Vaccine researcher by day, psychedelic rock band artist by night: An Athenian who does it all | City News
Most people are either dedicated researchers or creative rock band singers, but for the 35-year-old Athenian Naoko Unothe lines are perfectly blurred.
Uno was born in Yokohama, Japan, but calls Athens her home. She lived in Athens for most of her life, only moving to Portland, Oregon to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. His two passions began in his own home: his mother is a piano teacher while his father is a physicist. Being exposed to both music and science at an early age kicked off the start of her separate life.
“Living a Double Life”
Uno attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon for its BS in Physics and Portland State University for its MS in Applied Physics. Uno said she chose physics because of her father and because she was “good at math and science.” She found her love for vaccine research when she worked on a project with nanoparticles intended to deliver vaccines more efficiently.
“I really liked doing the practical things. There’s not a lot of funding for the theoretical physics of quantum mechanics, so I just switched. And because I grew up in Athens, I knew a bunch people at UGA and in the labs and they recommended this program to me,” Uno, who now works at the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Georgia Center for Vaccines and Immunology, said.
Along with being exposed to music through her mother, Uno also did community theater throughout her childhood. “I loved performing in front of people… And because Athens is such a unique musical city, it was just everywhere all the time,” Uno said. While she loved Portland, she felt drawn to Athens and traveled there every year for college..
When her hometown friends got more serious about their music careers and after she returned to Athens in 2014, she realized everyone she knew was in a band. Uno has also decided to relaunch Face/Off, an annual competition where around sixty musicians are assigned to trios and have one month to create a set of 10 to 15 minutes. The Athens competition was dead in 2011 when its original creator moved to New York.
As well as co-directing the annual competition, Uno also balances her own psychedelic rock band – Calico Vision – of which she is one of five members. Uno shares the role of lead vocalist with another band member.
Uno defined the psychedelic rock genre as “the use of synthesizers to modulate” and mimic the feeling of being on a psychedelic drug. Influenced by Portland’s large metal scene, Uno said she loved rock as a dramatic genre and its parallel to classical music in intensity.
“[Calico Vision] was just more organic. We’re just clumsy,” Uno said.
Do you want a family or a career?
Uno sees some differences in her experiences as a woman in both music and scientific research.
As the only woman in her group and a prominent figure on the Athenian music scene, Uno said she didn’t feel unwelcome or rejected because of her gender.
“Before, it was much more of a boys’ club. But there are a lot more female actors and musicians,” Uno said. “Before, I felt like it was a symbolic thing [to have a girl in a band] but now it’s just kinda natural.
As for the research part of her life, she said it was also a boys’ club, but now there are more women present in the lab.
In a recently updated 2016 report, the Journal of Immunology found that at the 27 institutions surveyed across the country, women made up 29.1% of immunology departments, up from 21.4% in 2001. Currently, there are about nine female faculty members by program or department.
“Even though there are so many female researchers, the lab heads, the bosses, are still mostly men,” Uno said. “As women you have to choose, do you want a family or a career? Do you want to have children or be successful? So this kind of shit.
Uno said that while she thinks UGA is “not great” when it comes to maternity or paternity leave, she’s seen other places become more flexible with both. With the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines and a drop in new casesscience conferences have started again where Uno said she enjoys meeting other scientists who are women and sharing ideas and suggestions.
After completing her PhD, Uno took up her current postdoc position on a postdoctoral fellowship. Uno’s daily life usually consists of getting to work around 8 a.m. and ending the day when she finishes her own work, usually around 5 p.m.
Uno said she finds flexibility in lab work, as most researchers work on individual projects that have been offered to the lab director., Dr. Ted Ross.
“That’s the great thing about being in a big, well-funded lab,” Uno said. “We are all productive.”
Time management is the single most important factor in staying on top of flu vaccine research conducted by Uno. She explained that most research is first tested on mice and especially ferrets, which are an excellent animal model for influenza. because they have a lung structure similar to humans.
Currently, the lab is working on a vaccine design capable of protecting against various strains of influenza. instead of just one, which the annual flu vaccine must provide. They have received a patent to work on the research and after successful animal testing, human testing will hopefully be underway next year.
Uno said that while she loves science, it can also come with added stress. Music is a good creative outlet in this way and when she has difficulty dealing with musicians, she has her search for vaccines. They balance each other out.
“I think [the passion is] quite equal. Passion just comes in different ways. I think with music, I literally jump on stage, sing and shout. So you can see it. But with science, I think everyone is very passionate about science but you don’t see it,said Uno.
Athens has been an important part of Uno’s life, but his near future holds another chapter. Dr. Ted Ross announced last fall that the lab was moving to Port St Lucie, Florida.While most staff will relocate to the satellite campus there, Ross and Uno, along with another postdoc, are moving to Cleveland, Ohio to work with the Cleveland Clinic on vaccine research.
Uno said she enjoyed Cleveland’s music scene and wouldn’t enjoy Florida as much.
“I’m going to put up with the cold Cleveland winters and hopefully meet some nice people but really, ideally, I want to come back to Georgia,” Uno said.