Posted by: Academy of Achievement | 01/10/2012

Friedrich Frischknecht, Ph.D., Class of 2000
University of Heidelberg Medical School

The 2000 Academy International Achievement Summit in London was an incredible experience for too many reasons to list. I shared a room with Sergey Brin, who enjoyed answering my now-embarrassing question as to the nature of Google, not quite as ubiquitous then as it is now. We took pictures of each other wearing tuxedos — a first for both of us — for the big evening event at an impressive royal castle.

Earlier in 2000 I graduated, after completing a research project at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany on the biochemistry of how poxviruses spread from one cell to another. After the Summit, and an extended vacation in Peru, I moved to Paris for postdoctoral research at the Pasteur Institute on how malaria parasites move.

While Google was reinventing the use of the Internet, I spent my first year mainly producing work for the trash bin, but then I hit a lucky streak and found the right technologies to tackle this parasite. Using rather simple microscopy techniques, we showed how the malaria parasite is transmitted from the mosquito to the vertebrate host.

After three years, I won a prestigious German government grant to return to Heidelberg, this time in the University’s department of infectious diseases. There, after a number of more grants, including the prestigious European Research Council starting grant, my lab is still investigating how malaria parasites manage to move more rapidly than any cell can defend us from them.

Together with our colleagues from the chemistry and physics department, we enjoy conducting interdisciplinary research projects that combine our different fields of expertise, as well as training excellent young researchers for the challenges they will face in academia or industry.

My lab is also part of a large European network of malaria researchers who exchange new ideas and findings regularly. Together with friends from Paris, one of whom is now working in Pretoria, we organize regular microscopy workshops in South Africa with the aim of fostering frontier science and bringing African students in contact with state-of-the-art technology. The last of these courses brought us a visit from the African Leadership Academy, an institution that is training the next generation of Africa’s leaders. I look forward to more such interactions; it is my belief that by training the next generation we contribute to changing the world into a better place for all.

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