Favourite Thing: And I’m outta there. Good luck to those still standing it’s been an intense week and a bit.
Mosslands Secondary School for boys, Birkenhead Sixth form college
Durham University, Liverpool University
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Liverpool University
RIKEN Spring8 centre
Me and my work
I’m building machines for imaging biological specimens with very powerful X-ray lasers.
Xray Free Electron Lasers are a new piece of technology that offer some of the brightest light available to science. These are a little different to the X-rays used in hospitals, they are several billion times more powerful so would most likely punch a hole through hand. Instead of looking at how they pass through an object we actually look at how they are deflected. When small objects are exposed to these laser beams a pattern of delections is produced, these are used to produce an image.
At the moment the theory is well defined but, like most things, putting that into practice has proved a challenge. One of the biggest problems is how to place a sample in the path of the beam. For biological imaging samples need to be isolated and undamaged, something that isn’t easy to achieve when most things must be kept under high vacuum. We also have to ensure that nothing else gets in the path of the beam between sample and detector as it will mess up our results.
What we are essentially building are giant very expensive microscopes. We have a light source, the XFEL, various focussing optics to direct the light towards our sample and a detector,how we actually visualise it. A lot of consideration must be put into the design so I’m actually one of a very large group of scientists working on the project. My main role is sample preparation as well as making sure the set up can be applied to biology, most of my colleagues are physicists who don’t know the first thing about cells.
My Typical Day
It really depends what needs doing but it usually involves mucking about with Alan keys or pipettes.
I start my day with a quick cycle to the Synchrotron, a kind of particle accelerator used to produce X-rays. The facllity is on a mountain in the middle of nowhere so I have to live fairly nearby. Usually I’ll either head to the office check over emails and so on before going to the workshop or the lab.
It’s difficult to define a typical day really as this kind of work is pretty non-typical. What I call an ‘experiment’ involves working for several days straight (24 hours for about 3-4 days). This is because time is very limited on the big equipment like the XFEL. At those times life is very busy and a bit stressful. Otherwise I’m checking motors work well, preparing buffer solutions, ordering new pieces of equipment, culturing cells in the lab or checking some of our larger samples with various types of microscopes.
Being in Japan does add a little something extra to the whole experience, although everyone I work with is actually Korean. I do try and put a bit of time aside everyday to practice the local language. The hours can be a little long, I typically work a 12 hour day, but research should be just as much a hobby as it is a job.
What I'd do with the money
I’d put it towards the organisation of event combining scientific research and the arts.
I think there is a common misconception that science is difficult. Research is difficult but I think the concepts that underpin it can be explained to anyone, you just need to find the right way to do it. There is a lot of creativity in scientific research at many stages within the process. I think this creativity is untapped in the field of communication.
I’d like to get Researchers from Liverpool University together with local Artists, dancers, writers and musicians to find new ways of expressing their research to the general public in more engaging ways. I’ve been involved indirectly in the dance community through my mum, the Managing Director of a company that promotes and orgnises dance events across the north-west. I beleive that the arts and science are not mutually exclusive and getting them interacting again would only lead to good things.
The 500 pounds would go towards the start up costs of such an event and hopefully enough intrest would be expressed to get some serious funding.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Good-natured, inquisitive, dozy.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Would have to be Reuben (a great post punk band from Brighton) although I’m hugely into music in general.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Spending 2 weeks just bombing around the train system of Italy and seeing the sights. That or the many years I’ve spent playing Ultimate Firsbee.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I’d want to travel more of the world, get a major publication and have more time to spend on my hobbies.
What did you want to be after you left school?
At first a fireman because of my Grandad, then a zoologist because of David Attenborough
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Yes fairly often actually, I was pretty rubbish when it came to punctuality and getting homework in on time.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Moving to another country has definitely been a fantastic experience, being a scientist really opens up great opportunities to travel the world.
Tell us a joke.
A man walks into a bar with an amphibian on his shoulder. “Aww isn’t he a cutey” Says the barmaid “whats his name?” The man replies “Tiny”. The barmaid seems a little puzzled by this “Why d’you call him that.” She asks. The man replies “Because he’s My Newt.”