Explorathon ’18, PechaKucha Aberdeen

Chiara Talia

Hello everybody!
As an Early Stage Researcher on the PROTECTED (Protection Against Endocrine Disruptors) Project – I have come to appreciate the importance and value of communicating about science in a way that is more meaningful to the diverse range of audiences/publics we must engage with. Our international project ultimately is about world health and well-being, and exploring the links between potentially dangerous chemicals and illnesses such as cancer, obesity, diabetes or infertility. These issues affect everyone. In that way our scientific research is important but equally so is the need to find new methods of telling our story, revealing our findings and sharing our results so ordinary people can understand and benefit from it.

PROTECTED has given us new insight into the communications tools available to us. At our June summer school at Queen’s University, Belfast we underwent media training in preparation for a social media video campaign that has recently run on Facebook and Twitter. It pushed us all out of our comfort zone but it was great to learn about the tools and tactics behind communications that will help us talk about our work now and in the future

For that reason, I want to share another experience with public engagement I had in Aberdeen at the European Researchers’ Night; a Europe-wide public event dedicated to popular science and fun learning involving 300 cities and taking place every year at the end of September. Among a range of other events, I chose to give a presentation ‘Tokyo Style’ at a PechaKucha Night because it really captured my imagination.

PechaKucha is ‘the art of concise presentation.’ It is a simple format using 20 automatically switching images every 20 seconds for a total of six minutes and 40 seconds. The ingenious idea was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 at an event for young designers to meet, network and show their work in public. The idea has now gone viral and takes place in over 1,000 cities across the world. PechaKucha nights are informal and fun gatherings where people of all kinds and backgrounds get together and share ideas, work and thoughts.

This was my first attempt and it was definitely challenging especially time managing the slides which change every 20 seconds without control. The format might appear simple but it takes a huge amount of work, thinking and creativity to get the right balance between time, content, pictures and engagement with the public. I really enjoyed the experience and will definitely do it again. I would strongly encourage everyone to try it at least once. It’s not only great fun but also helps to provide new perspectives on your research. Have you ever thought how you would communicate a very difficult concept with only one picture and against a ticking clock?

PechaKucha is not just about presenting amazing results and publications; it is also about the love of science and the genuine excitement to be had from sharing what you do in new and innovative ways. I think it is important to present science passionately and in a way that excites others. Sometimes we forget but this is important to remember. To find out more my presentation will be uploaded on in the weeks ahead.



The leap into PhD life

It is almost the end of the year, and mid-term of the PROTECTED project. I have to admit that I struggled finding a topic for this ESR blog’s article. So I decided to take a look back at this first half of my PhD, to review everything I achieved, all the opportunities I had, all the people I met and last but not least, remember all the experiments that didn’t work as expected. But you know what we say, when the lift breaks, just take the stairs! :) Overall, if I had to choose one feeling to sum up this year it would be: grateful.

The leap into PhD life can be tricky and intimidating, new methods, new way of working/thinking and last but not least for PROTECTED ESRs: new country. However the beauty of our project is that we don’t undertake these big changes on our own. Mazia left warm Pakistan for rainy United Kingdom, Vittoria moved from her beloved Italy to Norway, her new love, while Solomon learned how to fish in Chile and Chiara… You can learn more about her project on the ESRs page! ( My point is: whereas we are all spread out within Europe facing all kind of challenges, we are experimenting and sharing this new situation together and I think that it is an amazing feeling

In October, we had the chance to meet other PhD students from “classic” PhD programs. It was a real pleasure to meet new people especially in the scientific area, the conversations are always interesting and valuable. We shared a lot about our work and future prospects, and really enjoyed spending some time together. The topic which struck me the most was the difference in training from an ITN to a normal track. While most students present their work once or twice in their PhD, we have the major opportunity to attend many conferences all over Europe and get to deepen our knowledge at various summer school.

We are doing our best at work, learning a lot at the same time, preparing a PhD for our future and still get the chance to visit new countries as a group of friends. That is a great opportunity! In December, PROTECTED ESRs will meet again in Oslo for two weeks. We will learn more about statistics, ethics and zebrafish handling, and give updates regarding our personal projects. I am looking forward learning more about everyone’s progress and hope to get exciting feedback on mine! See you there everyone!

Last but not least, I would like to share with you some of our group pictures to summarize 2018!
Thanks for reading, stay tuned!




It’s me, from the far North!

I would like to tell you about my first Norwegian weekend outside Oslo!

I joined the running group of my Institute (Norwegian Veterinary Institute, as you remember…maybe!) for something called “cabin trip”: it’s just run away from the crowded city to reach these comfortable small houses, made almost entirely by wood, located in the middle of nowhere…just fresh air, food and peace for the brain!
The Institute usually rents a cabin that employees can book and use both during winter to go skiing, or maybe to spend a nice weekend hiking and exploring nature, like we did in the end of this summer.

I come from a quiet and really green part of Italy, so these peaceful landscapes are not new for me. But I could appreciate the power they had on my mind and soul: just 48h disconnected from the routine of a PhD student life living abroad, popped out in the perfect moment. I recharged batteries and learnt something new about Norwegian habits. It has been, even if it sounds weird, the first time for me in Norway outside Oslo…around 200km far from the city, on the hills of Uvdal…the first one, but not the last one, of course!

Keep in touch!




