Thanks for voting for me! All the questions were great!
I went to Longthorpe Primary School in Peterborough and Stamford School was my secondary school from 1997-2004. I studied Biochemistry at Imperial College in London from 2004-2007.
PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology (2012), MRes in Structural and Molecular Biology (2008), BSc in Biochemistry (2007)
This is my first job in science since getting my PhD.
Cancer Research Scientist
University of Leicester – Cancer Research funded
I’m helping to find a drug for a currently untreatable cancer.
I am a Postdoctoral researcher in the labs at the University of Leicester. But I work with a large team of scientists based all over the country. My whole team are all focussed on finding a treatment for a cancer that affects the bones – it’s called multiple myeloma. At the moment it is not treatable by radiotherapy or surgery and a new targeted therapy is urgently needed.
In my team there are chemists who make various different moleclues they think will be effective against myeloma. Other scientists test how active the molecules are. My job in this team is to understand how the most active molecules act on their target, a protein within cancer cells. I can then tell the chemists how to change the molecules in a way that will improve its effectivity.
I use a technique call X-ray crystallography. I use an intense X-ray beam focused on a crystalline sample containing the active molecules bound to the protein. The X-rays are scattered in a particular way that encodes the three dimensional interaction between the active molecule and the protein. I use various different bits of software (and a fairly powerful computer) to decode the scattered Xrays and can then visualise the interaction at the atomic level.
My Typical Day
My days can vary between being in the lab doing experiments, being at the computer trying to understand my data or using some of the most intense Xrays in the countryside near Oxford.
I don’t really have a typical day but I have a few different things I could be doing.
One of the main things that I do in the labs is purify my target protein. Using genetic engineering my protein is made in the same way as normal cellular proteins – however I grow these cells in culture flasks. I have to separate my protein away from all the rest of the cellular components. This has to be done slowly and in a large cold room at fridge temperatures. When I have purified protein, I can then set about growing crystals which don’t look too different from salt or sugar crystals – they are about the same size too (approximately 0.1mm).
After getting my protein crystals I add a solution containing the potential drugs. I then take my crystals to the countryside in Oxfordshire to one of the brightest X-ray sources in the world – Diamond Light Source. X-rays are scattered by the crystal and encode the position of all the atoms in the crystal. The information is recorded as spots on a screen. I collect all this data and head back to my office to analyse.
Back in my office I go about getting the atomic information out of the X-ray data spots. I use various bit of software, and though various stages before I get to the point where I can see how the drugs interact with the protein. At this point I analyse the specific contacts, and tell the team of chemists that I work with how to improve the drug. Then the whole process repeats itself…
What I'd do with the prize money
Go into schools to do demonstrations about laboratory science
I think most people have a vague idea about what goes on in science labs. Mainly from what they have seen on telly – programs like CSI. I would like to show actually what goes on in research science labs by talking in schools.
The money will help to film short clips and provide the materials for the practical demos.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I’ve done so many cool and exciting things in science that I don’t think any one stands out. Every stage of the process, going from genetic engineering though to seeing the atoms in a protein, is amazing!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Very hard to think of a specific thing….
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really. I was a bit of a geek.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I think I would be a chef. I like experimenting in the kitchen…
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I really like Maximo Park, but have recently discovered Metronomy who are really good.
What's your favourite food?
Mexican – nothing can beat a burrito.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I once bungee jumped off a bridge into a river – it was also the most terrifying thing I have done!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would wish that I didn’t need to sleep – there is so much time wasted sleeping! I would wish that I could be close to all my friends so that I could see them all the time and I would wish that it wasn’t so wet all the time!
Tell us a joke.
Why did the lobster blush? Because the seaweed.