Alumni Spotlight: Zoë Fisher

Published: April 1st, 2019

Category: Alumni Spotlight

Zoe Fisher family photoDr. Zoë Fisher is currently the group leader for the Deuteration and Macromolecular Crystallization (DEMAX) platform at the European Spallation Source (ESS). Since 2016, she has held an adjunct position as Senior Lecturer at Lund University (Department of Biology) and since 2017 has also served as Deputy Division Leader for the Scientific Activities Division at ESS. DEMAX is a user support lab that focuses on chemical and biological deuteration, as well as support for large crystal growth. Prior to ESS Dr. Fisher was a Research Scientist II in the Bioscience Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory. During this time, she served as the instrument scientist and also coordinated the user program for both the Protein Crystallography Station (PCS) instrument and user support labs at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Outside of her core duties related to the ESS, she is also engaged in collaborative research on the structure-function of carbonic anhydrases, biodeuteration strategies, neutron-based drug design, and large crystal growth for neutron studies.

Zoë grew up in South Africa and in 2000 completed her bachelor’s degree in Animal Physiology and Biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch. At that time she traveled to the US and joined the lab of Prof. Chris West in the Anatomy and Cell Biology Department at UF. Here is how she describes her experience at UF: “It was to be a life changing decision as Prof. West encouraged me to take the GRE and apply for the IPD program at UF. In the first year I rotated through the lab of Prof. Robert McKenna and loved the lab atmosphere and learned a lot about protein structure-function through X-ray crystallography. The course work, lab work, and how the PhD program is structured in the Biochemistry Department taught me critical thinking skills, how to present my own and other’s research, and how to design experiments to answer fundamental questions about how enzymes work.”

“Five years ago my family and I decided to make the giant leap from the USA to Sweden so that I could join the European Spallation Source (ESS). At the heart of the ESS is a multi-country collaboration that is working together to build the world’s

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Zoë and son, Owen, handling a (non-venomous) snake at Le Bonheur crocodile farm outside of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

brightest neutron source. The ESS is being constructed in Lund, Sweden and will support research in a wide range of scientific areas, from energy materials to drug design. Our DEMAX support lab is an integral part of user support and we provide a range of deuterated materials, from small organic molecules to large proteins, and support for large protein crystal growth. Our users come from all over the world from the neutron research areas in chemistry, materials, life sciences, and soft matter.”

Regarding their transition from the USA to Sweden, Zoë states, “life is very different in Sweden than in my native South Africa and adopted home, the USA. I am married to a wonderful and supportive guy and we have a 10-year-old son, Owen. He was only 5 years old when we moved to Sweden and was a real trouper – adapting to a new school system and learning Swedish in a few months. My husband also took the dramatic move in stride and was very fortunate to find an excellent job close to home. We love life in the far north and the proximity to the rest of Europe. We travel a lot and that is probably our biggest hobby! This year we will visited a lot of new (and old) places, including spending the midsummer holiday above the arctic circle in Tromsø, Norway. We will also trek significantly further south and spend both Easter and Christmas in L’Agulhas – the southern tip of the African continent.”

In summary, Dr. Fisher states…

“the experiences and opportunities that UF and the Biochemistry Department gave me have set me up with right training and tools for my current adventure and whatever else life may bring in the future.”

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The Fisher-Miles Family on the short of Lake Váttern, Sweden during a road trip Summer 2018