Dr Xiao Deng

A key role of our FSP is to support early career scientists in developing their careers. We are delighted that Xiao has been successful in attaining a prestigious position at the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), in Japan.

Xiao provides some insights into her path to becoming a research scientist and what is ahead for her in her new position.

What made you choose a career in science?

When I was ten years old, my hometown located in Southeastern China was hit by a once-in-a-century flood, and the only way to enter home was by riding a raft boat and through a second-floor window. Since then, I had grown concerned about climate change and paid extra attention to science subjects at school. While pursuing higher education in physics and chemistry, science has become my top interest. I love doing experiments and the opportunity to engage in frontier science issues. I also believe that choosing a career in science is the most suitable way for me to help solve global challenges.

What path have you followed to now?

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in optical physics at Beijing Jiaotong University. After that, I went to the University of Tokyo (UT) for Master-degree study. I was fortunate to join a big vibrant group that studies highly diverse topics. I got to know about electric bacteria and became extremely interested in this field. Therefore, I switched my study subject to electric bacteria. After my Ph.D. graduation, I did short-term postdocs with UT, National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), then a long-term postdoc at CSIRO Land and Water. In the short future, I will conduct research on the application of electric bacteria at NIMS.

What is exciting about your current project?

I am researching electric bacteria, such as unveiling their previously unknown physiological functions and finding new species. These bacteria are highly versatile and can eat and poo nothing but electrons and distinct from the common understanding of bacteria that diffusive organic or gaseous energy sources are required. They also play key roles in various important processes, such as anaerobic iron corrosion, microbial interspecies interactions, and subsurface energy production. Moreover, studying electric bacteria may lead to new biotechnologies’ realisation for solving global energy and pollution challenges.

What will you be doing in your new role?

Electric bacteria have a high potential to be combined with electrode materials to serve as the green and self-renewing catalysts for energy conversion. While electric bacteria have so far been mostly studied by microbiologists, I will conduct research on those bacteria from the viewpoint of chemistry and materials science to obtain new insights into biohybrid electrode catalysts for fuel and biomaterials production.

What interests you outside of work?

I enjoy jogging, cooking, reading books on global issues, and watching space and survival movies.

Xiao’s project with the Environomics FSP is Electric microbes: new methods for cultivating subsurface life.