Consumables validation at a biotech start-up

Javiera Pérez studied biotechnology and chemical engineering at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago. She really enjoys identifying alternative and more sustainable processes. She chose to do an MRes at IMSE because the programme focused on how science and engineering can collaborate with industry to solve real world challenges.

Her MRes thesis was about developing a modular and flexible microfluidic device to study the efficiency of new agricultural pesticides. For this work she worked with Imperial’s chemistry department academics Dr Nick Brooks and Professor Oscar Ces, and with BASF’s senior scientist Joachim Dickhaut. As part of the program, she was going to complete a 4-month internship at BASF to test their insecticides with her microfluidic device. However, due to the pandemic, she adapted her work to be conducted computationally. She ended up developing a FEM model to study the permeation of insecticides into different sections of common insects.

Javiera now works at Opencell, a company that supports biotech startups in White City, London with affordable, flexible and modular biotech labs. Opencell also recently launched an online shop considered as the first “Deliveroo” of lab consumables in the UK. Her main role at Opencell is to validate consumables so they can ensure their products meet all the quality standards required for life sciences.

What’s your core scientific interest?

For years now, my main scientific interest has been Biotechnology, I was certain (and still am) that through Biotechnology we’ll find the solutions to humanity's biggest concerns: global warming, food insecurity, and inaccessible healthcare.

How did the IMSE MRes prepare you for what you do now?

I think one of the biggest takeaways from my time doing the MRes, is the independence and freedom you are given to complete the research project. You are given a goal, and it is up to you to decide the tools and steps required to achieve said goal. Of course, I always had guidance and support from my supervisor and the IMSE staff, but I think that level of independence helped me develop further my problem solving skills to carry out my current work.

What attracted you to this work?

As I mentioned earlier, biotechnology has always been an interest of mine and Opencell is a company dedicated to bringing down the entry barriers to Biotechnology, so more researchers can actually have the opportunity to develop their ground-breaking ideas. Which, I think, aligns perfectly with my goals of using biotechnology to make our world a better place for everyone.

What do you think the next generation of students need to know before they apply to the MRes? What advice would you give your younger self?

As much as I disliked hearing this a couple of years ago, networking is very important and Imperial is one of the best places in the UK to do so, so use that to your advantage. Also, I would have liked to know beforehand how quickly one year goes by, so if there is anything you wish to do, any society you wish to attend, any professor you wish to talk to or work with, just go ahead! Everyone is more welcoming than you might think and always so happy to help. So, please, make the most out of that year.