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Welcome to the Schmidt research group!

April 2023

June 2022

Dr. Sandy Schmidt

Principle Investigator

Sandy Schmidt completed her Ph.D. in 2015 in the group of Prof. Uwe Bornscheuer at the University of Greifswald in the field of protein engineering and enzymatic cascade reactions. After a research stay at Delft University of Technology as postdoctoral fellow within the group of Prof. Frank Hollmann, she was working as group leader at Graz University of Technology. Starting from April 2020 on, Dr. Schmidt has been Assist. Prof. (Rosalind Franklin Fellow) at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen within the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy.

current Group Members

Dr. Niels de Kok

Postdoctoral Researcher

Niels was born on the 3rd of February 1992 in the city of Helmond, the Netherlands. In 2010 he enrolled in the multidisciplinary bachelor programme of Applied science, with a focus on Science and life, at Fontys hogeschool in Eindhoven. After an early graduation, he pursued a master’s degree in molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Groningen. During his undergraduate studies Niels developed a keen interest in the construction of cell barriers, antibiotic biosynthesis and the effect of antibiotics on said barriers. After his graduation in 2017 he joined the Department of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Groningen as a PhD candidate under supervision of Prof. Dr. Arnold J.M. Driessen. Here his research focused on the biosynthesis of complex phospholipids in Archaea and was completed in spring 2022. By this time, he developed his molecular biology skills to a high level but wanted to keep growing and learn more about both the biological and chemical side of molecular mechanisms found in nature. His interest was piqued by the indole alkaloid research of Dr. Sandy Schmidt; leading him to join the Schmidt research group.

Niels’ research focuses on elucidating the late-stage diversification of indole alkaloid biosynthesis and the development of novel Rieske oxygenases as promising biocatalysts.

In his free time, Niels enjoys to tinker on various electronics- or other DIY projects, gardening, astrophotography, go on motorbike rides or hikes in nature, or simply meet his friends for some drinks and/or games.


Dr. Henrik Terholsen

Postdoctoral Researcher

Henrik Terholsen is originally from Herford (Germany) and studied biochemistry (B.Sc./M.Sc.) at the University of Bielefeld, specializing in biocatalysis, biotechnology and organic chemistry. He did his PhD in the group of Prof. Uwe Bornscheuer at the University of Greifswald. The focus of his PhD was on enzymatic valorization strategies for mainly unused sustainable carbon sources such as CO2, lignin depolymerization products or olive mill wastewater. His expertise is in protein engineering, (chemo)enzymatic cascade reactions and biocatalysis. Having almost sailed all seven classes of enzymes, his next port of call is to explore new strategies for enzymatic N-N binding in Sandy’s group. 

To relax from the lab, he prefers sports activities such as badminton or swimming, as well as meeting up with friends.    

Dr. Angelina Osipyan

Postdoctoral Researcher

Angelina Osipyan was born in Yaroslavl, in Russia. She graduated from Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University with a BSc in Pedagogical Education (teaching in chemistry). At the beginning of her third year at the university, she joined the Chemogenomic Institute, where she gained experience in organic synthesis. During her work on the bachelor’s thesis, she became highly interested in Drug Discovery. After completing her BSc degree with honors, she continued studying chemistry at Saint-Petersburg State University, where she completed her master’s thesis in the Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology. In 2018, Angelina was selected as one of the doctoral fellows for the PROMINENT project under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie funding. In 2023, she completed her PhD in medicinal chemistry in the group of Prof. Frank Dekker (Chemical and Pharmaceutical Biology Department, University of Groningen), where she was working on studying new drug targets and their role in the mechanisms of diseases. During her PhD, Angelina got excited about enzyme catalysts for synthesizing  biologically active compounds, and upon completing her PhD studies, she joined the group of Dr. Sandy Schmidt as a postdoctoral researcher studying N-N bond-forming enzymes. Her scientific journey exemplifies a multidisciplinary approach and commitment to unraveling the mysteries of enzymes.


