Meet the very first Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award recipient

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Pictured left to right:  Astrid Pilla, Founder of the Arthur Pilla Research Foundation, Esin Sözer, First Young Scientist Award winner and Dr. Nam Kim, President of BEMS

The very first Annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award winner was announced on June 10, 2016 in Ghent, Belgium during the joint Annual BioEM2016 meeting between the Bioelectromagnetics Society (BEMS) and the European BioElectromagnetics Association (EBEA).   Esin Sözer, a postdoctoral research scientist in the Nanoscale Bioelectrical Physics laboratory at the Old Dominion University Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics in Norfolk, VA, presented her poster entitled Transmembrane voltage and small molecule transport after 6 ns electropermeabilization and won over the judges with her clear, outstanding presentation and findings.

I consider myself very lucky to have met such a bright young scientist and know Dr. Pilla would have been thrilled to see her enthusiasm and passion in her field.  Here are excerpts from two interviews I had with Ms. Sözer, via Skype and email:

Astrid:  Congratulations, Esin!  I am thrilled that you won the very first Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award!  I am glad we were able to speak briefly before catching your flight back home from Gent!  
Esin:  Thank you so much.  I am thrilled to have received this award and want to thank you and your family for your support- it truly means a lot and it will help me very much in being able to present my research and travel to meetings such as this one.
Astrid: What brought you into the field of Bioelectromagnetics?
Esin: I was introduced to Bioelectrics during my Ph.D. at Dr. Martin Gundersen’s Pulsed Power group at the University of Southern California in 2008. My current supervisor Dr. Tom Vernier was working with Dr. Gundersen and I thought it was very cool. But my actual participation in the field started when I was offered the current post-doctoral position at Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics by Tom. I moved to Norfolk from Los Angeles after finishing another postdoc in accelerator physics at UCLA in 2014. The intersection of biology and physics has always been fascinating to me; I was very happy to learn I really enjoyed the research in this field and did not mind spending few extra hours in the lab if necessary. It is a blessing to work daily on things that stimulate and excite me.
Astrid: What is the first thing you think of when you hear Dr. Arthur Pilla’s name? 
Esin: My history in bioelectrics is relatively short, since 2014, and this was my very first BioEM meeting in 2016.  But I do know Dr. Pilla has done work in bone repair using electrical stimulation. I am grateful to his legacy and family for supporting young scientists. Young scientists, especially post-docs, often work long hours with very modest income, but we are driven to study, discover and share science. Awards like this are certainly very beneficial as a reminder that our efforts are being recognized and appreciated.
Astrid: How did you come up with the idea for your winning study, “Transmembrane Voltage and Small Molecule Transport after 6 ns Electropermeabilization”
Esin: I have been doing experiments trying to measure molecular transport into cells after very small electrical pulse exposures. I wanted to do very precise quantitative measurements so that we can compare the results to theoretical calculations and simulations. I tried using different molecules to do these measurements and noticed very different behavior in how much different molecules of similar size go into the cells. This gave us the idea that molecular transport into cells after electric field exposure is not only dependent on the size of molecules but also there can be some active cellular mechanisms that are contributing based on the charge of the molecules. This idea was not investigated before, and traditional understanding of mechanisms assumed the size of the molecule to be the main determining factor for transport amount.
Astrid: In terms of your conclusion, what do your findings mean to the scientific community?   What could they mean to patients and the public?
Esin: As we understand molecular transport due to electrical pulse exposure (electroporation) better, we have more chance to develop technologies that can deliver specific therapeutic agents into cells. Current electroporation-based technologies utilize purely empirical protocols in the clinic. Clinicians and scientists, we all would like to expand our understanding how these technologies work at a cellular level and improve our predictive capability of if/when they might fail, so we can be more beneficial to patients and the public.
Announcement of Esin’s achievement on the Frank Reidy Old Dominion University post-doctoral website.

The second Annual Arthur Pilla Young Scientist Award will take place at the BioEM2017 Meeting in Hangzhou, China June 5-9,2017. Don’t forget to make your contribution to the Arthur Pilla Research Foundation to support young scientists at this annual event! Donate today!
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