18th EMBL PhD Symposium
Life by Numb3rs
Towards Quantitative Biology
17th–19th November, 2016
EMBL Heidelberg, Germany

About the Symposium

Current research in biology demands an increasingly quantitative focus where system-wide approaches and theoretical modeling play a central role. Modern techniques allow the collection of vast amounts of data, yet analysing the underlying mechanisms and rules from this data remains challenging. This is further complicated by the fact that many of these processes are inherently stochastic and rarely accompanied by exact functional descriptions. Faced with these challenges, we still need to find ways to draw accurate conclusions and gain higher-level understanding.

The aim of this conference is to highlight recent advances and applications of quantitative research. In addition, we hope this symposium will inspire young researchers to see the implications of their work beyond a single process or correlation. This may help us get closer to predicting complex biological behavior by well-established principles comparable to those found in fundamental physics. At the core of this idea stands an interdisciplinary approach, which is also an integral part of the research here at EMBL. Finally, the symposium will consider quantification across multiple scales of biology, ranging from the sub-cellular to the multi-cellular level.

We hope that an increased focus on quantitative and interdisciplinary approaches on a systems-level will help us reveal underlying mechanistic principles in biology.


Photo of Raymond E. Goldstein

Prof. Raymond E. Goldstein - (website)

Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge - UK

Professor Goldstein graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a double-major Bachelor of Science degrees in Physics and Chemistry in 1983. He continued his education at Cornell University, where he was awarded a Master of Science degree in Physics in 1986, followed by a PhD in 1988 for research on phase transitions and critical phenomena supervised by Neil Ashcroft. Prof Goldstein is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and the Royal Society. He is currently a Schlumberger Professor of Complex Physical Systems at University of Cambridge, focusing his research on non-equilibrium biological systems.

Photo of L. Mahadevan

Prof. L. Mahadevan - (website)

Harvard University - USA

Professor Mahadevan graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and then received an M.S from the University of Texas at Austin, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1995. He started his independent career on the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1996.
Professor Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan is currently the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Physics at Harvard University. His work centers on using mathematics to understand the organization of matter in space and time.

Photo of Luis Serrano

EMBO Keynote

Dr. Luis Serrano - (website)

Centre for Genome Regulation - Spain

Dr Serrano graduated with a Bachelor's of Biological Sciences (1981) and Master’s in Science (1982) from the Complutense University of Madrid. He then completed a PhD in Biochemistry in the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (1985) and in Cell Biology at the Centro de Biología Molecular (CSIC-UAM) in 1987 and the University of Cambridge in 1991. Subsequently he spent 4 years in the laboratory of Professor A.R. Fehrs, at the Medical Research Council (MRC), UK, where he focused his research on protein folding. Currently Dr Serrano is the director of Centro de Regulación Genómica (CRG) and a member of the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM), member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and member of the Royal Spanish Academy of Sciences (Spain).

Photo of Dagmar Iber

Prof. Dagmar Iber - (website)

Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH Zürich - Switzerland

Dagmar Iber studied mathematics and biochemistry in Regensburg, Cambridge and Oxford. She holds Master degrees and PhDs in both disciplines. After three years as a Junior Research Fellow in St John’s College, Oxford Dagmar became a lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Imperial College London. Dagmar has joined ETH Zuerich in 2008 after returning from an investment bank where she worked as an oil option trader for one year. Prof Iber’s group develops data-based, predictive models to understand the spatio-temporal dynamics of signaling networks. Her recent work focuses on mouse organogenesis and patterning systems to further understand the control of organ growth and robustness of signalling mechanisms in response to evolutionary changes.

Photo of Irene Miguel-Aliaga

Dr. Irene Miguel-Aliaga - (website)

Imperial College London - UK

Irene Miguel-Aliaga completed her PhD in Genetics in 2001 from the University of Oxford, UK. Her postdoctoral work with Prof Stefan Thor, first at Harvard, USA and then Linkoping University, Sweden, identified the first genetically defined enteric neurons in Drosophila. She was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship to undertake a further postdoctoral work with Prof. Alex Gould at NIMR, London. She established her own lab at the University of Cambridge in 2008 thanks to a Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellowship. She then moved to London to become a Programme Leader at the MRC CSC at the end of 2012.

