rita Strack

Nature Methods

You may feel you know Rita Strack (Senior Editor at Nature Methods) already if you follow her engaging and friendly twitter feed. But here we delve deeper to uncover her very successful academic career involving developing fluorescent proteins and reporters, her love of horses and a passion for Korean food.

We find out the type of abuse that editors sometimes face, and how they handle it, how she balances a career and family life, including during a pandemic, and the dangers of pet bunnies. Rita gives her unique perspective on what she thinks was the greatest invention in microscopy, and where the future is headed.

Rainer Heintzmann

Friedrich Schiller University Jena

You may know Rainer Heintzmann as one of the pioneers of structured illumination microscopy (SIM), but here we delve more into the man behind the science, where we discover a breath of interests including gliding, skiing, dancing and 3D printing.

Rainer’s undergraduate studies may have taken him a lengthy 6 years to complete, yet he transitioned from PhD student to group leader at King’s College London in just 5 years.

While Rainer confesses he watches too much TV, he does admit to preferring books. His bookshelf gives away a passion for fantasy with notable titles including ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ and ‘Wise Man’s fear’. Take a look and see what books can you spot!

As the topic turns to more serious discussions, we discover that an important role for a group leader is to be a mentor and look out for lab members who may be dealing with difficult issues.

Eric Betzig

University of California

This episode of The Microscopists was recorded LIVE with a very special guest – Eric Betzig!

In this live event, the audience had the opportunity to put their own questions to Eric! Coffee or tea? Omnivore or Vegan? Ultrastructure or cellular dynamics? While we don’t quite get the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, we do get to know Eric Betzig on a personal level.

He shares why he felt he was an abject failure up to the age of 45, how his biggest ideas came during his two periods of unemployment, and how his biggest dream has always been to be an astronaut. Make sure you listen to the end to hear Eric recounting a joke from his favorite comedian. Warning, it’s not for the faint of heart!

Petra Schwille

Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

Petra is a dedicated high flyer that simply loves her work (and her music, for which there is little she cannot play to concert level!). We chat about how she was given very little PhD supervision but encouraged to simply explore.

We also discuss her time in the USA before returning to Germany where she has become a Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry.

Not only high flying at work, Petra also has a head for heights that she reveals as we talk about raising and balancing family life, her hobbies which include climbing and yes…music! Watch/listen to this ‘classical’ podcast.

Jeff W. Lichtman

Harvard University

From Cajal to Google, networks to solve networks! Jeff is another person who does not stop innovating and exploiting new technology. In this podcast, he talks about the first time he saw the Brainbow image, in a step-by-step manner that blew him away, through his past inspirations and today’s motivations.

With an equal passion for teaching and research, Jeff does not slow down, although he does have fun outside of work and enjoys the simple pleasures of morning dog walks and good Italian food.

Dan Davis

The University of Manchester

In this episode, Dan talks about how he developed his career, including the real motivation to becoming a Professor at Imperial at such a young age.

Starting out as a Physicist, Dan made a remarkable and fast switch in careers to which he attributes much of his success. Sometimes a passion coupled with early naivety can be the perfect starting point. Dan also discusses balancing being a father, husband, scientist, and popular book author. I wish I had asked him what he preferred, starring in book festivals or headlining science conferences!

Lucy Collinson

The Francis Crick Institute

Lucy Collinson has been at the forefront of 3D volume and correlated electron microscopy since setting up the internationally renowned facilities at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute and now The Francis Crick Institute.

In this episode, Peter O’Toole discusses not only Lucy being a leading light in her field and her motivations, but uncovers some of Lucy’s more obscure passions. Not to give too much away, but surfing and being a dedicated Eurovision fan are just elements worth listening for. While the episode isn’t just about work, it was great to hear about how Lucy’s career developed and how she became so successful.

Hari Shroff

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Young, successful and still so disarming. In this episode, Hari Shroff (NIH) reveals what it was like to work in the exciting area of super-resolution microscopy during its infancy, and discusses working in the early days of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus.

