Sad to be evicted, but at least England are through! It's been great taking part, thanks to everyone who voted for me and for all the great questions.
Croydon High School (1988-1995).
My undergraduate degree was at Girton College, University of Cambridge (1995-1998), where I studied Natural Sciences. Then I went on to do a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at University College London.
My first ever job was at McDonalds, where I worked when I was in the sixth form and during holidays when I was at university. After my PhD, I worked for three years as a scientist at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute, followed by six months as an editor in a textbook publishing company before starting my current job.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
The Institute of Cancer Research, London.
I’m trying to understand more about the process by which cells (the building blocks that make up all living things) ‘commit suicide’ for the good of the whole organism when something goes wrong within that cell.
Normally, if one of the trillions of cells that make up the human body goes wrong in some way, for example if it picks up harmful mutations, it will activate a ‘suicide’ program and die, to protect the rest of the body. But this death program (which scientists call ‘apoptosis’) doesn’t always work as it should: cancer cells manage to evade death and start growing out of control, while on the other hand in neurodegenerative diseases, cells die when they shouldn’t. So it’s very important to understand more about how apoptosis normally works, and that’s what my research is focussed on. The ultimate aim is to figure out what goes wrong with the suicide program in diseases like cancer and neurodegeneration, and to put it right!
Most of my research is actually done on an organism called Drosophila melanogaster, or the fruit fly – if you have a composter at home you’ll have seen these little flies swarming out of it when you take the lid off. Fruit flies are great to work with for several reasons:
scientists have been using them for almost 100 years now, so loads of clever and extremely useful genetic techniques have been developed to make them a very powerful research tool
fruit flies are ‘simplified’ humans… OK so humans don’t have 6 legs and a pair of wings, but pretty much all the basic processes of molecular biology are the same in flies and in humans, though they tend to be a bit less complex (and therefore easier to understand) in flies. So understanding fly biology is a great starting point for understanding human biology
fruit flies are cheap and easy to maintain
My Typical Day:
One of the great things about being a scientist is that there really isn’t a typical day!
Most of my days start with turning on my computer and checking my e-mail, followed by collecting virgin female flies to set up new fly crosses. After that my day can vary a lot, but it usually involves some or all of these things: doing experiments, analysing data, going to meetings and seminars, reading (to make sure that I’m up to date with the latest research in my field), planning future experiments, trying to figure out why past experiments didn’t work, maintaining my fly stocks, maintaining my cells, preparing presentations… Oh, and at lunchtime I almost always go up to the canteen with the other scientists in my lab for food and a chat – a very important part of the day!
What I'd do with the prize money:
I’d buy equipment to take to schools with me when I give talks, to give the students some hands-on experience.
I’d love to have some equipment so that when I go to schools to give talks about my work, I could give the students a chance to do something hands-on. I’d have to think carefully about exactly what to buy so that it’s safe and fun.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, kind, diligent.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I never did anything really bad at school. Probably the most trouble I got into was with my whole class, when we had a big egg-and-flour fight one lunchtime. It was very messy (but also very fun!) and we got a couple of detentions for it.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I like a lot of very different types of music, so it’s really hard to pick a single favourite. But the last gig I went to was Funeral for a Friend.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
That’s another tough question! Probably climbing Mount Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo. Perhaps ‘fun’ isn’t quite the right word for it, but it was a brilliant experience.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Well, I would love to make a really important discovery in science: something that has a really big impact. So that’s definitely wish number one. Wish number two would probably be to have perfect eye-sight so that I don’t have to bother with contact lenses or glasses ever again (and I want that to happen without having laser surgery!). And for my final wish, it would be great to have 30 hours in every day instead of just 24… that way I might be able to get everything done!
Tell us a joke.
Here’s a really geeky science joke: Two atoms meet up at a bar. One asks the other “what’s wrong, you don’t look very happy”. “No”, says the other atom, “I’m a bit worried, I’ve lost an electron”. “Are you sure?” asks the first atom. “Yeah”, says its friend, “I’m positive”.