Working in laboratory automation and playing in a local rock band complement one another nicely, says SLAS member Jan Wagner.
Jan Wagner, Dipl.-Ing (BA), is an application specialist at LiCONiC Instruments, a leading manufacturer of automated incubators and small size plate storage systems for the life science industry. The SLAS member is also founder, songwriter, vocalist, rhythm guitar and sometime keyboard player for the band Nine a.m., based in Dresden, Germany.
Having both outlets for his creativity, knowledge and passion keeps Wagner energized. "In many ways, the skills overlap," Wagner relates. "Dealing with people is always an issue both at work and in the band, so being able to interact effectively is important. Also, a technical background is needed for both. For example, I can repair my own band equipment and I can also repair some of my equipment at work."
Wagner just recently joined LiCONiC Instruments, headquartered in the Principality of Liechtenstein, Europe. LiCONiC is invested in research and development to create products and services that address the growing complexity of today's laboratory automation. Wagner's role at LiCONiC involves project development and management in software development, customer service organization and setting up the new subsidiary, LiCONiC Deutschland GmbH.
Per its website, LiCONiC was founded in 1990 and is one of the world's leading manufacturers of precision robotic incubators working to refine the design of climate control and plate handling systems. Hundreds of its systems are in worldwide use, opening up new applications for researchers in all areas. Its instruments are installed at leading pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies to facilitate high-throughput screening of novel drugs. Its leading-edge solutions for chip placement open new and more efficient methods in the manufacture of electronic components.
A typical day for Wagner at LiCONiC includes international phone conferences, working on technical projects within the company, dealing with customer requests as well as the organization of global tender information. Among the most interesting aspects of his job are working with different international customers on proprietary new software development and seeing new tendencies in sample management and biobanking becoming reality within the main company in Liechtenstein.
Wagner's skills for the new LiCONiC position were honed after eight years at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, most recently as head of automation in the High-Throughput Technology Development Studio (TDS), Dresden, Germany.
The Max Planck Institute is a highly regarded biology research facility. According to its website the Institute's mission "is to gain a more global understanding not only of individual cellular processes, their basic constituents and underlying regulation, but also of how such processes are integrated among each other in the context of both cell and tissue organization and function. Such challenge can be formulated as a simple question: ‘How do cells form tissues?'"
"My role there was split into different areas," Wagner explains. "On one hand, I took care of the automation in the TDS. TDS is a basically a screening facility that also does technology development and it sits within the Institute. We had approximately 15 scientific biological workers in the studio. Other scientists within Max Planck came to me and I helped set up high-throughput screening for their work. Close to 90 percent of the time, we also then performed the screening for these scientists."
The TDS has expertise in assay and technology development for high-content screening (lab automation, siRNA transfection, chemical screening, automated microscopy, live cell imaging, image analysis, data management, mutli-parametric statistics), robotic liquid handling processes (rearraying of libraries, hit picking, normalization). The technologies employed include automated confocal microscopy, automated widefield microscopy, fluorescence emission, fluorescence polarization, HTRF (homogeneous time resolved fluorescence), alpha ELISA, luminescence, absorbance, acoustic dispensing, electroporation and automated liquid handling (contact and free dispense).
Wagner indicates they often analyzed the data too, which may have involved the development of statistical analysis solutions for biological questions. Another aspect of his job was to administer the User Facility, which is basically an in-house screen-it-yourself facility at the Institute. After an introduction and initial training, the TDS provides individuals with the opportunity to perform automated experiments or projects with the instruments provided in this facility.
Wagner also did in-house consultancy. "For example, our Antibody Facility may have wanted to go high-throughput with their work and they needed automation. They got in touch with me and I worked with them on their testing which also means acquiring the right hardware and software to do the job."
Wagner started as a technician in the automation section. He arrived directly out of university, where he studied information technology. As a new graduate, he had not identified biology or pharma as areas of interest.
"I studied plain IT – network management – nothing to do with biology or pharma at all," he notes. "I met someone with MPI in Dresden who was looking for an automation engineer, which is what I did within my diploma. I started and began to dive more and more into this topic. Now I am in the pharmacy screening sector."
His music interests started well before his time at Max Planck.
"I was always interested in music and beginning around seventh grade in school, I was constantly singing," Wagner recalls. "Music filled a lot of my spare time. When I was 22 or 23, I decided to take some singing lessons to get a technical background, but I was really dissatisfied with it. The teacher wouldn't explore how I wanted to sing; she had very static ideas of how a person should sing. I remember hearing a statement Alanis Morissette had made about how she would never ever recommend people take singing lessons, as singing is being able to handle your body. Every person has a totally different body so how can one person tell you how to sing? They should just spend a lot of time singing and finding out how they can perfectly control their body. I agree with that."
