Rita Fürst
Rita Fürst exploring Florida © Rita Fürst

The thought of leaving Vienna, the city of my student years, to spend the next two years living and working in the small US town of Jupiter made me a little nervous when I departed for my postdoc fellowship last August. Jupiter is located about 120 kilometres north of Miami, right on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Once there, I was quickly convinced that Jupiter, the home of the Florida Campus of the Scripps Research Institute, was not only a nice place to live but also an excellent place for medicinal chemical research. At the Institute, biologists and chemists work in close co-operation to develop new pharmaceuticals. My postdoc project in the research team of Professor William Roush aims at developing an active substance against arthritis. For me, as a synthetic chemist, it is particularly exciting and motivating all at once that the compounds I produce in the laboratory are submitted to various biological tests by my co-operation partners to check their effectiveness on-the-spot. The close co-operation and the dynamic exchange between biology and chemistry open up completely new scientific perspectives which permit me to reach out over the rim of the teacup that is synthetic chemistry. All of this fits perfectly with the expectations I had for my postdoc project.

Impressions

It is not only research that lured me across the Atlantic. Discovering a new environment and immersing myself in a different culture will contribute just as much to making this postdoc stay unforgettable as will the scientific progress I am making. Florida has a lot to offer in addition to its role as a workplace. Admittedly, when I arrived here in Jupiter during last summer at 40° centigrade and with humidity of more than 90% I was not altogether sure whether I would ever summon up the courage to leave my air-conditioned apartment. The view of the ocean, however, quickly convinced me that Jupiter was the right choice for me. After the strenuously hot summer came the incredibly mild and mosquito-free autumn and winter months that lend themselves ideally to kayak touring.

Florida is not only surrounded by seawater, it is also criss-crossed by freshwater canals that can be explored by boat. It is fun to go to places by boat that you cannot reach on foot. One should not be too easily frightened, however, for one often comes rather close to the official state reptile of Florida, the American alligator. Together with my very adventurous colleagues I have been on several impressive tours, which usually ended with a barbecue.

Don’t be afraid of manatees

Another highlight of my stay in Florida so far was meeting the manatees. These impressively large animals seek shelter from the cold along the Florida coast in the winter months. During that time there are guided tours which offer you a chance to swim with these “gentle giants”. While we were told we should not try and touch the animals, the manatees were not shy at all and kept looking for body contact. Although I very much enjoy the tranquillity and serenity of life in nature, I sometimes miss the city life. But when I do, Miami is not far away and lets me have a taste of city life and partying whenever I feel inclined. I am glad that my postdoc stay lasts for another few months, since there are still a lot of things I want to do both in terms of scientific work and leisure time!

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