Introducing Maxim Molodtsov, biophysicist and new group leader

We recently welcomed four new group leaders with backgrounds in physics, chemistry and computer science. Meet Maxim Molodtsov, a new group leader who will be using his training as a physicist to study the forces at play inside cells.

Tell us a bit about how you started in your field.

I originally trained as a physicist but I’ve always been interested in biophysics specifically. I studied theoretical physics during my undergraduate degree and used my computational skills to build a simulation of cells’ microtubules. It was designed to test our theory that the force generated by microtubules is dependent on their length.

The simulation worked so well that we actually proved our original theory completely wrong, but we were able to use it to predict the force that microtubules actually do generate.

During my PhD at the University of Colorado Boulder, I used a very focused laser or an ‘optical trap’ to study forces generated by individual microtubules and see if the experimental results matched the theoretical results I’d found in my undergraduate degree – and they did!

What will you be working on while you’re at the Crick?

I started my research career studying microtubules but since then, I’ve become interested more broadly in how cells physically organise themselves and their genomes. 

I knew that I would be surrounded by interesting and distinguished colleagues and that I would be able to learn from the vibrant science already happening here. 

My main interest at the moment is examining the forces that operate within cells and seeing how these mechanisms that generate and sense forces interact with one another. It’s currently a field that is limited by the tools available so physics can tackle these ‘biological’ problems really effectively. 

It’s a fantastic opportunity to do something really important and contribute new information to a developing area of science.

What prompted your move here?

It was a combination of different things. But essentially, the Crick provided a good environment for research. I knew that I would be surrounded by interesting and distinguished colleagues and that I would be able to learn from the vibrant science already happening here. 

I found the support for physical scientists who are applying their skills to biomedical research really valuable. It gave me a chance to kick-start my projects which I might not have been offered in other institutions. 

The opportunity for connections and collaboration also really appealed to me. Part of the reason why I became a scientist is because I enjoy the scientific community and I’m fascinated by the people who work at the Crick. 

What have been your first impressions of the Crick?

Fantastic! People have been so helpful. I really appreciate that everyone is focused on getting you up and running. 

I really value having a joint appointment with UCL. Through their physics and astronomy department, I can work closely with the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) and make the most of the resources and expertise there. Between the Crick and the UCL, I should be in a great position to do biophysics.

How is setting up your lab going?

I haven’t been here very long but I’m hitting the ground running. I’m currently working on getting the equipment that I’ll need. I’m going to have two optical tables in the Crick’s basement. I’ll be using one of them for in vitro studies and the other one to develop new approaches for making measurements in cells. This will eventually be used to understand how the individual mechanisms that we study in vitro work together in cells.

At the same time, I'm working on putting my group together. It’s an interesting challenge to make sure that your group has the right mix of expertise. You need a range of complementary skills to tackle the problems that I’m interested in and I’m looking forward to building the group and working with new people.

What job would you be doing in an alternate universe?

I’m not sure, I would definitely still be interested in finding out about myself and learning how the world works. You can do that in so many different ways! I could be a monk, a musician…

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