Hello! Here we are again!
Some news from the PROTECTED family! We recently spent three amazing days in Toulouse (France) for a Food Toxicology course at INRA (National Institute of Agricultural Research).
Researchers from Toxalim (Food toxicology group) shared their experiences and knowledge with us: another great step on our education as Early Stage Researchers. We had the opportunity to attend several lectures about intestinal toxicology, -omics and biomarkers research, gut microbiota, methodological aspects and biological relevance of combined toxicity studies, just to give some examples.

I am a chemist and even if my background does not always allow me to deeply understand all these topics, I think it is a big chance to have inputs from fields just a little bit outside my set path. Curiosity and an opened mind are must - have skills of a good scientist. Sharing ideas and meeting people from different backgrounds were again the strength of the ITN (Innovative Training Network).

Toulouse is a charming city, full of history and life. We could also enjoy sunny days walking around together. Now we are more than colleagues. We are friends!

I was definitely really happy to be there also because of my photographic passion. I recently bought a new camera, so which better occasion than that to start to play with it?  I would like to share with you some pictures!

Au revoir!



Wacky Science event

Oluwatobi Kolawole

Hello everyone!
My name is Oluwatobi Kolawole and I am one of the Early-Stage Researchers on the “Protection against Endocrine Disruptors” (PROTECTED) project.
In August 2018, Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group hosted a science event for children as part of Gasyard Felie 2018 programme in Derry/Londonderry. QUB PROTECTED team participated in the fun-filled entertaining science show, with lots of wacky and interactive science experiments that made hundreds of children laughed out loud and increased their passion to pursue science.

During the event, I had an opportunity to explain to the children vital roles vitamin C play in our body, sources and rapid way to detect vitamin C in food. Importantly, I acted as a food fraud detector by demonstrating/supervising the kids on how to determine if the various vitamin C drinks bought from stores actually contain vitamin C or not. Briefly, I allowed the kids to pipette an aliquot of their vitamin C drinks into bottles containing 1 ml of blue iodine solution (prepared by adding iodine solution to starch). If the blue solution turns colourless, it indicates presence of vitamin C in drinks as claimed by the store-keeper however the absence of any rapid colour change shows lack of vitamin C in drink. Interestingly, children with drinks without vitamins C (no colour change) went back angrily to the store keepers to express their displeasure and requested for a refund or another genuine vitamin C drink. This created great enmity between the store keepers and I, as they experienced low patronage.

Aside from the vitamin C testing, the children were also very curious to know the chemistry behind the dramatic colour change. Some of the comments uttered by the kids include “wow”, “I would like to be a scientist in the future”, “so interesting” and “I love science” Other fantastic experiments performed by our group include mixing bicarbonate soda and vinegar to make CO2, running food dyes on chromatography paper, Rubik’s cube puzzle game and hologram.
The event ended with a lovely Irish dance and good food!

Subsequently, we made a quick tour around the beautiful city of Derry/Londonderry. We went to the peace bridge, which is an amazing piece of engineering (a self-anchored suspension bridge) across the River Foyle. The bridge is about 235 metres, connecting the two sides of the River Foyle with a couple of places to sit, to take in the beauty of both the bridge and the river.

Furthermore, we walked the walled city of Derry/Londonderry which is known to be one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The walls are approximately 1.5 km in circumference and provide an opportunity to view the layout of the city. There are seven gates to the walled city which vary in width between 12 and 35 feet with 24 cannons which are displayed throughout the city walls. Also, there are murals painted on the sides of buildings with historical event that occurred in the area. It is worth seeing if you ever find yourself in Ireland, Northern Ireland or Belfast. Kudos to the organisers of the event, Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group and PROTECED coordinator Dr Lisa Connolly.



11th- BioDetectors conference- Aachen, Germany

Hi all!

My name is Mazia and I’m from Pakistan, working on “ProtectED” project at Queen’s University Belfast, UK. Being part of such a broad and multinational project constantly provides us with opportunities to attend conferences and meet experts from all around the world. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend BioDetectors Conference at Super C, RWTH Aachen, Germany. This conference was organised by Biodetection systems (BDS) Amsterdam, who are also partners in “ProtectED” project.

This conference covered a variety of topics such as safety of plastic packaging in food and medical instruments, bioactivity in drinking water, to detection of dioxins in food and chicken egg. Novel detection methods for toxicants and pharmaceutical products in environment were also discussed. All in all, it was a great opportunity to know about EDC’s detection strategies used by different research groups and companies.

In addition, a social event/dinner organised on the first day of conference was one of a kind. It was a typical German dinner in a revolving restaurant on 9th floor of water tower Belverde. This tower was originally built in 1956 and the restaurant was opened to the public in 2012 after being closed for several years. The view of Aachen City and the sunset from the top of the tower was absolutely amazing.

Summary: Good conference, good food, good company, happy days! Here are some of the pictures from the conference, until next time.




Congress of Environmental Pollution and Toxicology 2018

¡Hola a todos!
Last June, after the Summer School I stayed in Belfast for my first Secondment at Queen’s University. It was a great experience for me. I must say that I am deeply grateful with everyone there! Professionally it was a month of constant learning and personally it was great to share very special moments outside the Lab with the other PhD students.

