Well, that was a LOT of fun!! Well done Drew! If any of your teachers want some science engagement activities in the Cambridge area give me a shout! Calcium zone are the best!! :)
Education:Moy Primary School 1991-1998 Millburn Academy 1998-2004
Qualifications:M.Sci Molecular and Cellular Biology (with work placement) University of Glasgow 2004-2009
Work History:Student Scientist at UCB, Cambridge 2007-2008 Student Scientist at GSK, Stevenage 2009
A PhD looking at PI3K isoforms in T cells
PhD student at the Babraham Institute
Favourite thing to do in my job: I guess you could call it “unauthorised arts and crafts”…Blue Peter meets Pinky and the Brain – I like …eh…making ingenious inventions out of stuff I find in the lab to make my job easier (or my day more exciting!)…among my favourites have been Olaf the robot viking, the thinking box and the tinfoil ship.
I am trying to understand what goes on inside white blood cells to help protect us from infections and diseases.
Inside our cells there is a humungous number of proteins which all interact in very complicated pathways to direct the cell to do things – like release chemical messages (cytokines) or divide into more cells (proliferate).
No one is very clear on how some of these proteins work, what other proteins they interact with and how some of them are needed for important cell functions. What happens if we don’t have these proteins in the cell? or we have a broken version of a protein that can’t do its job? what makes very similar proteins different? if one isn’t there can another one step in and take over? These are the sorts of questions I am trying to answer about a family of proteins called the Class 1A phosphoinositide-3-kinases (catchy huh?!)…at least one of them appears to be very important for the functioning of white blood cells in our bodies.
(Castellino and Durden Nature Clinical Practice Neurology (2007) 3, 682-693)
This picture shows some of these proteins inside a cell and how they talk to each other – check it out – its soooo confusing!!!
White blood cells are what fight for us to stop us getting sick – so its pretty important to know whats going on inside them to make them work! This picture shows a type of white blood cell called a dendritic cell (in blue) “talking” to a T cell (another white blood cell – shown in yellow in the picture). Dendritic cells travel around the body looking for bacterial invaders and when they find a bad guy they swallow him and present bits of him on their surface to T cells – this tells the T cells that there’s an invasion and they get activated and ready to fight!
My Typical Day
I get to work, do some awesome science and eat scones…mmmmh!!
So….a typical day in the life of me! I get up (its a good start) and make myself an amazing smoothie…okay this morning it was just strawberries, bananas, milk and cranberry juice so I’m not exactly giving Innocent a run for their money! Then I head out to catch the “Anne taxi” from the top of my street (this sounds intriguing but actually its not a taxi for people named Anne …or a taxi firm owned by Anne…its just my friend Anne – in her boyfriend’s car).
We get to work about 8:30am (keen beans!!) and I head off to my office and then into the lab. I usually do lab work for a big proportion of the day – extracting DNA, running gels, labelling cells, southern blotting etc. but also do some computer work and write up my lab book at my desk in the office too.
Oh, in case you’re interested, Southern blotting is a very long drawn out sort of experiment which is doing my head in…I am having a “Southern Blot-off” with the research assistant in my lab. I am totally going to win – and keep writing so on the whiteboard mwahahahaha!!
At about 10:15am my friends Hema, Sam, Patrick and Rachel come to my office and dance around outside …this means its time for tea! …this bit of the day is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!! We go down to the cafe and get tea and freshly baked scones from Luigi the cafe guy. His name isn’t actually Luigi but he looks like Mario’s brother and acts all Italian so thats what we call him. He is a dude and gives us free cake when no one’s watching!
The rest of the day I carry on with lab work – stopping for lunch about 12:45pm. If its a nice day we can eat outside because our research institute is out in the country surrounded by fields of sheep and trees so its kinda pretty! In the afternoons we quite often have group or departmental meetings where a scientist in the lab talks about the experiments they have been doing and shows us their results. Other days we have journal clubs where somebody explains in more detail a scientific paper that has just been published, or we have institute-wide talks on science topics that are not necessarily exactly what we work on. Here are all the scientists in our little group (after having a picnic one day!)
Because I am doing a PhD I am expected to work pretty long hours so I generally don’t leave work till after 6pm – but some days this can be 9pm depending on how experiments are going…and what exciting after-work activities I have planned!!
What I'd do with the prize money
I would use the money to reach out to schools in the local area – doing fun hands-on experiments with students and giving them the opportunity to spend a day at the lab!
There are loads of schools who never get real scientists in to talk about their work or don’t have the resources to allow students to do lots of hands-on experiments. With the money from “I’m a Scientist” I would love to take science to schools – in the form of me, my pal Mike and a box of exciting goodies! We will ask the students and teachers in advance what topics they would like to know about and then design a short presentation and exciting experiment for each. (here’s my little sister testing out some of my ideas – don’t try this at home!)
We would also love to have more kids coming to the Institute for days of fun and to see real scientists at work – we have made a start on this with pupils from schools in Hackney coming up to visit us in a couple of weeks time to extract DNA and dissect cows hearts…but for this to continue we need some cash!!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
“Happy Scottish geek”…according to other scientists in the lab.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
uhm….yes. I had to write out pages and pages of text when I was 5 for “misusing school equipment” (I couldn’t read or write so it was pretty tricky). I obviously didn’t learn my lesson – when I was 17 I got sent to work in the cupboard in Chemistry because I was “so annoying”…I thought I was being funny. But it was true – the teacher was going out with Miss Young in Art!! :D
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Haha this will probably show the limit of my coolness but I like Amy MacDonald and Mumford&Sons – my taste is pretty eclectic though – i’m going to see Noah and the Whale in October and like a bit of classic rock like Aerosmith!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Probably snowboarding in Switzerland – that was pretty fun…until my mate got knocked unconscious…then it was scary.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be as street as Rastamouse, to be the best I can be (which probably, let’s face it, is not as street as Rastamouse) … but most of all to be wise in all situations!