thanks for voting :)
Woolavington Primary, 1984-1985; St Josephs Primary, Bridgwater, 1985-1990; Haygrove Secondary, Bridgwater, 1990-1995; Richard Huish college, Taunton, 1995-1997; Glasgow Uni, 1997-2006
PhD in Anatomy/Genetics; BSc degree in Cell Biology; A’levels: A Chemistry, A Maths, A Physics, B Biology; 8 GCSEs: A*A* Science, A* Music, A Maths, A French, B English lang, B Geography, C English Lit
I’ve worked on a farm, in shops, a hotel, a data centre, and two universities: Glasgow and Edinburgh unis. I’ve also worked with an engineering company who make underwater cameras.
Mass Spectrometry Laboratory Manager – I run two mass spectrometers and help other scientists do experiments on them
University of Edinburgh
Favourite thing to do in my job: Helping other people. Writing computer programs that save people time. Talking about science to anybody.
I use big expensive mass spectrometers to help other scientists fight cancer
I’ve worked with mass spectrometers for about 15 years. Mass spectrometers are like scales for weighing molecules… molecules are what cells are made of. If you weighed everybody in your class really accurately, you’d be able to tell who was whom just from their weight! And it’s exactly the same with molecules.
So using the mass spectrometer, I can tell other scientists what molecules are in their experiments, and I can tell them how much there is of each too. Then the other scientists can grow cells in a dish and compare cancer cells and normal cells, or cancer cells with and without drugs. This helps us figure out how cancer works, and how the drugs work.
I do some work in the lab, and some at the computer. I also do a lot of talking with people about how to design the right experiment to answer the question they have, and explaining what the results mean. And I have to keep the mass spectrometers in shape so they give the best results.
My Typical Day
Always different, but always busy and fun.
When I arrive at work I check my email. There is usually something from another scientist about wanting to run an experiment on the mass spectrometer (mass-spec for short). I need to give them all the info to prepare for the experiment.
Then I check that the mass-specs are working well.
Next I need to get today’s experiments ready, which normally involves a lot of pipetting liquids around. (See “what I’d do with the money” below) Then I can load the experiments onto the mass-spec and program it to do the right thing.
After lunch, I process the data from yesterday’s experiment… Turning measurements (numbers) into answers (words) and send the results to the scientist whose experiment it was.
Finally, if I have time, I write some computer programs (or web apps) to help organising experiments, processing data, or communicating results.
Usually, somebody wants to do a weird experiment that seems impossible, or sometimes a mass spectrometer breaks down, and it’s my job to make sure everything works.
At the end of the day I go home on my red scooter to my family, who always save me some dinner. If there’s time, we play a bit. Then I bath my kids and we put them to bed.
Then, I often get my laptop out and keep working on data or writing computer programs. Also, I can log in to the mass-spec over the internet, and check that it’s working well.
What I'd do with the prize money
micropipettes for primary schools
Micropipettes are one of the most famous tools that biologists use, along with microscopes and Petri dishes. Even if you don’t know the name, you probably would recognise one. And they’re the most important tool in the lab… we use them more than pens, calculators and tablets put together.
Doing an experiment normally involves following a recipe. In the kitchen you use a measuring jug or a tablespoon to measure out liquids, like milk or water. In the lab we use a micropipette, or pipette for short. And getting the measurement just right is very important, otherwise the recipe goes wrong!
I would use the money to buy some pipettes and take them round primary schools in my area to teach kids how they work and how to use them. Much of a biologist’s day is spent using a pipette, so this would give people a really good idea of what it’s actually like to be a biologist.
The money would buy about 5-10 pipettes, and there are about 30 primary schools in my area, so each school could have all the pipettes for about a week per year, or one pipette each for a couple months.
I would also put a worksheet on the internet with notes for the teacher, so any primary school that could get hold of a pipette could try it.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, thoughtful, adaptable
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Figuring out which proteins are attached to chromosomes
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My girlfriend talking about biology (she’s my wife now!)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Learning to drive a powerboat
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
to see my little brother more often, to be able to speak any language, a lab under my house
Tell us a joke.
Never trust an atom… they make up everything.