The band Nine a.m. came about when Wagner, his cousin Jörg Wagner and a couple others decided they wanted to play some covers and have some fun.
"After a couple years of rehearsing just for fun, we came to the point where we wanted to go on stage so we needed a name," Wagner says. "So we said why don't we just go to this bar and sit down and discuss until we have a name. We couldn't come up with one. At some point I remember saying ‘listen guys; it's weird we rehearse at nine a.m. on a Sunday morning. That's really kind of strange for a rock band, isn't it? So why don't we just call ourselves Nine a.m.?'"
While today they have moved their Sunday morning practices to Tuesday and Thursday evenings, the name Nine a.m. stuck. They also grew beyond playing other artist's work and into producing some of their own sound. They have played more than 100 gigs at clubs in Dresden and nearby towns. Writing their own music and lyrics continues to be their focus, and it is a bit of a group effort according to Wagner.
"One band member will work out a song in his brain at home, figure out how to play all the parts and then introduce it to the full band at rehearsal," Wagner explains. "We play it and change it around as needed until everybody likes it and can play it on stage with energy and love."
Wagner adds that inspirations for his songs come from things that happen to him and influence his life.
"When something really touches you, you write a song about it," he intones. "You fall in love with a girl, or in my case the experience of my daughter's birth. For me, the lyrics are independent of the music. I write the words and then I find the music that matches what I'm writing – in quite a structured way."
Nine a.m. has written more than 70 songs to date; Wagner is responsible for about 30 of them himself.
"Our music is mostly melodic hard rock, but we always try to keep our minds open to other styles," he says. "We have songs that are totally pop based, like "Leave a Message in my Bed." That's a mixture of techno rhythms – just bass drum and snare – mixed with rock music. We try simply to produce music that we like – music that is very melodic and positive, yet still has a lot of power.
"As a child I liked that ‘poppy' rock stuff," he continues. "In eleventh or twelfth grade, my tastes massively changed mainly because of the rock band Queen. I just fell in love with their music because of the variety they produced over the decades – from pop to rock to kind of a heavy metal to orchestral. They were not really in my time, but I bought and listened to a lot of Queen albums, which I still have today. I know nearly all of their lyrics. I visited Queen cover band shows and met Peter Freestone who was the person that assisted Freddie Mercury for the last 15 years of his life. This band massively influenced me."
Nine a.m., which has produced two albums, continues to work on new songs and hope to release a third album shortly. Wagner thinks it will be some of the band's best work. While their albums are not professional studio releases, the recordings are good and Wagner believes their music shines through.
Wagner points to a few of his favorite songs from the first two albums.
• Leave a Message in My Bed (first album)
Kiss me. I'll kiss you Take me. I'll break you. Thrill me. Don't kill me. Kiss me. You'll miss me.
I'll love you...For tonight. You make me...Feel alright. Do it...Do it now! Drive me crazy...somehow.
Spoken: Leave a message in my bed!
Save me....hit my face. Do it with your warm embrace. Help me....get away. I need...you here to stay.
Come on. Into my bed. I love your eyes. So sad! Love me, love me here. Let's do it. No fear.
Spoken: Leave a message in my bed!
• Thanks for the Time (second album)
Although you're so far away I still wish, that you'd stay. I'm totally lost, falling in and out. While this situation leaves no doubt.
Tears running down my face. Thanks for the time, my grace. Your smile warmed my heart. It swelled inside and tore apart.
Lay your fingers on my head. I kiss your hand instead. Give me a last embrace. Thanks for your love, my grace.
SLAS ELN readers can listen to these two songs, and many others, on the band's website.
"If you love our music, you can buy a CD from our website," Wagner invites. "Unless you'd prefer to pick a copy up at one of our upcoming gigs in the Dresden area!"
While some of his co-workers at Max Planck had a hard time equating the industrious Wagner of the TDS with the Nine a.m. version, Wagner knows he wants to continue playing with the band – forever.
"Nine a.m. played at an Institute party once, and people I came across at work kept smiling when they saw me," he jokes. "On the one hand, they saw me as the IT dude at TDS and on the other they remember me with a crazy outfit on stage.
"I would like to always be playing in a band in parallel to my work. It relaxes me and it is nice to spend time with people you've known for a long time. In fact, this is essential for good music. When you have people around who understand you, you bring lyrics about your life. We've known each other for so many years and that makes it very nice to play."
May 18, 2012