Alessia’s experiences during Belgium’s lockdown

Last March I started my PhD on the development of a biosensing platform for lectin detection related to cerebrovascular disease using nanoplasmonics in the unit Health at VITO.

In the last period I have been overwhelmed by COVID-19, just like everyone else. It came suddenly, and we had to face several challenges. Within a few days we had to change our habits, adapt to the new situation and restore our balance.

Human contact at VITO has been reduced to a minimum, but we keep in touch and up to date on the project progress with regular Skype meetings. My supervisors (Dr. Inge Nelissen and Dr. Michal Szymonik) encouraged me to continue my research during this global pandemic. I tried to perform my experiments in as few days as possible and work from home as much as possible. From week to week I adjusted my work schedule according to the new health and safety measures. All things considered, I feel lucky because I had the opportunity to continue my experiments (albeit slowly).

The cancellation of the meeting in Oxford with my European group NanoCarb was the first plan that changed for me. The international collaboration with my European partners has been interrupted, such as the shipment of materials between our laboratories, but the human relations (like pub Zoom calls) and discussions for future collaborations have not been affected.

All holidays plans have changed for me, like probably for everyone else. First a couple of friends and then my parents should have come to visit me, and I would have taken days off to visit Belgium with them, but obviously everything was postponed (fortunately not canceled).

During this hard period, everyone gave up seeing friends for a chat over a good Belgian beer, this is something I miss the most! However, COVID-19 has led many to reevaluate the importance of human interactions.

From the first day of the Italian lockdown, I began the good routine of making long skype calls with my family and friends, ensuring me they were safe and sound. Although I am a great distance away, I closely follow all that happens in my country.

In conclusion, as the Italian Prime Minister Conte said, “we are far away today, to embrace each other warmer and run faster tomorrow”.

by Alessia Pancaro (ESR 11)