Student’s Spotlight – Juanita Francis

Juanita is a third-year PhD student from Lund University, focused on understanding the formation of silk model systems—specifically, recombinant Cylindriform silk and reconstituted silkworm silk.

Her project will help in developing new design rules for mediating protein self-assembly by examining the aqueous polymer processing exhibited by cylindriform silk proteins. The transfer of this technology could be expanded to some plant and animal proteins, enhancing the sustainable processing and storage of biomaterials.

Using small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), she studies the intricate kinetics of long fibrillation in silk samples, without compromising the integrity of the samples. Additionally, SANS enables her to utilize contrast matching capabilities, providing valuable insights into the nanoscale structure and organization of protein chains within silk fibrils.

Juanita finds the most enjoyable part of her work to be the opportunity to come into the office and, in most cases, engage in great project-related discussions with her co-workers. Over time, they have become so close that they can also share a good laugh and ‘spill the tea’.

The most challenging part of her project is sample preparation. Designing a stable silk recombinant protein system from bacteria or yeast, poses its own set of challenges. Determining suitable parameters is a crucial step in ensuring the protein's stability and functionality throughout expression and purification. However, it is a bit of a catch-22, as the purified stable protein is essential for conducting high-throughput screening to determine the aforementioned parameters. Hence, a considerable amount of troubleshooting is necessary, encompassing the application of laboratory diagnostic techniques and computational methods.

“I find my work quite exciting, although it can be tiresome, and encountering setbacks and failures is inevitable. However, I am learning from every experience, good or bad, and enjoying every year as it comes.

I tend to disappoint some people, as their first impression is that I handle spiders/developing spiderman’s new web shooter. In all honesty, I am not a fan of spiders. However, I find the process of silk production—from its biological relevance to its biophysical characteristics remarkable. As a researcher in this field, equipped with the arsenal of technology available in our lab and external facilities, alongside the knowledge available today, there is a tremendous opportunity to understand and harness silk technology.” Juanita says.

She believes that participating in the SwedNess graduate school and engaging with the scattering community has truly enriched her time as a PhD student. “This experience has not only offered a strong foundation for networking but also provided invaluable opportunities to develop friendships with others throughout Sweden and across Europe. Moreover, I value the opportunities we, as students, have in participating in hands-on neutron training activities/programs, particularly the extended stays.” Juanita says.



Contact Juanita on LinkedIn