Hari discusses his latest work and the efforts that go behind such a high impact publication while also talking about the advice and patience he needed when setting up his own lab. Unwittingly, Hari and Peter O’Toole’s paths came very close as Hari spent some of his youth in Peter’s city of Birmingham in the UK, which unfortunately was not the place that it is thankfully now.

Scott E. Fraser

University of Southern California

It would be fair to say that Scott Fraser has influenced the microscopy community more than most. As the person behind the Meta detector, he made a massive impact on the microscopy community and is now seeing these adaptations being adopted in other fields again. But how did Scott find himself in such a position? It appears as though his coffee machine is the answer behind most inventions!

This episode reveals just how personable Scott is, along with his natural humility. Scott also shows his softer side, as he is joined by his new kittens in his Rudolf Schindler house (worth tuning in for itself!). He also discusses how he has had to improvise and invent new gadgets to protect his home-made amps from his new kittens.

Ricardo Henriques

Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência

There’s no doubt that Ricardo’s career so far has been stellar. He’s moved up the career ladder at lightning speed, starting his own group in 2013, following only a brief postdoc, to holding a professorial position and starting another lab at IGC. This is especially impressive given that his original BSc was in physics!

In this episode, Ricardo reveals how imposter syndrome can affect anyone, with his thoughts and feelings on his first day as a group leader at UCL. We also see Ricardo’s more light-hearted side, including dressing up as Batman at a monthly UCL cocktail hour (pictures included) and how playing with lego can help overcome grant rejection.

Alison North & Kurt Anderson

Rockefeller University & Francis Crick Institute

Ever wonder how people end up working in a core facility? You are about to find out. In this show, Peter O’Toole welcomes Alison North from the Rockefeller University in New York and Kurt Anderson from the Francis Crick Institute in London. Alison, originally from the UK, now works in the USA, while Kurt is from the USA but now works in the UK. So there’s an interesting dynamic to this interview!

Both Alison and Kurt are internationally renowned in the world of microscopy, but neither started out with a passion for microscopes and nor did their current roles even exist when they were in their early postdoc days. They talk about their early careers, getting established, and how they balance work with outside life. They share their interests, from Kayaking to serious mountain biking, supporting rival baseball teams, and discuss Alison’s extraordinary collection of New York Yankee caps and tops.

Jason Swedlow

University of Dundee

In this episode, Peter O’Toole chats to Jason Swedlow of the University of Dundee, whose open-source tools are revolutionising microscopy. While Peter has known Jason for many years, this was a great opportunity to find out more about Jason on a personal level including his decision to stop competitive road cycling through to his travels around the world.

Taking a rest from being a leading jet setter, Jason is now enjoying lockdown and more time with his family while also still driving forward many international initiatives and balancing his research and company interests.

Catch Jason at home and hear about what motivates him. You’ll discover some great tips and tricks for getting to the top, as well as hear about his first microscope experiences!

Tony Wilson

University of Oxford

Step into a brief history of how the confocal microscope came to be! Peter O’Toole chats with one of the pioneers of the confocal microscope: Tony Wilson from the University of Oxford.

Wearing his cowboy hat and boots throughout the interview, Tony talks about his passion for cattle, his Jaguar and Yorkshire cricket, and how finding life scientists to try this ‘new’ technique was not as simple as you may now think.

It is an intriguing insight into the trials and tribulations of transforming a concept into a ubiquitous technique without which (arguably) several Nobel prizes may never have come to be. Beyond the confocal microscope, Tony also talks about the tribulations and opportunities he experienced in creating a spin-out company. This is a fascinating chat that captures the person and the science behind such vital developments in the world of microscopy.

Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

Join this informal chat with Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Beyond kayaking to work and a passion for plants, Jennifer explains how she became interested in Biology from her time teaching in Africa, and how she was fortunate enough in her early career to work alongside some of the true giants of cell biology.

Very few cell biologists have had so many major impacts on the field, and underpinning most of her work was the use of the microscope, with many discoveries going hand-in-hand with the development of microscopy itself.

Jennifer shares some great stories as to how these developments came about, what it is like to work in the Janelia Research Campus and how to Kayak to work (hint: don’t do it in the dark!).

More episodes will be released every two weeks. Follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, or via RSS feed and stay tuned for inspiring guests!