Kathrin Brenker

Kathrin Brenker - 2020 SPIE Women in Optics Planner

Opto Biolabs, Germany

SPIE Early Career Professional Member

Kathrin Brenker

Country of Birth: Germany
Country of Residence: Germany
Educational Background: MSc in Molecular Medicine; PhD in Immunology/Biology


My family raised me to be interested in science. My biggest passion has always been understanding how the human body works in health and disease—how could someone not be absolutely fascinated with how living things function (or malfunction)! Studying molecular medicine and specializing in immunology was the logical consequence.

I develop tailor-made illumination solutions for a biological research field called optogenetics. Optogenetics can be used to remotely control biological phenomena with light. So imagine, you can control any biological process you want using light! As an immunologist, I am most passionate about applications in the area of personalized medicine. Here, you take immune cells, change them to become regulated with light and then activate them locally (e.g. in the cancer tissue to kill tumor cells). But there are numerous other applications ranging from cleaning oil spills, to producing nutritious food, and even beer brewing!

My biggest challenge was finishing my PhD. It was a long journey with numerous occasions to doubt this career path, doubt the project, doubt myself. I spent a lot of time outside, challenging myself in other ways, especially doing sports (climbing, ski touring, mountaineering, mountain biking, kite surfing). These activities helped me to regain confidence in my abilities and to recharge my batteries for the lab.

You often get many different kinds of advice from many different people. And sometimes it’s very easy to follow the advice from people that are very passionate about their own opinion, when it would be better to listen to the advice given in a more quiet way.

My advice to girls interested in STEM would be to just go for it!

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