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A touch of spice is an essential ingredient for any successful dish, but spice wasn’t needed to add flavour to the third EMBL staff-alumni reunion on Monday 8 March.

With a programme resembling an Italian menu and sessions entitled antipasto, primo piatto, secondo piatto and dolce e caffe’, staff and alumni were served a variety of scientific and science and society talks with lots of opportunities to network.

Around 200 participants attended the event in the new EMBL Advanced Train ing Centre (ATC) a day before its official opening ceremony. Alumni proudly presented their career paths after leaving EMBL, highlighting the role of collaborations and interdisciplinary research – key elements to the success of EMBL – in their own achievements. One example is a PhD Programme recently founded by former predoc Giuseppe Testa, which brings together scholars from the life sciences and humanities to better deal with science and society. Another was Eric Karsenti’s TARA expedition which enthralled the audience and demonstrated how to bring science to the public effectively. Former Director General Fotis Kafatos encouraged all present not to underestimate their role in the future of science: “As scientists we have much more strength than we think we do, and we should use this wisely to maintain and defend the primacy of science.”

Alongside trips down memory lane, talks also focused on the value of the Alumni Association to EMBL and the way staff past and present can play an active role in a mutually beneficial relationship. “You are our most important asset, and the member states love to get you back when you leave,” said DG Iain Mattaj. “The alumni brain pool is formidable; lets link it and use it,” added Alumni Association chair Giulio Superti-Furga.

The event culminated with the official opening ceremony of the Matti Saraste Courtyard which was made possible by donations of staff and alumni. Participants gathered between the new EMBL canteen and ATC entrance to get a view into the courtyard, from which 300 white balloons were released in memory of the late Matti, EMBL group leader and head of the Structural and Computational Biology unit from 1990-2001.

Other events included an exhibition of alumni science in the member states thanks to the tremendous efforts of Maj Britt Hansen and Freddy Frischknecht, sales of OIPA merchandise as well as goods donated by alumni, a house warming party in the rooftop lounge and dinner and band. The alumni posters are still exhibited at the top of the B helix and can also be viewed on this website, together with the reunion programme and more information on the speakers.

“I had a ball,” exclaimed EMBL’s first female Senior Scientist, Sara Courtneidge, who travelled from the US to present her talk on life in industry: “I certainly won’t wait another fifteen years before coming back.”

 – Anastasios Koutsos & Mehrnoosh Rayner