Michael E. Runda

PhD student

Michael was born and raised in the countryside of Salzburg, Austria. Motivated by his curiosity about the scientific fundamentals of life, he decided to study molecular biology (BSc) at the University of Graz. Excited about applying his gained biological knowledge for industrial purposes, he proceeded studying biotechnology (Dipl.-Ing.) at the Graz University of Technology. During the work on his master thesis at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Graz, he gathered valuable insights in the research field of biocatalysis. With his engineer’s degree in hand, he decided to leave behind the mountains to seize the opportunity and do his PhD at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (GRIP) at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. In his project, he deals with the structural and functional analysis of uncharacterized putative Rieske non-heme iron-dependent oxygenases involved in the biosynthesis of indole alkaloids.
Besides his fascination for natural sciences, Michael is interested in sports, politics and music. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, snowboarding, backpacking, cooking, and meeting people. What he does not like is the non-Austrian idea of putting sauce onto a Wiener Schnitzel.

Matteo Vajente

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars M. Blank (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Matteo was born in Vicenza, in the north of Italy. He has always been passionate about using science to solve real life problems, and he got his BSc in Biotechnologies in the Università deli study di Padova focusing on molecular and environmental biotechnologies. During his studies he was fascinated by the broad possibilities of microbial metabolisms and decided to move to Milan (University die Milano-Bicocca) to obtain his MSc in Industrial Biotechnologies. During his MSc he worked one year in Prof. Paola Branduardi laboratory, focusing on increasing Saccharomyces cerevisiae robustness to acetic acid through a synthetic biology approach. He then continued as a research assistant in the same lab, establishing a CRISPR/Cas9 system for the editing of the industrially relevant yeast Zygosaccharomyces parabailii. After looking abroad for new stimuli and opportunities, in September 2021 he started as an early-stage researcher within the MSCA-ITN-EJD ConCO2rde under the guidance of Assist. Prof. Sandy Schmidt and Prof. Lars M. Blank (RWTH Aachen, Germany) at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands. He will work with the bacterium Cupriavidus nectar, building a genetic toolbox to easily obtain novel strains of interest. When he is not in the lab you can probably find him reading in the park, being overly enthusiastic about a new random hobby or hitting people who do not make the tiramisù the right way. If you are interested in his research (or in the recipe of the best tiramisù) feel free to e-mail or to send a message on LinkedIn.

Franziska Meier

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars Lauterbach (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Franziska was born and raised near Hamburg, Germany. Eager to learn about both natural sciences and medical sciences, she decided to study pharmacy at the Free University of Berlin and passed the final state examination in 2021. The interdisciplinary program allowed her to gain experience in various scientific fields, among them microbiology, biochemistry, and inorganic and organic chemistry. In her view, using an interdisciplinary approach is often the ideal way to solve scientific problems. Excited about the aim of the MSCA-ITN-EJD ConCO2rde, she decided to make use of her knowledge and different view on the topic as an early-stage researcher under the guidance of Assist. Prof. Sandy Schmidt and Prof. Lars Lauterbach (RWTH Aachen, Germany) at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. In her research project, she will explore the potential of the autotrophic bacterium Cupriavidus nectar for the production of isotope-labelled metabolites. Franziska enjoys spending her free time outside riding her bike or hiking. She plays various instruments and is interested in politics, arts and crafts, and gardening.   

Yongxin Li

PhD student

Yongxin was born and raised in Guangdong Province in the south of China. Given her interest in studying microorganisms and metabolic pathways, during her postgraduate studies, she was working on the elucidation of the metabolic mechanisms of sugar alcohols (sweeteners) in Bacillus licheniformis. Excited about applying her biological knowledge for industrial purposes and curiosity about synthetic biology, she decided to start her PhD research in Sandy’s group at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. In her project, the main focus is on the synthetic application of nitrogen-nitrogen bond forming enzymes. Apart from her scientific research, she enjoys various sports, such as running and yoga. The combination of movement and stillness keeps her motivated and enthusiastic.


Charitomeni Angeli

PhD student

Charitomeni was born on the 8th of June 1998 in Athens, Greece and raised in Rhodes Island in the Mediterranean Sea. Motivated by her interest in science and excited by the thought of getting her hands on it, in 2016 she decided to study Chemistry at the University of Crete. She was awarded with the Bachelor of Chemistry in 2020. In her fourth year as an undergraduate student, she completed a Bachelor’s Thesis in the Division of Organic Chemistry. Driven by her eager of learning and wanted to expands her knowledge also in the field of Biochemistry, in 2020 she pursued a master’s degree at the University of Crete, that combined biotechnology and photochemistry. Upon her successful completion of her Master’s degree on March 2023, and captivated by the “Laboratory Environment”, she decided to start her PhD at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (GRIP) at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. In her project, the main goal is to expand the scope of nitrogen-nitrogen-bond forming enzymes.

