Time to decorate the office

As the Christmas break is getting closer it is time to get into the festive mood and the first thing is to decorate our office space. Our floor has been extremely well decorated, and to break away from the traditional colour of Christmas, I’ve opted for a pink/glitter/flamingo theme 😉 not everybody’s taste but it was fun. 

Wrapping up 2019

Our first year as a lab has been nothing short of exiting, motivating, and very successful. December was full on as every other moment in the lab, with the last retrospective of the year led by Hanim, also our last beamtime for the year, and the last food roaster duty 😉 

Time to party
This year’s Christmas party was in Bright for a full week-end of fun, games, food, walk, and relaxing time together. The courageous of the group went on hikes, while some of us went to a local gin factory. 

Then everyone brought some delicious food, and Santa made an appearance. We all ate too much and had a lot of fun. Sunday was chilled and relax in the garden. Already excited for next year’s Christmas party!


Never a dull moment in our lab

The lab is very lucky to have a brilliant post-doc, Dr. Chris Szeto who also is a ‘very talented’ artist. Lucky note-leavers will get a ‘surprise’ portrait sketch of themselves the very next day. How many stars would you rate his sketch?

In Gras Lab, we took turns bringing food for our weekly lab meeting. We don’t just do experiments in the lab, we sometimes experimented with our cooking skill. Members of the lab came from different cultural backgrounds. This time it was different! Once in a blue moon, your Lab Head organized a lab meeting at her place and served you the most magnificent brunch menu!

In November it’s also the preparation for the end of the year, graduation and other celebration at Monash University. And we had the pleasant surprise to have a little farm for the day on campus. 

Last draw … for this year. Thanks to all our volunteers to help us carry out our research by giving some precious blood to us. From those tubes we then separate the T lymphocyte to do our experiment and understand our those cells (part of the immune system) can recognize viruses.

Last trip for this year at the Burnet Institute to access the PC3 lab, critical for our work on HIV. Dimitra and Adam went there to separate single T cells into little well so we can analysis our samples cell by cell. 


Final honours presentations
Hannah & Hayden had their final honours presentation. They both did an awesome job, graduated with H1 mark;-)  and now have some time off to enjoy a well-deserved holiday. 

After honours, Hayden was accepted to join Medicine school, sad to see him leave but very proud of his achievement. As for Hannah, she was awarded a competitive PhD scholarship from the government, and will start her PhD with us in January 😉 

Safety first 
Christian showing us the importance of safety when using a high speed homogeniser 😉 safety first !

Summer students
Our summer students, Bonin and Peter, completed their industry placement programs and had to present to their peers. With the support of the lab, their proud supervisors Andrea and Chris were very excited about how science has influenced various aspects of their lives. 

Friday is call for celebration, and we had some good results in the lab, the students had done their final presentations. So a lot to celebrate

Hot Pot
Chris S has kindly invited us for lunch around a Hot Pot. Delicious and always great to spend some time, outside work, together, with our family 😉


Giving it up in support of those who are doing it tough

While we all get sad sometimes, some people experience sadness intensely over a long period of time. While the signs are sometimes easy to spot, we often find it hard to check on others that may be going through depression.

Here are the facts:

Depression affects 1 million Australians over any one-year span, and Anxiety affects 2 million.

Almost eight people end their lives each day.

A big sign of depression is when one loses interest in the things they used to enjoy. This can affect anyone, anytime and anywhere, even in academia. So, we decided, @GrasLab, to give up something we love in support of those going through depression.

Each $ will go to RUOK?TM an organization that brings to attention the importance of connecting with others with the simple question: “Are you OK?”.

By helping someone who is losing interest, we can help prevent them feeling like a burden LONG before thoughts of suicide develop. 

Each member of our Lab has decided to give up things they (REALLY) enjoy for the all September, and it’s going to be tough!!!

Lab head Stephanie Gras has decided to give up cheese which is a huge deal for a French girl.
Our Multimedia expert Nicolas Faramaz will be giving up his ultimate enjoyment: chocolate.
Our post-doc Christopher Szeto is quadrupling down with giving up: meat, alcohol, carbonated drinks AND coffee (the life force of scientist). Post-doc Dimitra Chatzileontiadou is giving up all sweets!!!

Keeping up with the sugar theme, honours students Hannah Sloane and Hayden Robson will be giving up sugar and sugary drinks respectively (with added meat-free diet for Hayden), while Shivangi Ganatra will double down by giving up: alcohol + fast foods.

