Before I got this was all about the taking part. Now I would really like to win!!!
Favourite Thing: I love doing an experiment that no one in the world has done before, but I also love playing with things that glow in the dark, and lasers, and my job lets me do all of these, sometimes all at the same time!
Cantell Comprehensive (1992 – 1996) then Taunton’s Sixth Form College, Southampton (1996 – 1998)
Girton College, Cambridge MSci Chemistry (1998 – 2002), Downing College, Cambridge, PhD Biophysics (2002 – 2007)
I am currently in my first job – though I will be heading to Yale in September
University of St Andrews, Scotland
Research Fellow – Single Molecule Scientist
Me and my work
I am interested in how DNA is replicated and repaired in cells, and am developing methods to watch individual moleulces of DNA being replicated.
How much DNA is there in your body? The answer is, enough to get to the moon and back – several times! Every time our cells divide they need to replicate their entire DNA, and they need to do it very accurately, otherwise this leads to mutations.
The Central Dogma of Biology
DNA is a code of 4 letters (bases), A, T, C and G. The sequence of letters are made up into three letter words, or codons, which each code for one of twenty different amino acids. These amino acids are built into proteins, which do most of the chemistry in your cells.
When a mutation occurs, it means that one of the letters in the DNA code has been changed for a different one that shouldn’t be there. This can lead to a different amino acid in the protein that the DNA coded for and this can make the protein unable to do the job it was doing, which is very bad for the cell – leading to cancer and many other diseases.
I am trying to understand how DNA is replicated in the cell, and with such high-fidelity (low error rate, as low as one error in every 1,000,000,000 bases). I am also trying to understand the different mechanisms by which damaged DNA is repaired.
I have developed cutting edge techniques to observe the interactions of DNA with proteins one molecule at a time. I use a powerful fluorescence microscope, and lasers to follow the shapes of DNA molecules and how they change when they are bound by proteins.
This work has many important applications, besides being very interesting in and of itself! It may lead to new sequencing techniques, which will allow us to sequence DNA much faster and more accurately, helping to bring on the age of Genetic Medicine, in which our medical will be personalised to our individual genome. It may also help in understanding the molecular basis for some cancers and other diseases, which in turn will help with finding drugs to cure them.
When I am not doing science, I am probably either:
1) At home with my wife, eating good food, and enjoying a nice whiskey (we are in Scotland after all)
2) Playing my violin – either in my String Quartet, or leading an orchestra somewhere
3) Sleeping (although this seems to happen less and less these days).
I will add a new picture to this description each day this week (starting Monday 7th June) so be sure to check back and see the new developments!
Monday 7th June: After a long day jugding the Scottish Schools National Science and Engineering Competition, I am now flicking through some photos of the fluorescence microscope: here it is with the green laser on!
I look forward to meeting you all online soon.
My Typical Day
There is no such thing!
One of the great things about my job is that it is so varied. There are several things I do quite often, but no week is the same, let alone each day. Some of the things I do are really exciting: like getting experiments to work on the fluorescence microscope, visiting fellow academics in far off cities and discussing our work, discovering something new. But some of things I do are more routine: like cleaning microscope slides, or growing bacteria to make my proteins for me (actually that is pretty cool too).
In addition to doing experiments, at least half my time is spent trying to analyse and understand the results, and then writing them up for other scientists to read, in international publications.
So there is no such thing as a typical day other than the fact that they mostly start at about 9 am and finish somewhere between 5.30 (if I am really lucky) and 8 or even 9 pm if I am particularly unlucky!
What I'd do with the money
I would let you guys decide!
Here are the three options:
1) Put it towards the flights for my wife to come and join me in my new Job in America in September.
2) Put it towards starting a new science out reach program at Yale University next year.
3) Buy a Play Station 3.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Inquisitive, Passionate, Proactive
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I like The Feeling: I used to listen to their first album on repeat when I was travelling from St Andrews to Cambridge to see my then girlfriend – now wife!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Ceilidh Dancing. Or driving, rally driving is great fun. Or playing my violin on tour with an orchestra.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To live a life that inspires other people 2) To have a big, happy family 3) To do science that really makes a difference to peoples lives (and wins me a Nobel Prize in the process)
What did you want to be after you left school?
At one point I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I wanted to be a musician. When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do, but it was sort of a toss up between music and science, and it is pretty tricky to do science in your spare time, so I decided to study science at uni and do lots of music in my spare time.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Once I brought matches into school to see what happened when you burn things – apparently you get in trouble when you burn things!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I have made proteins that glow different colours, which are pretty cool. But the best thing I have done is help us to understand a bit more about how DNA is replicated and repaired in cells, as this might be useful to other scientists who are trying to cure cancer and other diseases.
Tell us a joke.
There are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don’t. (Hint: what is 10 in binary? – I know – it’s a geeky joke)