University of Glasgow (2003-2008), University of Cambridge (2008-now)
MSci Genetics, MPhil Developmental Biology
Been a student for many, many years…
PhD student (almost finished!)
Me and my work
I’m trying to understand how fish tell their left from their right.
Although the bodies of many animals are (more or less) symmetrical on the outside, their internal organs are asymmetrical. For example, the heart is on the left, and in order for it to develop in this position the heart cells must ‘know’ which side of the body is going to be the left side and which will be the right. To try and understand how this happens, I study the embryos of zebrafish (a tiny tropical fish that lots of people keep in aquariums). Their embryos are really useful because they develop very fast: in just 24 hours they have a heart that beats and pumps blood around the body. They are transparent too, which means we can see what’s going on inside the body as it is developing! Many things that we learn from studying zebrafish can help us to understand other animals too, even humans.
My Typical Day
Fish, lab, coffee, lab, microscope, lab, think!
My day usually starts with a visit to the aquarium, because zebrafish lay their eggs first thing in the morning (at sunrise ie. when we switch the lights on). After collecting the eggs I take them to the lab, have a look at them through the microscope to see that the cells have started to divide, and then I leave them in the incubator to develop. After coffee time, I’ll get on with experiments (most of which involve very small tubes of DNA and other molecules, and will hopefully tell me whether genes are switched on or off). Later in the day, I check my fish embryos again to see how they are developing. By the time they are 12 hours old, they ‘know’ which side of their body is going to be the left and which will be the right, so I do most of my experiments before this time. And then, it’s home time.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Likes most things.
What living thing amazes you the most?
It’s really difficult to choose one, but I think octopuses are awesome because they are so different to humans and other vertebrate animals, but they’re intelligent too. Their camouflage abilities are also amazing!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Sometimes, but not very often.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Well, my favourite subject at school was art…
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I got to visit Mexico this year to present my research at a conference, which was great because I got to meet lots of scientists and hear about lots of exciting new science, but also because after the conference I went swimming with whale sharks :)
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
The people who taught me, at school and at university.
What would your superpower be?
Time travel. It would be cool to be able to visit millions of years ago and see what the world was like then.
If I could change one thing about the world...
I wish humans wouldn’t harm natural environments so much, like the rainforest.
My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:
I always think of them as part of the cosy christmas feeling!
The most Fantastic thing about Life is:
Show us where you work:
This is what zebrafish embryos look like under the microscope, about 24 hours after the egg is fertilised. They are curled up inside their soft eggshell (called the chorion), which measures about 2 mm across.
And this is my lab bench: where the science happens!