All huge sacrifices for any undergrad student!

Research assistant Dhilshan Jayasinghe, lover of Italian cuisine, will be giving up: pizza + pasta… that’s amore! And research assistant Hanim Halim will be striving for a healthier lifestyle by drinking 2L of water daily and going to the gym everyday for at least 15mins (cycling/running).
Finally our PhD students, who enjoy many things, especially if its edible.
Andrea Nguyen -the spearhead of this challenge- will be giving up fizzy drinks and ALL fast food, while Christian Lobos, our resident occasional ‘borracho’ will be giving up all alcohol.
Good Luck to all of you guys, and well done on caring for others – Stephanie, proud lab head surrounded by amazing scientists.

Our goal is $1500 – you can support us here


Time for a retrospective

Running a lab, projects, and a team is no easy job for sure. As highly challenging and demanding as it is, it’s also highly rewarding. The corporate world is using the agile project management tool to run team and projects, which I’ve said for a long time was not applicable to science. And look at me now!!! Thanks Nicolas for pushing me to do stand-up meeting and retrospective with my lab.

IgV meeting – Yarra Valley

At the end of July, we all received an e-mail informing us what we would be presenting at the IgV 2019 conference in August. Hayden, Hannah and Shiv were to present a poster each, Chris Lobos and Andrea were automatically entered into the 3-minute thesis presentations and Chris Szeto was to prepare an 8-minute talk.

The weeks leading up to the conference flew by as we all rehearsed our talks in front of the lab, who gave constructive feedback. Finally, the day of IgV 2019 had arrived and we all made our way to the Yarra valley Lodge and checked into our hotel rooms. We were fed, caffeinated and guided into the conference hall to hear a multitude of talks that would span over two entire days. The topic of the first session was T cell Immunity, where Chris Szeto presented his talk, as well as many of our friends and colleagues also working on T cells. 

As soon as the bar was open, we all grabbed a drink and checked out the fabulous posters that were prepared by students. Hayden, Hannah and Shiv presented their posters to curious onlookers, excited about the interesting projects undertaken in the Gras Lab. We learnt about many other exciting projects from different labs and success in obtaining data and meaningful results. The night was followed with dinner and trivia, followed by a prompt move to the bar for some scientific-mingling after a fantastic day of wonderful talks from everyone.

Just before dinner, the 3-minute thesis contestants got up to present their 3-minute theses one-by-one. All but one of the students were from Monash University. Andrea was extremely professional and succinct in presenting her project in Flu in Indigenous Australians, whilst Christian, gave a killer talk about super-villain HIV virus succumbing to the CD4 T cells with a license to kill, which had the crowd roaring with laughter and excitement. 

We heard some more fantastic talks the next day and the conference ended in the late afternoon, not before announcing winners for the posters, 3-minute thesis and 8-minute talks. Christian was able to win the 3-minute thesis competition, toppling the crown from an undefeated, 3-time-winner, 3-minute thesis champion. Well done, Chris! Way to put the Gras Lab on the map. 

Overall, we had a fantastic time catching up with other scientists and learning about the different work being done in Immunology research within Victoria. For our Honours students, it  was the first time for them attending a science conference – and hopefully this will further inspire their passion for biomedical research!

New Jazz Bar @ Monash University

Monash has done some great improvement on the Clayton Campus, with new places to eat and drink coffee, more space to relax and meet. And the latest addition to our vibrant campus is the new jazz bar called “Script.” Beside the excellent coffee and food, they also organise evening like jazz concert, but also presentation like the one we went to. We’ve listened the journeys, lesson learnt and failures of 3 entrepreneurs and their shared experience.

JULY 2019

Hannah is having fun after processing blood to purify PBMCs (peripheral blood mononuclear cells- consisting of lymphocytes (T cells, B cells, NK cells) and monocytes) for her experiments.

She grew CD4+ T cells specific for her influenza peptides of interest, and now it is time to see if they are alive and happy 😉

What is your favourite thing to do during incubation time??? I believe it is social media for our students ( I hope).

At the end of July, we welcomed two new students in the lab, Peter (below with Chris and Andrea) and Bonin.

JUNE 2019


During a brisk Winter morning, the Gras Lab filed into the nearest meeting room for the first day of the lab retreat. The dull routine of coffee and lab work was replaced by a brief respite of lab talks and workshops. Stephanie kicked off the morning with a motivating welcome and introduction speech, whilst everyone sipped enthusiastically at their hot coffees and tea.

