veski's portraits of innovation

A banquet of problems to be solved

Ten years ago, Matthew Call wouldn’t have dreamed he’d be working in a lab alongside his wife, and living as food, wine and art tourists in Melbourne.

When Texas-raised Matt met Melissa, a Kiwi, at Boston’s Harvard Medical School, he loved the idea of coming Down Under but he knew it would be incredibly difficult to get two positions in the same lab

Then, one day, the effervescent American stumbled across a great opportunity: a veski innovation fellowship, coupled with, as Matt describes it, “a legacy of the vision of Suzanne Cory and Doug Hilton to give younger lab heads opportunities at the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI)”.

“We were fortunate to be hired on the spot after our interview in Parkville, taking up dual positions as Laboratory Heads within WEHI’s Structural Biology Division,” he says.

“It’s remarkable that Australia offers great opportunities for younger scientists to impact on global research in a way that is much bigger than you would expect from a country with our population size”, Matt says.

In his current work, looking at intramembrane mechanics of immunoreceptor activation, he is striving to understand molecular switches, and how to turn on or off lymphocytes “so we can go in and tune them, putting a wedge, in the form of a drug, in the right place”.

Matt likes the challenge of problem solving and counts himself lucky he can do it in a context which could contribute to society. He admits fundamental research is a decades-long project and admires the ethos of WEHI which he describes as: “Stay focused on understanding fundamentals while being ready to seize opportunities to manipulate how the system works, for health benefits”.

Though he admits there’s no telling what problem will interest him in 30 years, Matt would like to be known for helping students develop intellectual independence and training very good, solid, creative scientists.

Since becoming a veski innovation fellow in March 2011, he has become involved in veski events and programs and has enjoyed the chance to meet secondary school students through the veski inspiring students (& teachers) program.

The son of public educators has a lot to offer aspiring scientists. He says he realised at high school that amassing knowledge came easily to him if he “put down the pen and focused on capturing it on the way in and owning it. I figured out early as a student that the answers were not in text books. Now, what Mel and I both love about research is going out and finding answers for ourselves. That’s what it’s all about,” he says.

Outside the lab in Melbourne and abroad, the couple seeks out new culinary and cultural experiences and enjoys adding to their art collection, recently taking receipt of a work which caught their eye hanging in a gallery in Athens.

“We are food, wine and art tourists. That’s what we do. Melbourne is an easy place to live. When we arrived, the team at veski were open, welcoming and a lot of fun. I really had no idea how much more being part of the veski family would be. It’s been beautiful.”