Then, it was time to get back to Valencia, since I had planned to attend to a Conference in Madrid from 11th to 13th of July. The 11th Iberian and 8th Ibero-American Congress of Environmental Pollution and Toxicology (CICTA) was organized by the Ibero-American Society of Environmental Pollution and Toxicology and took place at the Superior Technical School of Forestry Engineers of the Madrid Polytechnic University. The theme of the conference was the “Environmental protection in a global changing world: technological, scientific and social challenges”.

The opening conference given by Dr. Helmut Segner was titled “The vertebrate immune system as a target of endocrine disrupting compounds” and the topic of endocrine disruption was continuously addressed in several sessions during the event. It was a unique experience to exchange and meet many researchers in our field. Also, I had the opportunity to give an Oral Presentation at the “Animal replacement for an efficient environmental assessment” session, where several questions regarding the application of alternative methods challenged me and provided me excellent feedbacks and suggestions from more experienced and respected scientists.

I am looking forward to see you all in Aachen!

¡Hasta pronto, buen verano!



EUROTOX 2018 – Toxicology Out of The Box

29 September ~ Chiara Talia

I am happy to share with you another great experience. After Liverpool and the Faroe Islands, this time I travelled to Brussels, Belgium where I attended the 54th Congress of the European Societies of Toxicology (EUROTOX 2018) from 2 to 5 September. More than 1,400 participants from 61 nations and 67 exhibitors took part, with about 750 abstracts submitted. EUROTOX offered attractive lectures and sessions with well-balanced inputs from academia, industry and also regulators. I also had the opportunity to present my work with an oral presentation titled “In utero exposure to cigarette smoke and NAFLD pathways: sex and age specific effects in the human foetus” in the short oral communication session “Models, AOP, Regulatory toxicology and Epidemiology”. The conference took place in the Square Meeting Centre, a great venue located in the heart of Brussels. So I also had the chance to go around the city, and as you can see from the picture, the “Grand Place” really deserves the title of one of the most beautiful squares in the world! Furthermore, I was really curious about trying “Pommes Frites”, the traditional Belgian fries and I have to admit that I definitely had the best fries of my life!



Toulouse ~ The Pink City

Tarek Lahjouji

My name is Tarek LAHJOUJI from Morocco, member of the innovative training network (ITN) of the "PROTECTED" project. Currently, I have been living in Toulouse, capital of Occitanian, one of romantic and wonderful city, which is located in the South of France. It is known as the Pink City (Rose City), renowned for its atmosphere where life is good and its history thanks to its important architectural and artistic heritage. I have been here to pursue my PhD thesis at the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA), in the team of Biosynthesis & Toxicity of Mycotoxins, A unit made of a team that continues to accumulate success in this area. Joining this project has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of people and colleagues from several nationalities with whom I share great motivations to acquire more expertise and to realize more and more experiences.

For the PROTECTED project, several kinds of events are programmed, conferences, summer schools and courses in several other countries a part of France. The mobilities that I have done so far, allowed me to explore new countries, discover new cultures, and develop my linguistic and communication skills. All these facts have helped me to make a new relational and professional network. Likewise, all above mentioned, inspired me through the different ideas and the several themes tackled. During the last week of May 2018, I had a chance to attend the “Summit on Global Food Integrity”, that took place in Belfast, Ireland a city that has welcomed me with a great opportunity to participate in a lighting talks session, by presenting a short presentation of my thesis project to the participants. They include a research study about a group of mycotoxins and their effects on the intestines. However, it was my first but everlasting experience in such intervention. I enjoyed the experience and got the confidence that I am capable to participate and attend more and more whenever an opportunity arises.



A beautiful start


I am Solomon Alhassan and an Early Stage Researcher with the PROTECTED consortium and currently realizing a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology at the Universidad Austral de Chile.

Becoming part of a multidisciplinary, International collaboration with fifteen highly motivated early stage researchers and a network of very experienced investigators as mentors studying endocrine disruptors in various contexts has been so far an exhilarating experience.

I arrived in Valdivia, Chile in late January, the middle of the southern summer. Right from the Airport, you would be more than impressed with the hills and winding rivers that are a feature of Southern Chile. Besides amazing scenery which includes an endless view of the Pacific with long clean beaches, Valdivia has an interesting history and the distinction of having experienced the most powerful earthquake to have been recorded in a city. The effects of the 9.5 Magnitude earthquake is still visible in the region's landscape. Valdivia is a city of rivers and effectively combines it strong European heritage with pleasant latin American vibes.

My first task was registering with the City council and getting introduced to the Lab. While I had spoken with him online after my interview and selection it was really nice finally meeting Dr (c) Guillermo Valenzuela in person. Like Prof Gudrun Kausel (everyone calls her Gudy or GK, I am still getting used to this) he is one of the brightest, nicest and down-the-earth fellows you’d meet. He gave me a tour of the University and got me to meet people.

I am currently in the preliminary stages of my research which involves identifying new biomarkers to environmental estrogen exposure in carp (an excellent sentinel species). The novelty is that we hope to identify and characterize these in exosomes which are beginning to gain some attention in toxicology not just for their roles in cell-cell communication in different physiologic contexts but also serve as a possible mechanism for cellular waste disposal. We hope our findings will advance the field and become a useful method for less invasive and highly sensitive detection of environmental EDCs.



Language, Lunch & Weather


My name is Bérénice and I am based at BioDetection Systems (BDS) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am an early-stage researcher (ESR) from the PROTECTED project but also a part of this big adventure common for all ESRs: expatriation.

To pursue my scientific career, I decided to just turn the French flag to 90 degrees! Moving to the ‘Kingdom of the Low Countries’ was quite challenging even though it’s not that far from France. Let me explain!

First, the language! Dutch is really hard to understand, however you might find it easier if you have some German basis… which I don’t BUT if you listen very carefully, you can spot some French words 😊 Thankfully, 87% of Dutch people speak English as a second language and they are really good at it!

Second, lunch! Light lunch, early dinner… when it comes to food there are quite some particularities! In France we are used to take our time to eat, relax during lunch time, have a nice meal with fruits maybe a dessert… Forget about it! At noon in the Netherlands Dutch people will just grab a simple sandwich and go back to work - which I find really impressive. As a consequence, Dutch families can start eating dinner around or even before 6pm!

Last but not least, the weather! Don’t get me wrong, it is not always rainy in the Netherlands and they do have some really hot days during summer time. They also have wind, like anywhere else you might say. Here we are not talking about the classic breeze but about a strong wind ripping through the entire country! It is a direct consequence of having such a flat land but also a great advantage regarding wind power and sustainable energy 😊

Overall all these points might be challenging at first sight but they are also the reasons why living as an expat is that interesting and exciting!

Thanks for reading, stay tuned!



Summer school in Belfast


During the 1st week of June, our first Summer School took place in Belfast. Before the summer school and during the last week of May we had the chance to attend the ASSET summit which took place also in Belfast. It was the first time that all of us ESRs were together for 2 weeks and we had the opportunity to get to know each other better. I enjoyed spending time with all the ESRs both during the lectures and our free time. I also got to know Belfast a bit more, walking around the city and learning some historical aspects of the city by our guides. The tour was organized as a part of the Summer school and we also got to know about the traditional music and dancing of Ireland.

We also had the extreme luck to visit the Titanic museum after hours during the Gala dinner organized by the ASSET Summit and indulge ourselves in good artisan food and drinks in St George’s market.

Now I am back in Norway, enjoying the good weather and going to the ocean for swimming and sunbathing, enjoying it while it last!

I look forward in seeing all of you again in the next Summer (or maybe we should call it Winter) school in December in Oslo! Be sure to bring your warm clothes and pack some Vitamin D!

God sommer!!!




PPTOX is a globally recognized conference that gathers together scientists from all over the world working in the field on Environmental Toxicology (from both basic science and epidemiological perspective) with a special focus on prenatal programming and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This was a great opportunity for me and my fellow PROTECTed ESR, Anteneh Desalegn, to learn more on ongoing research about endocrine disruptors, make connections and develop new ideas. Anteneh presented the poster “Early-life exposure to POPss in breast milk and autism spectrum disorder in HUMIS-NOMIC cohort”. My talk was titled “In utero exposure to cigarette smoke is associated with age and sex specific changes in NAFLD pathway”. We both received very positive feedback and interest from the attending scientists. The next PPTOX conference will take place in Chicago in 2020 and we hope we will be able to attend it!



Cells, mosquitos and PhD in Amsterdam

Hoi iedereen! - Hi all!

I’m Clémence, ESR14 of the ProtectED project and one of the two ESR based at BioDetection Systems in Amsterdam. It’s the first time I’m writing an article for the blog and I would like to present you some aspects of my life in the low-lands.

Indeed, the ProtectED ITN is not only about research but also about giving us a great opportunity to take part in a rewarding scientific-related human experience.

But, *SPOILER ALERT*: I ‘m really bad at entertaining writing! However, I know a couple of cartoonists that are pretty good at summarizing the expat life and the scientist life 😊.

That being said, moving from France to the Netherlands was not a long shot but it still took me some time to fit in the Dutch lifestyle… Here are two comics that, in my opinion, summarize quite well what I have to say (credits: Click Here!):


Dutch people - You


- Hi, I’d like some mosquito repellent.
- “Jungle” formula please
- And do you sell mosquito nets?

Amsterdam in October

When I started to work in the lab at BioDetection Systems, I got introduced to cell culture, which I was not really familiar about. I think that “Cellular Scribbles” expose pretty well my relationship with cells at the beginning of my Ph.D!

That’s it for me, hope you liked the comics. Stay tuned for the next article on the ESR blog!

Doei!!! - “Goodbye!!!”


Travelling, a nice bonus from the project

I’m Que from Viet Nam, one of the early stage researchers in the PROTECTED project. One thing I really like from the project is the opportunity to go training and make connections with other people inside and outside the network. I have just completed my secondment in Valencia, Spain in March and from there headed directly for the Applied In Vitro Toxicology Course in Utrecht, the Netherlands in April. I have gained a lot from these secondments, not only scientific knowledge, but also new experiences and made new friends all over the world.

This course is organized by the European Society of Toxicology In Vitro (ESTIV) and has 25 participants specializing in different fields with the common interest in in vitro toxicology. Some of the participants work as regulatory toxicologists from public or private companies; some others, just like me, are at the beginning of their careers working as PhD students. The course is really well organized, with leading speakers from the field. We attended a social event and dinners to network with people before the course started; that helped us to become more open and connected. Indeed, such diversities, promote connections among people in different sectors and stimulate sharing knowledge. Furthermore, it gives different points of view to evaluate research in in vitro toxicology, drawing the whole picture from different angles.

I have learnt so much about legislation, i.e. OECD guidance document on Good In Vitro Method Practices (GIVIMP) and also about the updating information in in vitro toxicology, applying kinetics and stem cells, as well as the strong and weak points of applying in vitro in toxicology. It gives me a perspective for the future of applying in vitro in toxicology and also a step further to shape my PhD in general and my career in the long run.

Although I started to miss my own bed from the long travelling, I really enjoyed meeting people from different background and learnt so much about in vitro toxicology. In addition, Utrecht is a lovely city, especially in spring time, and we had a good weather there.

Now, I have come back to Liege and wait for my next journeys for SETAC conference in May, Rome, Italy and can’t wait for my next secondment in Belfast, Northern Ireland in June and July. A busy year for me but so much fun.




I am Vittoria Mallia, one of the 15 members of the PROTECTED family.

I come from Bettona, a small pretty town in the green heart of Italy. I am working on my PhD project about endocrine disrupting compounds in cyanobacteria, based at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute of Oslo. This is my 10th month here in Norway (already 10 months…it seems incredible!).

So, I could write about my work, my courses, my funny green bacterial friends…but I think it would be better to talk a bit about me and how my life has changed after this big decision to move to Norway for this important project.

Until a year ago I had never thought to move so far from home for such a long period, but life is made to surprise people. It was a great opportunity and I got it. A very small countdown and I have been catapulted into this new amazing city (maybe a little cold for an Italian warm heart).

Oslo is a dynamic city, projected into the future. It offers several opportunities and excitements. I feel both a tourist and a city dweller and I really love to live in a Capital, whilst having at the same time the forest, the sea and lakes at close distance! It is a perfect nature-urban mix!

It is not always so easy, of course. To be far from my family, my boyfriend, my amazing friends (and Italian food as well!) is hard, but it is making me stronger than I have ever been…and their love is supporting me over and over again.

To be part of this important project is a privilege and to do my best on my PhD is the main goal, however what ITN is offering me is a 360 degrees’ experience of life; to have the possibility to interact with different people, cultures, work environments, languages, cities and Countries, is a unique gift.

I am trying to get the best from everyone and everything, developing myself, learning from differences, without losing my roots. Day by day, I am becoming a little bit prouder of myself.

I am looking forward to the next meeting with my ESR-friends in less than two months. Belfast will wait for us for the first summer school and to have some fun as well!

Keep in touch!


Oranges and Sun in Valencia

Hi all,
I’m Que, from Vietnam. I am completing my PhD in the University of Liege, Belgium thanks to the Marie Curie grant in the Horizon’s 2020 Program on the Protection Against Endocrine Disruption (PROTECTED).

I like toxicology and I am keen on working with toxic chemicals like dioxins. I am currently working with the cells, trying to find the effect of a group of toxic chemicals on the gene expression.

I’m now in Valencia, Spain, for my one month secondment. I am here to learn about statistics and modellings; you know, statistics and modelling are really important for a biologist like me, but they always give me a headache even though I’ve attended a lot of courses about this before!

Thankfully, with the help from people here, especially Elizabeth Goya Jorge, I am starting to understand what I had learnt before and know how to interpret the data as well as working protein modelling. Now I feel more confident to do some simple tasks and know who I can ask when I get in trouble 

I was so excited to go to Valencia because, apart from the purpose of my secondment, I knew I would have had sun everyday there- We don’t have much good weather in Belgium!

Not only that, I love oranges and they have the best oranges ever as well.

Valencia is such a lovely city with really friendly people.

Lucky me, I was there during their biggest festival, the Fallas Click here to see more!, which was added to UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

During the festival, the city becomes so lively with the sounds and colours from fireworks “Mascletà” every day and fallas, the firecracker-filled cardboard and paper artistic monument in every street. During “L'Ofrena de flors” scheduled from 15th to 19th March, all the women and men wear beautiful traditional costumes and present offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary.

This will be my last week of my secondment, I will miss Valencia and the people here a lot.



The art of building small

Hello everyone!

My name is Elizabeth Goya Jorge, and I am living in Valencia, working at ProtoQSAR company and developing my PhD at the Universitat de València thanks to the grant of the Marie Curie financial support offered by the European Commission in the Horizon’s 2020 Program on the Protection Against Endocrine Disruption (PROTECTED). I have been in Valencia for a half year now, and I could say that I love all about my work, my colleagues, the city and the people here. I have felt like at home during this short period. The weather is great as well, we can see the sun almost every day, and it seldomly rains. I have the Mediterranean Sea very close, and Valencia has impressive places to visit and enjoy.

I would like to tell you about my first International Event experience that took place from February 21st-23rd in Blankenberge, the coast of Belgium. The name of this bi-annual event is ChemCYS and it is organized for young scientists in Chemical Sciences. It has the financial support of some prestigious entities such as IUPAC and ACS. I submitted an abstract last November, and I was very excited (and nervous) when they conceded me an Oral Presentation in the Theoretical Chemistry and Physical Session. There, I presented some of the research that we have been developing as part of PROTECTED, specifically in computational approaches to study the endocrine disruption trigged by chemical compounds.