Dhil presented in front of the lab (for the very first time) his expertise in tissue culture work. Hannah explained tetramer-associated enrichment and tetramer staining. Steph showed us all how to properly analyse T-cell receptor and peptide-bound major histocompatibility complex complexes. After lunch, Hannah, Hanim and Dimitra organised a few self-reflection and team-bonding exercises to wrap up the day. That night, we drove down to Phillip Island where Steph made us all raclette for dinner and we ended the night in good spirits and company.

We woke up to the smell of coffee, bacon and eggs and had a hearty breakfast to start the day. Chris Szeto guided the students through his PyMOL tutorial and we all enjoyed a bit of free time and much needed sunshine that afternoon. Before dinner, we sat down for a retrospective analysis of the lab retreat and shared our thoughts with each other. We enjoyed a hotpot dinner organised by Chris and Andrea and ended the night with trivia and team games organised by Hayden and Shiv.

Throughout the lab retreat, we were able to reflect on our progress for the first 6 months of our new lab, share thoughts and ideas on how the lab was going, bring the students up to speed on some techniques and instructions and most importantly, we all shared some good laughs along the way. We all came out feeling refreshed and more energised to brave the cold Winter months ahead of us. 

MAY 2019

Day Of Immunology – Welcoming high school students –

Day of Immunology at Monash (8th of May 2019). We welcomed Year 10 and 11 students for the all day at Monash to explain and show them our research about the immune system. A great day to inspire a new generation of scientist, and for Stephanie a perfect time to use The Avengers and Game of Thrones as reference to explain the immune system.

Cancer cells are like “White walkers”, they are refusing to die and multiply to take over.

Then it was time to welcome the students into the labs, and Chris Szeto explained our John Monash’s students the work we are doing in the lab and how we all got into Science. Overall some different road led by the desire to help the community and understand how the immune system works 😉 great to hear everyone’s journey !!!

After a safety briefing we got the students to rotate between 3 different stations where we prepared some hands on activities for them.

First Station: SDS-Page Protein Gel loading (by Chris L & Hayden). Trying to see the well and placing a small volume into them while the pipette tip is in solution, tricky exercise.

Second Station: Spreading bacteria on petri dish (by Andrea & Dhilshan). We explained how to grow bacteria cells to the students and show them how it start, with small colonies (like little white dot) on a plate. Using red food dye to observed their technique made the job easier.

Third Station: Cell counting (by Hannah & Dimitra). To perform our assay we need to know how many cells we manage to collect from blood, or how many cells are growing from our mammalian cells culture. We prepared some cells for the students to count under the miscroscope.

APRIL 2019

We also manage to get our first multiplex PCR to work like a charm – great gel Emma 😉

We had some Fun taking group pictures as well as “action” shot in the lab

Congratulations to Hayden on being awarded the Jubilee Honours Scholarship – Well done

Enjoying the last warm day in Melbourne, with a beautiful sunset at Monash University

On the top of being excellent cook, Chris has won a prize at the C3 conference, and we learn a lot about the latest in protein crystallisation.

Andrea won the prize of being the first one to make crystals in the lab, as well as solving a very high-resolution structure 😉 well done – great start to her PhD !!!!

The lab is in full swing 😉 everyone is very busy with their experiments !!!

Stephanie was in duty for food 😉 yummy waffles

MARCH 2019

It’s official !!! Andrea and Chris are both enrolled and are now PhD students, looking forward to this new adventure together

We started autumn with hot sun in Melbourne, and some scones made by Hannah – delicioussssss

And the it was time to celebrate Dhilshan’s wedding 😉 in style. Amazing weekend of ceremonies and party.


Saving life – First aid training

In Feb some of us also got trained and became first aider 😉 Nice to feel secure at all time, and great skills to learn as well – Well done guys

More yummy food

As per our tradition, lab meeting is accompanied by our cooking competition – this week it was rainbow and unicorn cupcakes 😉 very tasty and beautifully presented. Congrats Chris !


This was our moving month !!! very exciting time for us. We now need to settle down into a our lab, unpack few boxes and more importantly order all the chemicals, constructs and equipments that we are going to need.

One very piece of equipment was the purchase of a coffee machine 😉

Very important equipment !!!!

Stephanie’s new office

Great present from my lab 😉 Happy lab head

Our new mascot – overly cute

Welcome to the floor party, meeting a lot of very nice people in our new location.