Photo of Peter de Peinder

Dr. Peter de Peinder - (website)

VibSpec - The Netherlands

Peter de Peinder studied Chemistry at Utrecht University and then became a member of the Vibrational Spectroscopy department as a junior scientist. In 1999 he got a position of a senior scientist at the Material Analysis department of Philips Research and from 2000-2004 a part-time scientist position at Utrecht University. In 2006 he left Philips Research Eindhoven and focused on his activities at VibSpec. In 2009 he obtained his PhD in chemistry on the characterisation of crude oils by a combination of spectroscopy and chemometrics. As a part-time member of the Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis group of Utrecht University he is involved in in-situ vibrational spectroscopy of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts.

Photo of Lucas Pelkmans

Prof. Lucas Pelkmans - (website)

Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zürich - Switzerland

Prof Pelkmans studied at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands and obtained his PhD from the ETH Zurich in 2003, after which he got a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. In 2005 he became assistant professor at the ETH Zurich and in 2010 the full professor at the University of Zurich, where he currently holds the Ernst Hadorn Chair. His lab operates at the forefront of research in quantitative cell biology, in the study of cell-to-cell variability, as well as in systems approaches based on large-scale genetic perturbations and network biology.

Photo of Leïla Perié

Dr. Leïla Perié - (website)

Instituit Curie - France

Dr. Leila Perie completed her PhD from the Cochin Institute, Paris in 2009. After that, she has worked on cell differentiation at College de France, National Cancer Institute in Amsterdam and Utrecht University. In 2015, she started a young research group at Curie Institue in Paris focussing on deciphering the hematopoietic tree using single cell lineage tracing methods in combination with mathematical modeling, as well as modeling T cell dynamics. Apart from the intensive research in the field of quntitative immunology, Leila is also providing training for and promoting the use of scientific communication as a tool of empowerment.

Photo of Paola Picotti

EMBO Young Investigator

Prof. Paola Picotti - (website)

Department of Biochemistry, ETH Zürich - Switzerland

Prof. Paola Picotti has obtained her PhD from the University of Padova. In 2006, she joined Prof. Ruedi Aebersold’s group at ETH Zurich, where her research received the ETH Latsis Prize 2011. At the beginning of 2011, she started her own research group and was appointed assistant professor at the Institute of Biochemistry at ETH Zurich. Her team focuses on the study of the effects of intracellular protein misfolding and aggregation using novel proteomics approaches. Among her pioneering achievements is the development of a method to analyze protein structural changes in biological samples and on large scale. In 2015 she was selected as an EMBO Young Investigator, while recently she won the 2016 Robert J. Cotter new investigator award for her significant contribution in the field of proteomics.

Photo of Leonie Ringrose

Prof. Leonie Ringrose - (website)

IRI Life Sciences - Germany

Prof. Leonie has been a group leader since 2015 at the IRI for Life Sciences, Humboldt University, Berlin, where she moved after working for a long time at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, Austria and then at the John Innes Centre, UK. Her group works on the epigenetic regulation in Drosophila and mouse development. They combine strategies of quantitative live imaging, mathematical modeling, computational approaches with molecular developmental biology to understand the interaction of the Polycomb and Trithorax proteins with their chromatin targets.

Photo of Timothy Ryan

Prof. Timothy Ryan - (website)

Weill Cornell Medical College - USA

Prof. Ryan received his Bachelor of Science in Physics at McGill University and his PhD in Physics at Cornell in the laboratory of Watt Webb. After carrying out postdoctoral work at Stanford Medical School he started his own Weill Cornell Medical College, USA where he is currently a Tri-Institutional Professor. The focus of his lab is on the molecular basis of synaptic transmission in mammalian brain. His prime interest lies in understanding the regulation of presynaptic strength. Dr Ryan's group uses biophysical tools to measure physiological parameters at synapses, including exocytosis, endocytosis, action potential waveforms and voltage-triggered calcium fluxes in individual presynaptic boutons. Dr Ryan's team develops state-of-the-art optical methods to obtain a quantitative understanding of presynaptic function and attempts to reduce the complexities of synaptic transmission in a physico-chemical framework.