Her “safe zone” starts with cooking and drawing, while in her free time she also enjoys sports, hiking, exploring new places and meeting with friends.

Simon Schröder

PhD student

Simon was born and raised in Hattingen, Germany. Inspired by his high-school chemistry lessons, he decided to study biochemistry at Ruhr-University Bochum in hope of someday making a positive impact on the world. Fascinated by enzymes and their application in green, biotechnological processes, he completed his Master’s thesis in the field of microbial biotechnology working under the supervision of Prof. Dirk Tischler on and characterizing novel nitrogen-nitrogen bond-forming enzymes. Simons work granted him experience with microbiology, protein biochemistry, bioinformatics, organic chemistry, and a wide variety of analytical methods. During that time, the BiodeCCodiNNg doctoral network was established, and with his expertise in the field of NNzymes, Simon was recruited as a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, under the supervision of Assist. Prof. Sandy Schmidt. In his project, he will work towards establishing a toolbox of novel and promiscuous NNzymes to generate pharmaceutical precursors that are inaccessible via chemical syntheses. Outside the lab, you will find Simon browsing through tea stores, swimming, or playing the saxophone.











Sara Atienza Sanz

PhD student

Sara, born and raised in Madrid (Spain), has had a love for science since she was young. This led her to study Biology at the Rey Juan Carlos University. After an Erasmus exchange program in Poland, she received a scholarship to complete her Bachelor’s thesis in plant biotechnology at the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas Margarita Salas (CIB-CSIC). Motivated by her interest in solving real-world problems through the lens of cutting-edge and interdisciplinary science, she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Synthetic Biology at the International Menéndez Pelayo University. Her Master’s thesis was conducted in a Spanish company called EvoEnzyme and was focused on the improvement of enzymes through Directed Evolution for industrial applications.  During her Master’s program, she also worked as a lab technician at the CBGP, where she applied her skills in plant biotechnology, gained exposure to the field of synthetic biology and became familiar with microfluidics techniques. After completing her Master’s degree in the summer of 2023, she started her PhD at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (GRIP) at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) with a focus on expanding the scope of nitrogen-nitrogen-bond forming enzymes.

Outside of her studies, Sara enjoys travelling, spending time with her family and friends and has a passion for nature, especially bird watching and scuba diving. Her favourite place to unwind is at the beach, where she spends countless hours snorkelling with her brother.

Hui Miao

PhD student

Hui was born and raised in Liaoning Province, located in the northeast of China. Her passion for natural science led her to pursue a degree in chemistry at Beijing University of Chemical Technology. Driven by her curiosity and interest in the field of chemical biology, she decided to further her studies and obtained a master’s degree from Nankai University. During her time there, she focused on developing innovative methods for protein modification using genetic code expansion techniques.
After completing her master’s degree, she joined a company specializing in nanopore sequencing. This experience further fueled her interest in protein chemistry and motivated her to explore this field in greater depth. In 2023, she made the decision to embark on a PhD journey at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. In her PhD project, her primary objective is to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms that govern protein-protein interactions and electron transfer in Rieske non-heme iron-dependent Oxygenases. 
During her free time, she enjoys engaging in outdoor activities to appreciate the beauty of life. Biking and hiking are among her favorite pastimes.

Annika Hein

PhD student

Annika Hein was born in Greifswald, Germany. In 2017, her scientific career began at the University of Heidelberg where she studied Molecular Biotechnology. Here, she initially specialized in biophysical chemistry. However, after graduating in 2020, she continued studying Biochemistry at the University of Leipzig and the University of Greifswald, where she joined the research group of Professor Uwe T. Bornscheuer and became interested in biotechnology, enzyme catalysis, and enzyme engineering. There, she worked on the engineering of self-sufficient P450 monooxygenases and protein libraries which was also the topic of her Master’s thesis. Annika acquired skills in microbiology, protein biochemistry, assay development, and especially molecular biology. 

In 2023, she was selected as one of the doctoral fellows of the BiodeCCodiNNg doctoral network which is supported by Marie Skłodowska Curie funding. Annika will study and engineer novel nitrogen-nitrogen-bond-forming enzymes for their application in pharmaceutical research and drug discovery. In the course of this project, she will work under the guidance of Dr. Sandy Schmidt at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. 

Outside the lab, she enjoys relaxing with a cup of tea and a good book or spending time in nature and on the water. She is a passionate equestrian and enthusiastic sailor. 

