Pivoting Location for Real Innovation

Scientist Aik Ooi applies technology he developed to center-of-excellence research

In collaboration with Fluidigm, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute accelerates the advancement of single-cell research in biological sciences. For his current role as a visiting scientist, Aik Ooi relocated for two years to join the Cambridge team in applying Fluidigm technologies he helped develop to real, significant research at the Wellcome Genome Campus.

Q: What was your experience transitioning from our South San Francisco headquarters to the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK?

A. The transition from Fluidigm in South San Francisco to the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute was smooth. I received tremendous support from family, friends and coworkers, especially the HR team’s help with relocation logistics. I’m no stranger to relocating to a different continent, but it’s still exciting to pack up and move to another country more than 5,000 miles away.

My position exists because Fluidigm and Sanger have a great relationship formed over years of scientific interactions. Our collaborators really make me feel welcome here. I’m constantly inspired by their scientific work, and I’m excited to enable them to push their scientific boundaries with Fluidigm technologies.

Q: What do you miss about being in South San Francisco?

A: What I miss most about working in South San Francisco is the people. I was in product development for more than two years there, and really enjoyed interacting with colleagues from different departments while working toward common goals. I miss hanging out with them at work and outside the office. And, of course, I also miss being in California.

Q: What excites you most about your role now?

A: My current role involves collaborating with academic scientists at Sanger using Fluidigm systems. There are many reasons why this is an appealing position for me. For one, I’m able to apply the technologies we invented and developed for real, high-impact scientific discoveries. That alone is a fulfilling mission for me as a scientist.

My collaborations here span several different areas of biological research, and I am enthusiastic about learning from my collaborators while helping them achieve their goals. It’s a rare opportunity to be involved in many interesting projects at one time, and I’m grateful for that. Sanger and Cambridge also have a vibrant scientific community, and I look forward to interacting with the scientists here during my two-year secondment in the UK. I’m optimistic that the experience will help me grow and become a better scientist.

Q: What does innovation mean to you?

A: Innovation is pivotal in biological research as it’s often what contributes to new scientific discoveries. There are many biological questions that are difficult to investigate due to technical limitations. Fluidigm has brought several breakthroughs to the scientific community. The C1™ system enables users to isolate and process 96 single cells in parallel. Previously most publications presented data from just a handful of cells. Afterward there was a clear surge in single-cell analysis publications attributed to C1 successfully removing technical difficulties in single-cell sequencing.

Fluidigm instruments such as Biomark™, Helios™, Polaris™ and Callisto™ are other inventions changing the way scientists conduct research. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of Fluidigm, and I am injecting a dose of innovation into all my collaborative projects at Sanger.