Former UCLA intern from Holland swims across the English Channel

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Lisa Dreesens, who conducted research with the Gelbart/Knobler group in 2015, achieves her goal of swimming across the English Channel.

Swimming the English Channel is a feat that 75% of those who try are not able to accomplish. Swimmers are not allowed to wear wetsuits which would normally provide protection. Even in good weather there are risks such as hypothermia, physical exhaustion, muscle-paralyzing jellyfish and drowning. 

“We’re not surprised by Lisa accomplishing this feat because of how disciplined and determined a person she is, both in her science research and in her physical training,” said her former research co-advisor Professor William Gelbart. “She used to disappear regularly to swim a few miles in the ocean, but then was back again right afterwards to continue her work in the lab. A great role model for the rest of us, but a difficult one to follow!”

Dreesens conducted research in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry with Gelbart and Professor Charles Knobler for seven months in 2015 when she was between completing her M.S. in Biomolecular Sciences at Free University of Amsterdam and beginning her current Ph.D. studies at the Technical University in Delft with Professor Bertus (Hubertus J.E.) Beaumont in the Bionanoscience Department.

During her internship at UCLA, Dreesens studied the effect of large-scale RNA secondary structures on in vitro self-assembly of virus-like particles. 


Former UCLA intern Lisa Dreesens, who recently swam the English Channel.

“You get a period of one week for the Channel Crossing. Only in this week can you take up the challenge. Whether you actually start, among other things, depends on the weather conditions,” Dreesens explained.  

On September 1, 2019, after a year of preparations, Dreesens swam the Channel for ten hours and twenty minutes, from Dover in the United Kingdom to the French coast of Cap Gris Nez, near Calais. “It was a tough journey,” said Dreesen in an interview. “I was suffering a lot from the cold and the last few hours it was also very tough mentally, especially since the tide did not bring us closer to land. The last few hundred meters the boat could not sail, but my training companion Remco Althuis swam with me to the French mainland. It was very tough, but I am very happy and proud that I made it.”

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,