Photo of Katy Wolstencroft

Dr. Katy Wolstencroft - (website)

Leiden Insitute of Advanced Computer Science - The Netherlands

Katy Wolstencroft is an Assistant Professor at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS). She did her undergraduate studies in Biochemistry and also holds an MSc in Bioinformatics and a PhD from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester. She did her postdoctoral research at the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester. Currently Dr Wolstencroft works on semantic data integration for systems biology using semantic web technologies as well as scientific workflows to analyze and integrate heterogeneous data. Her work helps identify new biological insights and facilitate the links between experimental data and systems biology models.

Photo of Jonas Hartmann

Science & Society

Mr. Jonas Hartmann

EMBL Heidelberg - Germany

Following his apprenticeship as a restaurant chef, Jonas Hartmann decided to study cell biology, receiving his master's degree from the University of Zurich in 2014. As a PhD student at EMBL, he is now investigating the interplay of signaling and morphogenesis, developing experimental and computational tools for single-cell perturbation and analysis. However, his fascination with philosophy also has Jonas ask some very different questions, including how the paradigms of modern biology were established, how they shape today's research, and how their limitations might be overcome. He is convinced that an understanding of such questions can help us do good science.

Photo of Russ Hodge

EMBO Science Policy

Mr. Russ Hodge - (website)

Russ Hodge is currently working as a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany. His latest book is The Case of the Short-fingered Musketeer, about a 20-year search for the causes of essential hypertension. Previously he ran the Office of Information and Public Affairs at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, where he was heavily involved in science education. He was instrumental in writing the grants that established the science teaching magazine 'Science in School', the European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences at EMBL, and the international Science on Stage project. His work involves writing stories about science for the general public and more specialized audiences, creating new teaching materials for workshops, helping scientists develop their communication skills, and helping institutes improve their communication, outreach and education activities.

Photo of John Liebler

Mr. John Liebler - (website)

Founder of "Art of the Cell", Director of 3D Animation.

As a former Lead Medical Animator of XVIVO Scientific Animation, John Liebler is best known for his work with Harvard University/Biovisions on the pivotal molecular movie “The Inner Life of the Cell”. He has over 20 years of experience creating scientific images and interactive 3D videos for a wide range of pharmaceutical, biomedical and educational companies. From science animation videos used to explain cell biology to students to scientific method animations clarifying the research of pioneers in the field of biosciences. John’s biomedical animations educate and inspire audiences of all backgrounds and interests across the globe.

Raymond E. Goldstein Raymond E. Goldstein L. Mahadevan L. Mahadevan Luis Serrano Luis Serrano Dagmar Iber Dagmar Iber Irene Miguel-Aliaga Irene Miguel-Aliaga Peter de Peinder Peter de Peinder Lucas Pelkmans Lucas Pelkmans Leïla Perié Leïla Perié Paola Picotti Paola Picotti Leonie Ringrose Leonie Ringrose Timothy Ryan Timothy Ryan Katy Wolstencroft Katy Wolstencroft Jonas Hartmann Jonas Hartmann Russ Hodge Russ Hodge John Liebler John Liebler

Programme (on your calendar Calendar ICS)

Day 1, Thursday, November 17th

08:00-09:00 Registration
09:00-09:30 Symposium Opening & Welcome
09:30-10:30 Keynote lecture: Lakshminarayanan Mehadevan
10:30-10:45 Short Talk 1: TBA
10:45-11:15 Coffee Break
11:15-12:00 Lecture: Lucas Pelkmans
12:00-12:15 Short Talk 2: TBA
12:15-13:45 Lunch
13:45-14:30 Science and society: Jonas Hartmann
14:30-15:15 Lecture: Katy Wolstencroft
15:15-15:45 Flash talks
15:45-16:45 Poster Session A
(Coffee Break)
16:45-17:30 Lecture: Peter de Peinder
17:30-17:45 Short Talk 3: TBA
17:45-18:00 Short Talk 4: TBA
18:00-18:15 Thank the speakers
18:15-19:00 Blackboard Session
19:00-20:00 Dinner
21:00 Science Slam

