Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Erin Iski has spent the past four months as a Fulbright Scholar at Charles University in Prague, advancing her research and enjoying all the sights and experiences being in Europe offers. Here are her thoughts and insights on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The choice to come to Prague was very deliberate. In 2018, I met Anna Fučíková at a nanoscience conference in Brno, Czech Republic. At that time, it was clear that there is substantial overlap between our research areas and that our projects would benefit from collaboration.
When I applied for the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2021, Anna and I thought it was a long shot as it was my first time to apply. But we were surprised and delighted that it was successful, and I was able to come over to Prague this spring for about four months.
The major benefit of this collaboration is that Anna is an expert in the field of Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and the imaging of molecules at Charles University. This is extremely helpful to me because I have worked my entire career on a different type of microscopy — Scanning Tunneling Microscopy. I therefore needed guidance and training on this new type of microscopy. The reason AFM is so critical is that my main research project — investigating molecular interactions on a gold surface — was hindered because we were not able to actually “see” the molecules on the microscope at TU.
I am thrilled to report that, as the grant window is winding down, I have successfully imaged what we believe to be the molecules on the gold surface. This is a resounding win for such a short time period! Our next goal is to write the results into a communication article and to submit a National Science Foundation grant focused on continuing our collaboration in the Czech Republic.
On the personal side, the experience of living in Prague has been absolutely life-changing.
I have long desired the opportunity to live in Europe, as I skipped over study abroad options in my younger years to race towards my ultimate career goals. But, in doing so, I accumulated considerable regret for not having had the experience of living overseas.
As an avid traveler, I am always looking forward to my next adventure, and moving to Prague as a Fulbright Scholar proved to be the best one yet. The people, the culture and the city are a perfect match with my personality, not only in terms of ease and convenience, but also in helping me to look outside my familiar comfort zones as I attempted to learn some Czech conversational phrases and truly live in a place very different from where I come from (Tulsa!).
Some of my favorite experiences have been walking around in this very pedestrian-friendly city with no particular destination in mind and gazing at all of the gorgeous architecture and beautiful parks and green spaces. I also love the ease of traveling by public transportation, including the trams, which allow you to see many sights as you go across town. I have also done quite a bit of traveling in the Czech Republic as well as Germany, Austria and Hungary, which has been incredibly easy and lovely.
What I have enjoyed most of all is getting to know my Czech and Fulbright colleagues. I have formed some very real friendships that have allowed me to grow substantially and reminded me that the world is simultaneously a much bigger place, but also welcoming and wonderful. I urge everyone to visit this part of Europe as, in many ways, it is an untapped treasure, and I am hopeful to return frequently.
Erin Iski, Ph.D., is an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Her research focuses on the study of the interactions of biomolecules on metal surfaces under realistic conditions for origin-of-life investigations.