Photo:

Sam Briggs

Feeling sunny ._____.

Favourite Thing: Experimenting in the lab and seeing new research in seminars from visiting scientists! I once saw Higgs give a talk – he used a visualiser; super old school retro man, amazing dude.

My CV

Education:

University of Bristol 2010 – current; Alleynes High School and Sixth Form 2005 -2010

Qualifications:

Chemical Physics with Industrial Experience MSci; 5 A-Levels; 10 GCSE’s

Work History:

Imerys Minerals Ltd. Colloids Researcher; Primary and Secondary STEM Ambassador for STEMNet and ChemLabS; Postgraduate Rsearch Representative at Bristol Students Union

Current Job:

PhD Student, Primary and Secondary STEM Ambassador

Employer:

University of Bristol

About Me

2nd Year PhD Student at the University of Bristol, lover of film and books, bikes and cooking!

Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to do some form of science and as I grew older I knew it was going to be a tough choice between Physics and Chemistry. That’s when I found out about Chemical Physics! I read for my first degree in Chemical Physics with Industrial Experience here in Bristol and then decided to follow up my Master’s research with a PhD. Now I live and work here all the time, abusing my love and experience of the Arts to give talks and performances to do with Science in schools and in bars in the city. I try to get around on my beloved bike and cook when I can – also nothing beats watching my favorite film of all time, Bladerunner, with my colleagues!

My Work

Working with charged polymers and fatty acids I make compartments that might mimic early life and could be used as a targeted drug delivery system.

Science is about big questions. What’s bigger than: how did life begin? Were we flown in on the back of asteroids? Were our basic components created from gases being fused together by electrical storms and highly intense sunlight. Did the right conditions exist near deep sea thermal vents, or is the notion put about by Darwin, of creatures emerging from a warm pool – the right way to think about the problem?

There’s another deeper problem that’s implicit in the question too: How do we define life? This is a big one, but from my perspective, the perspective of a scientist trying to find criteria for investigating how Life came to exist, we have these four basic points:

  • Compartmentalisation – an interior environment that is distinct from its exterior
  • Metabolism – a way of processing some sort of fuel to power itself
  • Replicative – an ability to produce copies of itself
  • Homeostatic – an ability to maintain its configuration

These four, purposefully broad, criteria allow us to investigate in a top down; removing components from modern cells until we can remove no more but they still meet these criteria, or bottom up; creating a system from scratch with simple components which self-assemble into a system which possesses these characteristics, ways of creating a minimal or protocell.

The idea behind a protocell is that such a system is most likely to have been the first step in the journey towards modern life as we see it around us today. I work using polymers, long chains of repeating molecules that interact with an oppositely charged species of molecule to create small droplets. These droplets, known as coacervates, have no membrane. But they are distinct from their environment. Compartmentalisation – tick! They have the amazing capacity to gather other molecules and objects within themselves, provided those items have the right charge or dislike water, and using this I can add molecules that can perform reactions similar to those in modern cells. Ok, so maybe I don’t have metabolism and homeostasis down just yet, but where my attention is focused is on replication. Or at the very least the ability to transfer information from a mother protocell to a daughter protocell.

I can use the fact that one of the two chemicals in my system forms another type of compartment upon addition of an acidic stimulus. I have found that material captured within my coacervate droplets is recovered in the new compartments after this stimulus – now this might not seem ground-breaking but it’s one of those tiny steps in the right direction to answering how did, all of this – come to be?

Of course, the wonderful thing about thinking about these sorts of ‘big questions’ is the surprising places they lead you to. This system presents itself as a way of protecting fragile or dangerous drugs until they can be delivered to a specific site in the human body. In fact, one can exploit the fact that cancerous tumours happen to be acidic, this stimuli can trigger the release of incarcerated drugs and allow for more effective delivery of medicine to where it is most needed in the body.

So – where did life come from? I can’t answer that just yet, but maybe one day we will, and maybe along the way, we’ll discover new technologies that can help all life – to live for a bit longer.

A picture of the samples as I make them:

myimage5

And how they look under a microscope after I stimulate them with acid:

myimage6

My Typical Day

Rihana Ft. Drake – Work

I joke but work is work right?! Well, I get up, head to the gym for an hour, rock up to the office, answer my e-mails which are generally about Outreach and upkeep of instruments in the lab that I am responsible for. Then I’ll review the work I did the day before and compare it to my to do list and my overall goals for the project I’m working on.  I have two at the moment, the first I’m writing up into a paper, the scientists way of saying I think this is really interesting and you might think it is too, before sharing it in a publication, our version of Tumblr, and the other is still very much experimentally based. To work on that, I’ll read a paper or two on similar experiments and then head into the lab to play! And by play I mean make the experiment suit my chemicals and equipment. As scientists we have to make sure that we try not to put any bias into the research, so instead of posing questions like, I expect that if I do this to my system it should respond thusly, we might ask: I wonder what will happen if I change this in my system and then rationalise the results after the fact. Oftentimes many of the machines I want to use to investigate my samples are booked up during the day so I’ll stay in the evenings or on the weekends to use them – and that’s great because I then get to listen to my music loud! After all that, I’ll probably head home, cook some chilli, my speciality with lentils, watch an episode of Game of Thrones with my housemates, and then hit the hay!

A few pictures:

myimage1

My Lab

myimage2

My Bench in the Lab

myimage3

My Office

myimage4

My Desk in the Office

What I'd do with the money

Collaborate with my University Outreach team and a Science Museum in the city.

I work with my University’s Outreach department, regularly bringing  workshops and lecture demos to various schools and sixth forms in the South West. I hope that with the money from I’m a Scientist I could either develop a new workshop or collaborate with a science museum in the city of Bristol to enable kids to experience the excitement of doing practical science first hand so they have the spark of passion lit early on, and that might take them all the way to becoming real scientists!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Passionate; Outgoing; Joyful

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Crystal Castles / Caribou / BADBADNOTGOOD (But that’s not strictly speaking true, too many good bands…)

What's your favourite food?

Fresh Salmon Sashimi Street Tacos or a good Smoked BBQ Brisket and Chilli Meat Tray.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Inter-railing with my mates after my year in Industry, so many great places and people.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A Scientist. Seriously, clichéd but true. I didn’t know it at the time but a Chemical Physicist to be precise.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I used to get told off for asking subversive questions in assemblies.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Physics/Chemistry/Maths/Drama – thats why I did them all at A-Level and continue to read about and do them now.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Seeing totally new chemical behaviour through a microscope in a system that I had designed and refined.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett – a whole slew of authors who filled my brain with the idea that the universe was majestic and we could understand it if we tried hard enough. My folks too, for feeding my passion.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Something to do with democracy and social change, an activist, a performer trying to raise awareness about the need for social cohesion and a sense of the future when we make decisions regarding our use of natural resources.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Infinitely more wishes – obviously, and don’t say you can’t wish for that, they’re wishes. But really? A large farm house in southern France where I could host banging feasts from the produce on my land, an airship ( the Jenny Hanniver) so that I could travel all over the world, and finally more time to see my family and friends and more sun for us to sit in and eat and drink together.

Tell us a joke.

A horse walks into a bar. Several people got up and left as they saw the potential danger in the situation.

Other stuff

Work photos: