Prof. Rottenberg is looking forward to bringing together experts in the field for the 2021 Hans Sigrist Symposium, at which Prof. Nolan will be recognized. Rottenberg and Nolan agree that it is an exciting time for interdisciplinary research, for example bridging pathology, biology and bioinformatics. Nolan explains that a large part of his work is based on good math, and that he brings in experts to create models and calculations.
Ideas that Bridge Fields
This complexity is what fascinates Nolan about his field. As a young researcher, he was intrigued by the combination of computer technology, biological systems, and mathematical calculations. He further recounts how he was shaped by the wealth of ideas in the lab of Leonard and Leonore Herzenberg at Stanford during his doctoral studies, calling it a “cauldron of invention”. This is what he sees as the foundation of his innovative power: “If you feel strongly about an idea you have, you have to get to work. Throughout my career, I have been told by influential people that my ideas would not work. You need the will and the dedication to show them that the effort will be worth it.”
That is something he wants to pass on to his students: being receptive to new ideas and approaches. “I encourage my students to read the methods section in research papers first. At the very least, it lets them interpret the results more accurately. At best, it contains the raw material they will use to create the next groundbreaking technique.”
Nolan is constantly working on the next technique himself. He wants to analyze single cells not only on the molecular level, but also, to take it a step further by working on an instrument that can be used on the atomic level, encompassing even more information on single cells. Constructing this instrument is highly complex, he explains, but it can be applied even beyond the medical field. When asked about his goals and what he wants to accomplish with his work, he answers: “Of course, the lofty goal is to cure cancer and disease, but that would be claiming something that everybody is working towards. First of all, we need to develop the tools to gather that kind of information. I feel that my goal is to provide better tools and to connect people to enable people to use their expertise in their field.”