Day 2, Friday, November 18th

09:00-10:00 Keynote lecture: Luis Serrano
10:00-10:45 Lecture: Leila Perie
10:45-11:15 Coffee Break
11:15-12:00 Lecture: Leonie Ringrose
12:00-12:15 Short Talk 1: TBA
12:15-13:45 Lunch
13:45-14:30 Science and society: John Liebler
14:30-14:45 Short Talk 2: TBA
14:45-15:15 Flash talks
15:15-16:15 Poster Session B
(Coffee Break)
16:15-17:00 Lecture: Paola Piccotti
17:00-17:15 Short Talk 3: TBA
17:15-17:30 Short Talk 4: TBA
17:30-18:15 Blackboard Session
18:15-18:45 Panel Discussion (TTS)
18:45-19:00 Thank the speakers
19:00-20:00 Dinner

Day 3, Saturday, November 19th

09:00-10:00 Keynote lecture: Raymond E. Goldstein
10:00-10:45 Lecture: Dagmar Iber
10:45-11:15 Coffee Break
11:15-12:00 Lecture: Irene Miguel-Aliaga
12:00-12:15 Short Talk 1: TBA
12:15-13:45 Lunch
13:45-14:30 Science and society: Russ Hodge
14:30-14:45 Short Talk 2: TBA
14:45-15:15 Coffee Break
15:15-16:00 Lecture: Timothy Ryan
16:00-16:15 Short Talk 3: TBA
16:15-16:30 Short Talk 4: TBA
16:30-17:15 Coffee Break
17:15-17:45 Blackboard Session
17:45-18:15 Panel Discussion (TTS)
18:15-18:30 Thank the speakers
18:30-19:00 Award ceremony
19:00-20:00 Dinner
21:00 Closing Party

Travel and Accommodation

How to get to Heidelberg

Heidelberg is easily reached by train, car or plane from any country in the world. The EMBL campus is located in Heidelberg's neighbourhood area of Boxberg which is approximately 10 minutes by car from Heidelberg's city centre.

Reaching us by train, plane, car

Travel Documents and Visas

Prior to travelling to Germany, some applicants from certain countries may have to acquire special travel documents, such as a visa. Applicants are strongly encouraged to check with the local German Authorities (Embassies or Consulates) about the need of special travelling documents. Since the process may be time consuming, applicants are advised to make such arrangements as soon as possible. Failure to obtain a visa after the deadline for participation in the conference will not result in a refund. Applicants are responsible for providing the right documentation needed for their entry into Germany. However, upon request, the Organizing Committee can issue a formal letter of acceptance to the symposium for the purposes of obtaining a visa. Please be aware that no visa letters will be issued before payment of the registration fee. The organizing committee can not be held responsible in the case of a refusal by German authorities to enter German territory.


The registration fee does not include accommodation, which has to be personally arranged. However, we have reserved a few rooms at the EMBL/ISG Hotel. The costs are 77 EUR per person/per night incl. breakfast in a single and 49,50 EUR in a twin or double room. If you are happy to share a twin/double room with a fellow participant, please indicate this when making the booking.

Please call or email the ISG Hotel for your booking and use the code “PhD Symposium 2016” to receive the EMBL special rate.

A shuttle bus will run between EMBL and the ISG Hotel during the conference.

Financial Support

A limited number of fee waivers and travel grants will be available for the meeting from our sponsors. Please check the website regularly for updates.

Other available grants:

Please note that you need to apply independently to these grants.
If you require any assistance please do not hesitate to contact the Symposium Organisers.


Open until September 15th
Abstract submission deadline: August 25th

Fee Registration
General €150 Register
Industry €200 Register
EMBL internal Register

Abstract submission

Please note:


Sponsorship Information

The EMBL PhD symposium will provide an invaluable networking environment for your company to enhance the profile amongst the molecular biosciences research community, especially towards the young generation. The symposium will offer prime opportunities for your company to promote your new products, latest technology, and services. If you are interested in sponsoring our symposium and would like to have more information, please download our sponsorship brochure or direct your enquires to us.


Also kindly supported by:

Gold sponsors

The Company of Biologists

Silver sponsors


Bronze sponsors

AHF Biotrend

Prizes kindly offered by



PhD Symposium 2016

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