By Ana de Bettencourt-Dias
Dr. Rebecca Abergel is a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) and is the leader of the Heavy Element Decorporation and Biological Chemistry programs. These programs focus on strategies to counteract chemical, radiological and nuclear threats, as well as compounds for nuclear medicine.
During the WCC Rising Star Award Symposium, Rebecca gave an inspiring presentation detailing her path as an undergraduate in France, to her graduate and postdoctoral work in the United States and subsequent hire at LBNL. In her work at LBNL, she takes inspiration and learnings from nature, as she uses siderophores, small molecules made by microbes to transport iron, to promote removal of heavy atoms from contaminated populations.
Rebecca has realized that to be successful at one’s work, you must be a lifelong learner and that successful projects take time, effort, and a team of collaborators with complementary expertise. Dr. Abergel believes she has been very fortunate to be able to do her work at a national lab where the necessary infrastructure is available to pursue work on heavy atoms and radioactive materials. LBNL provides Rebecca access to unique techniques, such crystallography of protein complexes with radioactive elements which has enabled her to considerably increased the number of known X-ray structures of proteins with trans-uranium actinide elements. The techniques she learned in working with radioactive elements enabled her to advance her research to work with short-lived isotopes and develop chelators with targeted antibodies for cancer therapy.
Overall, Rebecca believes being a team player, staying humble, learning new techniques and collaborating with a variety of experts in different areas makes up a well-rounded and successful scientist.