Mosslands Secondary School for boys, Birkenhead Sixth form college
Durham University, Liverpool University
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Liverpool University
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 prize money:
I’d put it towards the organisation of event combining scientific research and the arts.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Good-natured, inquisitive, dozy.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes fairly often actually, I was pretty rubbish when it came to punctuality and getting homework in on time.
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.
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.
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.”