Donato Calabrese

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars Lauterbach (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Sander Noordam

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Ricardo O. Louro (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal)

Riccardo Clerici

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars M. Blank (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Fabíola Zuchi

Project Manager BiodeCCodiNNg HORIZON-MSCA-DN

Fabíola hails from the countryside of São Paulo, in southeast Brazil. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of São Paulo before following a second Master’s degree in Medical and Pharmaceutical Drug Innovation at the University of Groningen. During her time in Groningen, she developed her interest in biocatalysis and biotechnology, which motivated her to stay and pursue a Ph.D. in the group of Prof. Gerrit Poelarends. Throughout her Ph.D., Fabíola dedicated herself to leveraging the potential of enzymes for a greener synthesis of pharmaceutical building blocks. In 2023, she transitioned to a new role as Project Manager for the BiodeCCodiNNg HORIZON-MSCA Doctoral Network, led by Dr. Sandy Schmidt. In her new position, she aims to continue promoting biocatalysis as a means to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Fabiola is passionate about traveling and learning new languages. In her free time, she enjoys reading, meeting friends (especially when it involves BBQs and board games), and spending time with her dog Lola. As a true Brazilian (and Dutch), she never misses an opportunity to enjoy the few sunny days in the land of windmills, tulips, and clogs.

Current Bachelor / Master students

2023 – 2024
  • Lisa Medema, M.Sc. thesis (Medical Pharmaceutical Sciences), October 2023 – April 2024

Past Group Members

PhD students
  • Dr. Fatma Feyza Özgen, Ph.D. thesis, Title: Challenge Accepted: Harnessing the Power of Light to Drive Photobiocatalytic Reactions (defended Jan 2023) 
Master students
  • Maria Founti, Master student intern (University Paris-Saclay), February – July 2023
  • Tómas Tómasson, M.Sc. thesis (Medical Pharmaceutical Sciences), Title: A biocatalytic cascade toward the production of functionalized piperazines, December 2022 – July 2023
  • Asjen J.K. Mensik, M.Sc. thesis (Medical Pharmaceutical Sciences), Title: Identification and characterization of so far undiscovered enzymes from secondary metabolite pathways, May 2022 – June 2023
  • Jannik Witte, Erasmus+ Trainee (University of Freiburg), October 2022 – February 2023
  • Philip Ahmadyar, M.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Engineering promiscuous enzyme activities, January – July 2022
  • Julia Kuiper, M.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Rieske non-heme iron oxygenases involved in the biosynthesis of hapalindole-type alkaloids, January – July 2022 
Bachelor students
  • Freek Burger, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Soufiane El Houzi, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Yewhans Beraki, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Mohammed Sayed Hasan, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Arman Taliehdust Kaskareh, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Lowering CO2 emissions by using a small gene: expression of MetR in Cupriavidus necator, Autumn 2022 
  • Naomi van der Giessen, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Virtual modelling and cloning of enzymes catalyzing the nitrogen-nitrogen bond in piperazic acid, Summer 2021
  • Daan Geertjes, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: N-N bond formation in piperazic acid and derivatives by heme-dependent enzymes, Summer 2021
  • Sander Delwig, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Literature review on the bioactivities of cyanobacterial hapalindole-type indole alkaloids, Summer 2021
  • Jonathan Shaheen, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Hapalindole-type alkaloids: Biosynthetic pathway of the hapalindoles, fischerindoles, ambiguines, welwitindolinones, Summer 2021
  • Marc A. Simon, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Comparative analysis of synthetic strategies for the histone deacetylase inhibitor largazole from Caldora penicillata – An integrative literature review, Autumn 2020
Co-supervised at Graz University of Technology:
  • Bastian Kremser, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Establishing a Rieske non-heme iron oxygenase purification system for biotransformations in vitro, 2021
  • Magdalena Wessely, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Photozymes – Evolution of light-driven artificial enzymes for redox biotransformations, 2019
  • Michael E. Runda, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Characterization and optimization of light-driven whole-cell hydroxylations catalyzed by Rieske non-heme iron oxygenases, 2019
  • Peter Wied, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Engineering Rieske Non-Heme Oxygenases for Improved Electron Transfer in Light-driven Biocatalysis, 2018
  • Milena Cernko, B.Sc. thesis, Title: Light-driven whole-cell biotransformations catalyzed by naphthalene dioxygenase, 2020