@Thanks so much for all your votes so far. I have had a blast and so chuffed to have met all you lovely people. Your questions have amazed me and I've loved answering them. It's so sad it'll all be over today. Keep voting :-)
Favourite Thing: My favourite thing about science is to have the chance to work with fascinating people, at the cutting edge of research and discover things which have never emerged before. Generally speaking though, I am quite partial to chocolate, dancing, dogs, cardigans, guinea pigs, ice cream, swimming and a good cuppa.
Ranby House School (1989 – 1996) Worksop College (1996 – 2001)
University of York: MChem in Chemistry (2001 – 2005) PhD in Chemistry (2005 – 2009)
This is the first job I’ve had since getting my PhD last year
Me and my work
I talk and write about how great science is and I investigate the use of silver to develop high-tech plasters which can kill bacteria.
I like to think I was always destined to be a scientist, ever since I was given a ‘Chemistry 90’ set one Christmas. I didn’t get off to the best of starts – a friend and I spilt methyl orange indicator on my Mum and Dad’s dining room carpet and it wouldn’t come out. There was a certain amount of strategic furniture placing and it was as good as new. When we moved house we took that carpet with us and my Dad cut the stained bit out as a momento! My parents are ace… they didn’t really get mad. Perhaps they knew what was to come? Here I am (aged 7) using that very same ‘Chemistry 90’ set, cooling down a test tube under the cold tap. Check out those pyjamas (click on all images to enlarge). I was totally ahead of my time.
The scientific research I am interested in focuses on silver, that element found roughly in the middle of the periodic table. Most people know it’s used in jewellery and cutlery but I use it in a completely different way. I use it to kill bacteria, particularly the really nasty microbes known as ‘superbugs’. MRSA is known as a ‘hospital superbug’ and is a potential killer if it gets into your bloodstream when your immune system’s not on tip-top form (like when you’re in hospital, hence the name). But using silver wound dressings could help save thousands of lives in the UK alone. They look like futuristic plasters which you can whack on your wound at the first sign of infection. And we can count ourselves very lucky. Our National Health Service can afford remedies to save our lives whereas third world countries aren’t so fortunate. I’d like this work to help save lives all over the world.
Most of my life is taken with communicating science. I support teachers setting up STEM Clubs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in schools across a quarter of England (from Nottingham right up to the Scottish border). I give entertaining science lectures and hands-on workshops in schools and I coordinate two Engineering programmes in Yorkshire which promote schools and businesses working together. I also enjoy writing and I sub-edit Chemistry Review, a national magazine for chemists. I’m also currently revising the content of a popular AS/A2 level Chemistry text book, Chemistry in Context, with Prof. Sir John Holman. I have a radio slot on BBC Radio York every Tuesday afternoon too. ‘School-run Science with Dr. Jo’ has become a rather surprise hit, given that science generally doesn’t feature on the radio. I answer science questions, the weirder and more disgusting the better, and try and explain key theories in the world of science. It generally descends into chaos or a fit of giggles. To get people talking, understanding and enjoying science who usually wouldn’t, would probably sum up what I do for a living. One of the latest things I spoke about was the chemistry of bruises. Here a bruise of mine after a rather nasty badminton injury. That’s the outside of my foot, by the way… and not usually that colour. One of my three wishes it to stop being so accident prone! Have you ever had a bruise worse than this?
I also love cars. Here I am driving a TVR very fast and looking slightly scared, as was my instructor (this is mentioned in the most fun thing I’ve done).
I love music too. I took A-Level music because I enjoyed it so much. Here I am playing a very serious piece on my clarinet (and looking very serious!) but I play the saxophone too and enjoy playing jazz and contemporary stuff.
My Typical Day
… is different from one day to the next. I’d be lost without my diary and I love my job for being so random.
At the moment I am doing a lot of;
- Working with teachers to help and support them with their science activities in their school
- Giving fun , practical science workshops to kids of all ages
- Delivering talks about really bizzare (and often slightly gross) aspects of science to the general public
- Writing science articles for magazines – this is a bit more serious than the workshops and talks.
- Speaking at conferences about the importance of science
- Doing experiments – blowing things up, setting fire to stuff, making people go ‘eeeugh’
- Talking to other scientists so we can share ideas. And I like a good natter too.
- Investigating a potential feature for the radio slot
- Researching pieces for books and articles
- Keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world of science
And that’s what’s so great about it… every day is different.
What I'd do with the money
I’d buy some really cool science resources (which I can’t currently afford) and loan them out to schools for free.
It’s very apparent that some science departments don’t have the money to buy cool science kit. You might be one of the lucky ones which do have money but if not, you could benefit from this too. £500 is a lot of money in those terms and would make a lot of difference. I’d get school pupils from across the UK to choose what bits of kit they’d love and then lend them out to the schools that need it most to use, inspire and enjoy. £500 can buy a fair bit of equipment so lots of schools would benefit at any one time and when they’re done, it’d get passed around and you’d end up with something new.
A telescope could be a great first purchase with part of the £500. Looking at the galaxies in our universe, the planets in our solar system or even the moon through a telescope is totally amazing. Here is a picture I took through my telescope. You’ll have to excuse the bit of fluff at the top and some of my hair at the bottom of the moon – It hasn’t developed some extra features overnight (I have long hair and they seem to get everywhere. You’ll understand if you have long hair or live with someone who does!). (click to enlarge)
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Happy little soul
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I like loads of different music but at the moment, I like proper guitar-driven ROCK *punches the air*. I like anything to which you can unveil your air guitar and pretend you’re Slash or Mark Knopfler. Bands like Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I’ve driven a TVR at 160 mph (on a track, not on the road!). I felt like The Stig for a day. The car I drive now is the same one I learnt to drive in, over 10 years ago, and it’s not the sexiest thing in the world so it was amazing to drive something which literally pulled your face back when you pressed the accelerator.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. To live longer. It’s just not long enough! 2. To do something which makes a difference. Ideally, I’d like a chemical in the periodic table or a scientific constant named after me but I’m not holding my breath. 3. To stop being so accident prone.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be either a musician or a scientist. I still love music and it was a very difficult decision to make but it was the right one. Music’s just a hobby now but it’s amazing how many scientists are also keen musicians.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was never in trouble for anything really important. My particularly specialities were getting told off for talking and passing the odd note around in Geography about boys or what we were going to do next break. The usual.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
When I got my first patent. To know that what I had done had never been done before and if anyone copied me, they could be sued – that felt quite powerful. A bit like Lord Sugar!
Tell us a joke.
How do you make Lady Gaga cry? Poke ‘er face.