Written by Nóra Lehotai and Kai Ehrenbolger.
Kai joined MIMS in August 2019 to start his PhD career in the lab of Jonas Barandun, who was a freshly recruited MIMS group leader that time. Kai moved to Umeå from Basel, Switzerland, to improve his cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) skills and to have an adventure abroad.
Picture: Kai Ehrenbolger in front of the new Glacios microscope at UCEM. Credit: Himanshu Sharma.
Can you tell us about your role at MIMS, what are you working on now?
Kai is a PhD student in the Barandun lab, focusing on microsporidia, a single cellular fungal parasite. Microsporidia are considered a major ecological and economical problem only little is known about their molecular landscape.
“I work with the structural biology part of the research, using cryo-EM I tried to generate a better understanding of the structure function relationship in this unique mechanism. I am also involved in smaller projects and collaborations, which are about macromolecular complexes, solved by cryo-EM. I grab every opportunity to use cryo-EM and develop my skills and contribute to science.”
Kai praises the electron microscope facility at Umeå University, UCEM. He especially appreciates that it is an above ground facility and there are windows!
“I recently got training for their newly established Glacios screening cryo-electron microscope. The facility offered to a small group of independent users, including some people from the Barandun lab as well, to learn how to manage the new microscope directly from the engineers installing the equipment. It was a very valuable session.”
This microscope is a big improvement and will allow more people to use the facility and a better scheduling of work.
What were you doing before you joined MIMS and what attracted you to start a position here?
“I studied in Basel, Switzerland. I did first a bachelor's in molecular biology, then a master in biophysics and structural biology.”
Kai tells me that the master program is quite different in Basel, more like a 1,5-2-year long practical study where you get your own project, and you work hands-on.
“Like a mini-PhD, he says. It was great to experience and get to know that I am indeed interested in the field and would like to continue.”
For his PhD, he was looking for a place with a cryo-EM facility and a young, talented group leader who he can get along with well socially throughout his PhD years.
“My boss was in Jonas’ PhD committee. However, how I got to know about the open position in his group, happened via a common friend in Boston. When Jonas got the MIMS Group Leader position here in Umeå, this common friend called me and said that he is looking for group members, so I should apply.”
Kai could choose from several fellowships, but he liked the position with Jonas the most.
“I was the first person joining his group. It was very nice to experience how the group grew, got more and more equipment and became a well-functioning bigger community. I wanted to work with a young PI and experience this as well, see how it is done.”
Picture: Road-trip through Europe in a freshly renovated 1986 VW T3 (Algarve Portugal). Credit Gian Reto Brouwer.
If you would not have your current profession, what do you think you would be doing?
“Handcraft, probably goldsmith, answers Kai. I am coming from a family of handymen. I am the first one who chose a different path.”
He did several pre-/apprenticeships before high school, and almost became a carpenter, actually.
What do you do in your free time and what are you most enjoying in living in Umeå, Sweden?
“I climb, snowshoe, hike, cross-country skie. Åre is nice for snowboarding. I like going to Iksu, enjoying sport activities there with friends.“
And what does he enjoy living in Sweden?
“I like that you can be out and about without bumping constantly into people . You also easily reach nature, and you are in peace. The Northern lights are special, of course.
Picture: Enjoying the mountains either on a snowboard (Allalin by Saas-Fee Switzerland; left / right; ) or by foot (Aletschgletscher - Great Aletsch Glacier; middle). Credits: left Markus Huber, middle Kai Ehrenbolger, right Francesca Mangia.
Is there a little known/interesting fact about yourself?
“I enjoy restoring old timers, fixing cars.”
Kai is also a passionate scuba diver.
“My Dad is a licensed scuba instructors, so I started very young. I usually go on trips to places which are good for diving. A nice reef, a beach, decent warm weather, you don’t need anything else.”
Madagascar and the Seychelles are on Kai’s wish list for diving.
Picture: Diving in one of his favorite spots so far, Panglao Philippines. He also picked up a little underwater photography through the years. Credits: middle Gérard Ehrenbolger, left and right Kai Ehrenbolger.