Really enjoyed the whole I'm a Scientist thing!
Wales High School (South Yorkshire), Oxford University (1994-1998) and Bristol University (1998-2002)
MChem in Chemistry and PhD in Biological Chemistry
Oxford Protein Production Facility
I make proteins to find out what they look like in minute detail.
I look at proteins which are involved in diseases and try to figure out what they look like and how they work. Firstly, I take the gene or DNA which codes for the protein and then clone this. I then use E. coli as a little factory to make lots and lots of my protein for me. The next step is to separate the protein I want from all the other proteins that are in the E. coli. When I have nice pure protein, I use this to make crystals and with these crystals you can use X-rays to find out what the protein looks like – it’s structure. Here is a picture of the steps:
We work with many people from all over the UK to help them with this. So I work on lots of different projects at the same time. For example, a project on arthritis with scientists from Leeds, plant diseases with people from Norwich, breast cancer with scientists from London, antibodies with a group in Dundee….. so I have to do a lot of project management!! Some of these scientists come to visit us so I do a lot of teaching in the lab and even run courses, which I love. The picture is from a course last year with students from all over Europe.
My Typical Day:
Not many are the same: purify proteins, make DNA, grow cells, teach students!
If I’m purifying proteins, first thing in the morning I take the E. coli out of the freezer to defrost. I also start up the purification machine because it needs 2 hours before it’s ready to use. Then I have coffee and a chat. After this I break the E. coli cells so that all the proteins come out. You also get lots of DNA and fats which are in the cells. I remove the lumpy bits by spinning the experiment really fast. The protein is then left in the liquid at the top. Next, I use the purification machine to separate my protein from the other E. coli proteins. This is automatic so the machine does it for me. Although after I have to make sure my protein is nice and pure so I do some analysis.
Protein purification machine
Protein analysis on a mass spectometer
What I'd do with the prize money:
Make a “DNA” or “proteins” experiment kit for schools visits.
Most of the buildings on the campus where I work (Rutherford Appleton Labs in Oxfordshire) are full of friendly physicists and engineers. When schools visit the campus, there isn’t any DNA or protein experiments for pupils to do. I would like to change this by making up an experiment which can be run during school visits. I’ll buy all the things needed for the experiment and put them in a kit for me and other scientists to use.
Ideas so far are:
Extracting DNA from strawberries – needs a hand blender, shampoo, methylated spirits, strawberries..
Making protein crystals from a protein found in eggs (lysozyme) – needs salt, vinegar, a microscope…
If you have any good ideas of experiments that you’d like to do, please tell me 🙂
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly, fun and fantastic!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I love finding things out that no-one else knows.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I was a goody-two shoes.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Erm. Difficult one. I’ve considered science writing – like for New Scientist. I’ve also thought about running a pub, but I don’t think I’d like working late nights.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I’m liking Pharell Williams “Happy” but they’ve played it a too bit much on the radio now.
What's your favourite food?
Lemon chilli cake! I have an awesome recipe.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I went salsa dancing in Cuba for a week. Sun, mojitos and good moves. (Picture at the bottom)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy. To be more confident. To keep dancing.
Tell us a joke.
Two parrots are sat on a perch. One says to the other “something smells fishy round here”