In the first Plenary Lecture, I had the unforgettable opportunity of assisting to a talk given by the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Prof. Dr. Ben Feringa, from the University of Groningen. He showed us the far-reaching dimension that the use of nanoscience could have in the future, or, as he named it “The Art of Building Small”. Some other sessions were based on research work in several fields such as Analytical, Food, Organometallic, Macromolecular and Inorganic Chemistry, among others. A nice poster presentation in the evening complemented the scientific program. As part of the extra scientific schedule, a very interesting activity called “KaféCV” based on an informal meeting where all the participants talked to representatives from research centers and chemical industry about potential career paths as a “face to face” exchange for networking and prospects of work.

Additionally, there were seminars from multiple subjects, not only about chemistry, but also on “How to manage my online profile”, “Features and possibilities of LaTEX”, “Intellectual Property Management” and “Information about graphic representations”.

It was a great opportunity for me, professionally and personally, so, thanks to all who made it possible.

I am looking forward to seeing you all in a couple of months!



From Skiing to Zebrafish, Maria Christou share's her PhD experience at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences

Hello everyone,

My name is Maria Christou and I am one of the 15 PhD students working on the ITN European funded network called ProtectED (Protection against endocrine disrupting chemicals). I am employed by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) in Oslo. My research focuses on the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on fish welfare. More specifically, we want to investigate whether early life exposure has an effect on the later stages of development in an animal, which has been used a lot as a model, the small but very prominent, zebrafish. During these experiments, we will build population dynamics models and perform molecular, behavioral and reproductive tests on the adult zebrafish.

After some preparatory months setting up the fish facility where the fish are going to be held, I am now in the process of starting my main experiments from which my PhD is going to be based on. Zebrafish larvae are very sensitive so we try to provide the best care and environment we can so they can grow and be as much as possible healthy despite their early life exposure to pollutants.

Outside of work I had my first opportunity in trying the national sport of Norway, cross country skiing. Norwegians love cross country and they even say that they learn ski well before they can walk. I went with a friend and colleague, Silje, in Sognsvann, a popular place for skiing and there I had my first lesson. I cannot say that it went very good, seeing that I fell multiple times, but all in all it was a very nice experience and I would like to improve my technique so I can reach at least the skill level of a 3 year old Norwegian.

In addition, we had some very cold days the past week with temperatures dropping as low an -20 degrees Celsius. It was so cold at some points that even Norwegians were complaining that it was too cold! As they told me, this winter has been one of the worst winters in many years and I was very ‘fortunate’ to be here and experience that. But on the other site Norwegians say that they have seen more snow this winter than the previous winters and for that they are happy!

I look forward to seeing all of you in Belfast this May for the summer school!



My Four Weeks in Norway

Hello everyone! My name is Alana Cutliffe and I am one of the Early-Stage Researchers on the “Protection against Endocrine Disruptors” or “ProtectED” Project. The Project aims to further research the effects of certain chemicals – termed “endocrine disruptors” – that have the ability to interfere with our hormones.

I am based at Queen’s University Belfast but have just recently returned from a four-week epidemiology secondment at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health (a Partner Institution of the Project) in Oslo. Under the tutelage of Dr. Merete Eggesbø, I got an insight into what an epidemiologist does – in the context of the studying the effect of maternal exposure to chemicals on offspring health. The skills I learned here will help me better critique human studies on the topic of endocrine-disruption.

The secondment was more than the just the acquisition of technical skills, however: it was four weeks full of adventure, funny moments and friendly people. And, of course, LOTS OF SNOW!!! When I first arrived, it was minus 10 degrees Celsius – the lowest temperature I’ve ever experienced – and there was inches upon inches of snow. My two layers of Belfast-bought gloves didn’t quite do the business at keeping me warm and I spent the first few days slipping and sliding about the place. Thankfully, my “AirBnB” Host was very helpful, and I soon got kitted out with gloves, hats and shoe-spikes (to give more grip when walking) at a well-known outdoor shop called “XXL”.

Norwegians seem to spend more time outside than they do inside. Despite very comfortable heated floors and heaters indoors, and irrespective of the weather, people always seemed to be out and about. When I first arrived at my apartment, I was greeted a by a seven-year-old – ski’s attached to his feet – jumping on a trampoline (this is some form of ski practice, apparently). Instead of being in prams, small children were often pulled-along by their parents in tray-like sleighs. One day, I came back to see AN ADULT lying with her iPad in the ten-inch-deep snow, without a care in the world (in Ireland, this practice is usually reserved for sunny weather).

The city was very clean and the people very friendly. I wasn’t sure where I was going when I first arrived, but easily got directions. At one stage, a guy noticed I misinterpreted his directions – so that I was about to step on the wrong bus – and he ran several yards after me to make sure I went the right way. My “AirBnB” Host was equally friendly and helped me get oriented once I arrived; she also helped me plan some entertainment for the weekend my sister and mother were due to arrive.

The workplace had equally friendly people, with a strong “work-life balance” attitude.They were quite an international bunch and I got to know them at lunch (usually taken at 11.00), at “Friday Cake” and at Department Meetings. I had a great colleague and friend in my fellow ESR, Anteneh, with whom I shared an office (I’m used to sharing an office with fifteen people, so this was a bit of change). My supervisor, Merete, also organized several social occasions such as sleighing (followed by hot chocolate and cream), a walk up a snowy hill (to see the views of Oslo) and dinner at her house; at the latter occasion, we had a special minimally-polluted fish (“Skri”) that only is available around February-time.

