Since 2016, Florian Fröhlich and his research group "Molecular Membrane Biology" have been at home in our department and have been combining biological questions with state-of-the-art technology ever since. The broad field of mass spectrometry as well as novel applications in lipdomics/proteomics are his passion. Now he is entitled to bear the title of professor and holds the new professorship "Bioanalytical Chemistry". Find out what that means and how it feels to call oneself a professor!

Hello Mr. Fröhlich, congratulations on your professorship in "Bioanalytical Chemistry", which you have held since this summer! But what actually is bioanalytical chemistry?

Bioanalytical chemistry is basically a new creation. We called it bioanalytical chemistry because we combine biological questions with chemical analytical methods. We use a very broad spectrum, from classical biochemistry, cell biology to genetics. But we also use mass spectrometry-based proteomics and lipidomics - the analysis of all proteins or lipids in cells. One can certainly argue whether mass spectrometry is a chemical, a physical or any other method.


Provocatively asked: Bioanalytical chemistry: Is it biology or chemistry?

Biology! From what we do here, definitely biology. Provocatively asked back: Is biochemistry biology or chemistry?


Exactly. I think modern molecular biology just encompasses everything: biochemistry, cell biology, we use genetics, mass spectrometry, structural biology... we do what we need to solve our questions. And that is for me: how is the lipid metabolism of the cell regulated?


Did you already know in your studies that you wanted to become a professor or did the desire grow over time?

I think it came over time because these things can't be planned. After my studies, I slipped a bit into my doctorate and then everything turned out in such a way that I always kept going, always thinking, "I can still take the next step". But no, I didn't plan it during my studies, and I don't think you can. Fortunately, I also completed my doctorate very quickly, but that was necessary because my lab moved after three and a half years.


What attracted you to Osnabrück so that you wanted to stay and establish your working group here?

The scientific perspective of the department! Osnabrück is not the biggest university, sure. But I heard about it through personal contact with Christian [Ungermann, editor's note], whom I met again and again at conferences, and then I decided to take a closer look. And through the Collaborative Research Center [Physiology and Dynamics of Cellular Microcompartments, editor's note], which exists here and will hopefully continue to exist in the future in the form of a new SFB (Collaborative Research Center, german abbreviation), the orientation of the department is very close to what I wanted to do. If you look at what has been created here over the course of the last ten years with the CellNanOs and the possibilities that you have here, Osnabrück is actually the perfect location for me. That's why I was very happy to come here.


Do you still spend time in the lab yourself for experiments from time to time, or has that become rare considering all the new tasks?

I would like to be in the lab more often, but it has become the case that people start laughing when I enter the lab room (laughs). It's relatively easy for them to think that you can't do it yourself anymore, even though I've been doing this work myself for 10-15 years. Sometimes I still work in the lab, but I would say that these are always very impulsive acts. You know yourself how much time you have to spend into doing something meaningful and productive, you can't just stop after two weeks.


Teaching is now a big part of your everyday work. What kind of courses do you teach?

I'm going to restart the Chemistry for Biologists basic module lecture for the winter semester. I believe that you can prepare people better for the biological challenges if you do it as a biologist. I want to explain a little bit what you need chemistry for here in the department and that chemistry is not only necessary if you want to do biochemistry, but that chemistry actually also plays a role if you want to do for example neurobiology, behavioral biology or ecology, for instance to establish gradients that attract other microorganisms or something like that. That's chemistry, too. I try to explain that to the students.
Then I teach another master's module, which is called "Pathobiochemistry." This is primarily about biochemical processes at membranes, we look at the lipid metabolism and also try to link the content of the lectures with disease-relevant topics. If you talk about cholesterol or lipid metabolism in general, then of course it's not that difficult. There are quite interesting aspects there. Many students also like to hear and learn about diseases. We try to teach students that the basic understanding of biochemical processes is essential to understand diseases at the molecular level. And I think the basic education you get here in Osnabrück is already very good.

© Jens Raddatz | Osnabrück University

Just this summer, Dr. Florian Fröhlich received his certificate of nomination as a university professor and now holds the professorship of Bioanalytical Chemistry.


What do you envision for your teaching? How would you like to structure it and what is particularly important to you?

The most important thing for me is that people learn something from it and that they enjoy it. It's important not just to have students sitting there because they have to, but because they also want to take a message home. Of course, it's always difficult to achieve that everyone likes it. But I think that if you make it a bit application-based and if you don't just work through the basics, but also give people a bit of an idea of what it can be important for, it could be quite interesting. The bachelor students come here and really don't know yet how biology works in the lab. At least that's my impression. If you can teach them a little bit what this is important for and give them a little bit of perspective and an incentive that learning these things will also make sense at some point and that they won't just learn for the sake of learning, then that's good. But how you implement that and how this will work out, that's a whole new game (laughs). But I would like to try that.


What kind of student were you?

What kind of student was I? A relatively average, quite normal student. I was still studying for my diploma, so there were fewer compulsory courses. And if you had an advanced math course at school, you didn't necessarily have to take the math exercises and lectures at University again, but only had to pass an exam at the end. That's why I sometimes occupied myself with other things during such events, let's say. Then I put my own interests in the foreground.  


If you could go back to college and biology wasn't an option at that point, what else would you like to study? Do you have any other interests?

Interests for sure! I find everything that has to do with electronics quite interesting. But the reason is still relevant to biology, because I find the whole neuronal transmission of current impulses very interesting. And if one would have a better knowledge of electrical pulse transmission - however, there I have also again a biological application in my head. But I was actually thinking about this question the other day. The alternative to studying biology was to study energy and environmental management. That would have been a very far-sighted decision 22 years ago when I started, of course. There was a bilingual diploma course in Flensburg (Germany), and I thought to take it at the time. But I would have had to learn Danish.


Do you feel different as a professor, has anything changed?

No, not at all. What should have changed? The level of communication in our lab has always remained the same. It's not like I'm above anyone, we try to communicate quite equally there and that won't change in the future. I think that also has a lot to do with the fact that if you've been to America, you don't have this culture of "Mr. Professor" who is positioned above anybody else. People see themselves on the same level in the US, and that's something I have internalized.


Do you have the feeling that now as a professor, you know everything?

No, absolutely not! If I did, I wouldn't need to do any more research. We try to find out something new every day. It's quite simple: if a student asks me about something in the lecture and I don't know it, then I honestly say "I don't know that" and look it up. And that happens! I can't know everything, how could I? So the answer is no, absolutely not. Professors definitely don't know everything, they're just very good at masking their insecurities, I think. But as a professor, knowing more is in the nature of things, of course. I started studying in the winter semester of 2000/2001. So I have been dealing with my topics for 22 years. It is obvious that I now know more than someone who has just started.

Thank you very much for the interview! We wish you all the best for your professorship and research!