So many excellent questions. We have a really bright bunch of students in our zone!
Caerleon Comprehensive School (South Wales) 1998-2005
University of Oxford (Trinity College). Masters in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry (2005-2009) I took neuropharmacology, human disease and immunology as specialist options.
I have been a waitress, worked in an antiques shop, been a tutor and also a demonstrator for undergraduate practicals.
PhD in Molecular Cell Biology, University College London.
Medical Research Council
Favourite thing to do in my job: Making different cells glow in different colours. I think it is really cool to be able to see all the neurons in a nervous system and all the connections between them because I have made them glow green. I also write poems and songs about science to help me remember things. I once wrote a rap about how the immune system works. Last year all the PhD students in my building made a mini-film about the group leaders in our building, it was based on reality TV shows and was a lot of fun to make.
Memory works by neurons talking to each other in the brain, I am trying to figure out how the neurons talk to each other.
This is the film that we made about working in our building, the LMCB (Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology)
We are all dressed up like the group leaders in the building and I am pretending to be my boss.
The Nurrish Lab – The awesome group that I work in (I am the shortest one)!
I am in the 2nd year of a 4-year PhD course at University College London. I am interested in neurobiology especially how processes such as memory work. My lab looks at the regulation of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.While you are reading this your neurons are talking to each other by sending chemical messages called neurotransmitters. They do this at specific parts of the neurons called synapses. It is important that the neurons send the right amount of neurotransmitter and I am trying to understand how the neurons control the amount of neurotransmitter that they send.
Here is a little picture I drew, just for you guys, to show how it works
A special brain cell called a neuron
A chemical synapse – how neurons “talk” to each other
In tiny worms, called nematodes, the amount of neurotransmitter that the neuron sends the muscle controls how they move. Too much signal and instead of wiggling the worms coil up or are “loopy”. Too little signal and the worms can’t move and are paralyzed or lethargic. I give these tiny worms drugs like cocaine, nicotine and “Prozac” to try and work out how the neurons are talking.
My tiny worms (low magnification)
Normal and “loopy” worms
My Typical Day
Discovering the answers to things I didn’t know before that day!
The first thing I do when I get to work is have a cup of coffee and read my emails. Then once I have checked all my emails and finished my coffee I get to work.
Me in my lab gear feeling like a proper scientist. The room where my worms live needs to be kept at 20°C so the lab coat keeps me warm as well as protecting me from any nasty chemicals!
What we do is a bit like being a worm “farmer” – we grow lots of them, keep them well fed and make sure they don’t get sick. They live on plates filled with a kind of jelly called agar and we move them using a thin bit of platinum wire. Because the worms are so tiny we need to look down a microscope to do this.
Here is a picture of one of the other PhD students in my lab demonstrating looking down the microscope at the worms
The worms are on the little yellow plate you can see. Each adult worm is only about 1mm long, about the size of a grain of rice. The younger worms are really tiny and difficult to see without a microscope.
I put drugs in the plates with the worms food and then I see how it makes them move. Sometimes they become paralyzed and can’t move and I time how long it takes this to happen. The kind of graph that I get looks like this:
A graph showing how quickly worms paralyze on the drug aldicarb
After a few experiments it is time for lunch. I usually have sandwiches in the coffee room with the other students in my year. Then, after lunch it is time for some more work. I might looking at my glowing worms and check that they are ok. I often try and do some cloning. I do a lot of PCR to try and make new genes to put in my worms.
I also do a lot of reading to help me come up with new experiments. My favourite websites are called Wormbase and Wormbook as they contain lots of information from other scientists working with worms.
Some afternoons we will have seminars where scientists from outside our building come and give talks about their work. They are really interesting as it is nice to hear about all the clever things that other scientists are doing.
On the first Friday of the month we have cocktails at work. That is my favourite day! We take it in turns to host it and dress up and play games and drink lots of cocktails. Last time it was The Royal Wedding and this Friday it is going to be sports themed.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would organise a science festival and tours of science museums
The best way to learn about science is a “hands-on” approach. The most memorable science lessons for me at school were ones where I got to make something. I especially liked the chemistry lesson where we made stink bombs and an physics lesson where we had to work to build the strongest structure out of paper.
I would organise a festival a science with different stalls, demonstrating the wide variety of things that scientists do and what science can offer to society. From DNA necklaces that spell your name in the genetic code to homemade lava lamps and workshops showing you how many starjumps you need to do to burn off the sweets you just ate.
I would also organise guided tours of museums around the country by scientists. After all there is nothing more fun than learning from someone who loves what they do!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Very accident prone
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I got to go to San Francisco to work with a world famous scientist who is trying to find the a way to stop ageing. A big advantage of being a scientist is how much we get to travel. I am about to go to Los Angeles for a conference next week.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes, when I dyed my hair bright red.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
My favourite bands are Placebo and Muse. I love most indie/alternative rock. (I secretly love Lady Gaga and Lily Allen)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
After finishing university I went hiking in Norway, spent a week in Amsterdam and went to a music festival in Budapest.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Health, happiness and fortune!
Tell us a joke.
Q: An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk in to a bar A: The barman says”Is this some kind of joke?”