While the working language was English (and most Norwegians also spoke English on the streets), I did happen to find myself in all-Norwegian settings now and then: most notably, the day-long logistic regression course I took turned-out to be delivered entirely in Norwegian (with the slides being English)!! So, while I’m not sure on the words for “hello” and “goodbye”, I now can recognise technical words such as “exposure group” (“eksponeringsgruppe”) and outcome (“utfall”). This was an experience, to say the least: Anteneh said he would have left after five minutes!

Outside of the office, I also did my own exploring. Along with two other ESRs (Maria and Vittoria), I went to a well-known Jazz Club (“Blå”) in the City Centre where the quirky jazz band has been playing every Sunday for the past ten years. Maria also invited me to have drinks with her colleagues and to go see “Three Billboards” (in English, subtitled in Norwegian) in the cinema (called the “Colosseum”, because of its huge screen). We ate at an Indian Restaurant (“Curry and Ketchup”) and had chocolate covered crisps (called “Smash”) during the film (I only had a few, because I wasn’t too fond of them). On my last weekend, my sister and my mother came to visit; we had a jam-packed day of Fjord tours, a visit to the Viking Museum, a visit to the Vigeland Sculpture Park and fine dining along the pier (“Aker Brygge”)!

Overall, the experience was eye-opening and highly enjoyable. I was sad to leave and am looking forward to visiting again (all fifteen early-stage researchers will be attending a Winter School in December).

“Tusen takk” (“thank you very much”) to all the staff at QUB and NIPH for this amazing opportunity!



Challenging and rewarding - Anteneh Desalegn’s experience setting out as an ESR at NIPH, Oslo

Hello! This is Anteneh Desalegn, an Early Stage Researcher with the PROTECTED project. The PROTECTED project is one of the Innovative Training Networks (ITN) under Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) that received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. The network is comprised of 12 training sites at academia, research centers, and small and medium-size enterprises. I am currently employed as an ESR at Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in Oslo, Norway. I arrived in Oslo during the summer in 2017. I came from Ethiopia, and it took me about 2 months to get a residence permit in Norway.

The summer in Norway has incredible scenery and natural beauty. The summer also has exceptionally long days and warm weather to enjoy—especially when it is sunny, almost everyone is Oslo will be outside, just sunbathing and barbecuing in the parks. I am glad that I moved in during the summer.

However, finding an accommodation in Oslo was very challenging. You need to have a reference and be ready to pay three months’ rent as a deposit. In my case, I had to send about 60 applications on Finn (a Norwegian classified advertisements website) before I got my current accommodation, but I am now accompanied by my wife and 3 year old daughter in Oslo.

The weather has, of course, changed very much since I arrived in Oslo and has been replaced with long, dark and cold days. I have survived my first winter in Oslo so far even though this not my first time facing the Scandinavian winter. I have yet to learn how to ski, but I have enjoyed sledding very much thanks to my supervisor who made my first experience with sledding possible. In general, I am enjoying the winter very well and it is beautiful with so much snow, especially this winter. I am sure most of the ESRs in the PROTECTED project will experience the next winter during the “summer” school in Oslo, and will perhaps agree with me.

It has now been about 8 months since I joined the NIPH. My first task was to get admitted to the PhD program at University of Oslo (UiO). I needed to submit mainly a project description along with tentative project plan, copies of diploma and transcript, and employment contract, but I have now been admitted to a PhD program in Epidemiology. The PhD program at UiO is 3 years full-time study, and has education component of 30 credits. I will start taking some courses this semester and am looking forward to my first secondment in the Netherlands this semester.

My role as an ESR in the PROTECTED project is to identify mixtures of contaminants associated with adverse child health outcomes using the Norwegian Human Milk Study (HUMIS) cohort. I will have to do some of the projects at my host institution, and others in collaboration with other ESRs in the network. I am currently working on my fist objective to see the association between endocrine disrupting chemicals in the prenatal and postnatal period with reproductive toxicity in boys (Cryptorchidism), and also neurodevelopmental toxicities using the HUMIS cohort.

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will discuss about the outcome of my work so far and other events!


ESR Ajay Yadav embarks on PhD at Norwegian University of Life Sciences

I am a PhD candidate working at NMBU Oslo in collaboration with University of Oslo (UiO). My research focuses on the effects of defined realistic mixtures of POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) on neurodevelopment in a chicken embryo model.

So far, I have done some pilot studies with POPs on forebrain neurons from chicken embryo and PC12 cells. I have attended the FELASA C "Course in Laboratory Animal Science for Research Workers" and got the opportunity to learn the basics of laboratory animal science, for example, biology, handling, anesthesia, euthanasia, ethics, humane endpoints etc. This course gives us a permit to work with laboratory animals in most of the European countries.

Something special about Oslo: in Oslo you will not only experience the beautiful nature, but you will soon realize that the people here are very friendly and happy to speak English with newcomers. I was totally surprised when I arrived for the first time to Oslo in June and noticed that the sun sets only for a couple of hours and the sky never goes completely dark. Besides that, the research facilities of the laboratory are well equipped and there are a lot of training and networking opportunities.

I am looking forward to attending the summer school at Queen’s University Belfast and meeting new colleagues and supervisors from ITN networks.

Thanking You


ESR Chiara Talia attends fertility conference in Liverpool

I had the great opportunity to attend The Fertility 2018 Conference (4-6 January) which took place in Liverpool. The Joint Fertility Conference is an annual event hosted by the Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Fertility Society and the Society for Reproduction and Fertility.

