Biophysical Society Bulletin | July-August 2022

Biophysicist in Profile

Irep Gözen Area of Research Biomembranes and their behavior at the mesoscale

Institution University of Oslo


Ever since her undergraduate studies in environmental engineering and molecular biology and genetics, Irep Gözen has been drawn to interdisciplinary research. She was introduced to biophysics and soft matter science while earning her PhD, and it caught her interest. Her research group has several research directions linked through the concept of soft matter, including most recently the formation and development pathways of protocells at the origin of life.

Irep Gözen

Irep Gözen grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, and stayed in the city to pursue her undergraduate degree at Istanbul Technical University. She earned her bachelor’s degree with a double major in environmental engineering and molecular biology and genetics. “I had the experience of applying the scientific method for the first time during my bachelor’s thesis work, which was about waste characterization and treatment. I was routinely performing analytical experiments, looked at lots of data, wrote my lab journal, etc.,” she shares. “I moved to biophysics and soft matter science during my PhD studies and have never left it since.” She earned her PhD in Biophysical Chemistry from Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, Sweden. “I was intro duced to biomembranes, and the biophysical and materials science aspects of their behavior, during my PhD work,” she says. “I discovered unusual, really beautiful rupture patterns on artificial and cellular lipid membranes. It turned out they were also very interesting, similar in structure and dynamics to cracks in solid materials, all the way up to the size scale of earthquakes.” Following the completion of her PhD, Gözen started a post doctoral position at the MIT-Harvard Health Sciences and Technology Division, where she worked on cryopreservation of cells and cellular membranes. “I very much liked the science in Boston,” she explains, “and spent the following two years of my postdoc at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where my project was about the internal dynamics of artificial cells.” Gözen is now a group leader at the University of Oslo in Nor way. “My group has a few different research directions, but all are linked through the concept of soft matter,” she shares. “Most recently my group has become interested in formation and development pathways of protocells at the origin of life. We look particularly at autonomous shape transformations of primitive cell models on various artificial and natural surfaces

—such as minerals and rocks—with early Earth relevance.” As part of this research, they have even studied extraterres trial solid surfaces, such as a meteorite specimen from Mars. Moving into the role of group leader has been the most difficult part of her career thus far. “My current position has certainly been the most challenging. I started with the ideal istic idea that having original research ideas and knowing how to address them would be the key to success as a principal investigator. I found out quickly that this is only one of the many essential components,” Gözen reveals. “Setting up a laboratory from scratch, hiring team members, training them on experimental methods, continuously fundraising, teaching and other service for the faculty, and lots of other things. It was intense to handle these alone in the beginning; things got easier after I had assembled my team.” Gözen emphasizes the extent to which technological devel opments have a strong influence on the development of new areas of biophysical research. “The development of micro- and nanofabrication technologies definitely had an impact on my research,” she explains. “For the immediate future I will continue to employ them and make and manipulate interfaces with atomic precision to learn more about membrane behav ior, particularly in the context of the origin of life. Surfaces were abundant on the early Earth, and there is increasing ev idence that they may have contributed to the transition from the non-living to the living world.” The breadth of biophysics has made the field a great fit for her. “It’s truly inter- and transdisciplinary. I realized early that you cannot have the full picture if you don’t look at the prob lem from the angles of biology, physics, materials science, theory, modeling, and more,” she says. “The many different instrumental techniques, often used to cope with the small scale of the things we work on, add a good share of engi neering and technology. This is challenging at times, but it is inspiring, rewarding, and a lot of fun.”

July-August 2022



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