The main topic of this year’s conference was “Environmental influences of reproduction” and, indeed, endocrine disruptors were mentioned in several sessions and presentations. Furthermore, Prof. Paul Fowler, my supervisor, gave a talk during the scientific update session about periconceptional health on the “Effect of prenatal exposures to environmental toxins on female reproduction”.

This was the first conference I have attended and it was indeed a good way to start the year with science!


A great 1st Network Meeting!

And finally, the time has come for all the ESRs, supervisors and project management team to meet.
Just a few days ago, on the 13th and 14th of this month, the 1st Network Meeting of PROTECTED took place at the beautiful Queen’s University Belfast.

Two wonderfully busy days, full of presentations, meetings, workshops and of course social events, like the lovely dinner we had at Molly’s yard.

After the opening of the project meeting and welcome from the project coordinator, Dr Lisa Connolly, it was the ESRs turn to give a brief presentation about their projects. It was so interesting to hear more about each project, and I have seriously realized how broad and varied the PROTECTED network is.

As ESRs, we also had out first committee meeting, where we elected two members to represent us at the supervisory board and also discussed various topics and gave suggestions to improve our experience.

We had introduction training about business by Dr Van der Burg. We are going to develop business ideas and plans, working in small groups. This is going to be challenging, as many of us have never thought about it, but it is also really important to develop a new set of skills. Moreover, Prof Moira Dean delivered a lecture on Risk Communication, followed by the practical exercise of realizing a poster for general public.

2018 is going to be a year full of events. We will meet again soon in Belfast for the ASSET Conference—one of the themes is “Human exposure to chemical cocktails present in foods”—and for our first summer school.

This first meeting made me even happier and more grateful for the opportunity of being part of this amazing project.

And to end my first article for the blog, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year sharing with you our first ESRs’ selfie!


My PhD training so far..

I started my PhD. (“Consumer Perceptions of Endocrine Disruptors in the Food Chain and the Environment”) on 5th June 2017. Having only completed a BSc. to date, I was a bit concerned that I would have the same level of research skills as my peers.

Thankfully, there is a wide range of support provided by Queen’s University Belfast to ensure all researchers brush-up on the skills they need to complete their PhD. Indeed, it is a mandatory requirement that every student completes ten “training days” (i.e. the likes of conferences, workshops or lectures) tailored to his / her individual requirements.

So far, I’ve attended the following sessions: workshops on conducting keyword searches; lectures on how to carry-out systematic reviews; and presentations delivered by current PhD. Students. By Christmas, I will have been trained in how to conduct focus groups and questionnaires (i.e. the core of my PhD.), and I will have also completed a module in Medical Statistics.

All of the above support-activities have really boosted my confidence in my ability to complete my PhD. Equipped with these newly-learned skills, I look forward to moving-on to the data-collection and analysis stages of my first study.


Presenting at FARAH Day, University of Liège

The 4th annual FARAH conferences gave me a chance to highlight the health impacts of exposure to mixtures of endocrine disrupting chemicals by studying the transactivities of the Aryl hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) in vitro assays. That was quite a challenge for me as this is the first time I had presented at a conference with both experts and non-specialised audiences. From the conference, I learned how to talk simply and better communicate with the audiences through enthusiasm.

The Department of Fundamental and Applied Research for Animals and Health (FARAH) in the University of Liège organizes an annual scientific day called the FARAH Day. This meeting offers an opportunity for all academics, scientists, technical, administrative staff and young students to interact and exchange their research interests, and also promotes the social life within the FARAH.

Endocrine disruptors have been associated with many kinds of cancers, as well as dysfunctional reproductive systems or offspring abnormal developments. We often see the toxicity of an endocrine disruptor (e.g. dioxins) as its single effect. But humans nowadays are exposed to a ‘cocktail’ of endocrine disruptors at the same time, rather than to one compound then to the others. In this study, we found that in vitro exposure to a mixture of 29 persistent organic pollutants reduced significantly AhR activities. Particularly, the effect is profound when the mixture concentration is 75 times higher than their levels in the human blood. That can lead to an adverse effect on human health and also a possible impact on the activities of other signaling pathways, including those mediated by estrogen receptors.

Evaluation the AhR activities of individual compounds in the mixture showed that the mixture activity is much higher than the activities of each component. In other words, taking the effect of one single compound into account at once is not sufficient to study their health impact. Therefore, we need to understand the toxicity of pollutants in their natural mixture, where they act with each other to produce these cocktail effects. The study contributes to the understanding of why we should focus on the mixture effect: because of its relevance to human exposure routes and its certain effect on human health.



On 19th October I attended the first international workshop of the LIFE COMBASE Project Project (COMputational tool for the assessment and substitution of Biocidal Active substanceS of Ecotoxicological concern) where speakers representing regulatory agencies, research institutions and Universities in the area of knowledge of non-testing predictive methods where invited to participate. The LIFE-COMBASE PROJECT aims to promote the sustainable use of biocidal active substances from a life cycle perspective, which it seeks to achieve through the implementation of an online information system based on the combination of evidence-based decision support systems (EBDSS) and proven computational toxicology modelling approaches. I found the workshop to be an important training and networking opportunity, particularly as my work is focused on modelling the endocrine disruption activity using computational predictive methods.