Thomas Butts



University of Durham, 2000-2004; University of Oxford, 2005-2009.


D.Phil. (Oxon.), B.Sc. (Dunelm)

Work History:

King’s College, London

Current Job:

Research Scientist


King’s College, London

Me and my work

I work on the evolutionary history and developmental origin of neurons.

I am a researcher in the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London. My research is centred on understanding how we make sensory neurons – the neurons that allow us to sense pain, touch and muscle position, and how they have evolved in animals. I also work on the brain and how the size of the brain has been modified during the last 500 million years of evolution.

Before coming to King’s, I read Cell Biology at the University of Durham and subsequently received my PhD from the University of Oxford in the evolution of homeobox genes, a crucial family of genes that have been central players in animal evolutionary history.

My Typical Day

Arrive in the lab, set up a DNA experiment, check emails, have coffee and chat, dissect some embryos (mouse, chick or frog), analyse them under a fluorescence microscope, read a scientific paper, talk about science or politics over lunch, go to lab meeting/research seminar, sit with my boss and have a scientific discussion over tea, spend rest of the day (and night sometimes!) taking photographs on confocal microscope.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Obsessed, sometimes confused.

What living thing amazes you the most?

The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Taken my friend Jerome, who I met in science, to Villa Park so see a premiership match in the flesh. (He is chinese.) I have never ever seen anyone so excited about anything. Meeting people from all over the world is one of the great joys of science.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Almost never – I was a massive geek.

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

A footballer! But seriously, a journalist.

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

My lasy piece of work – showing how the cerebellum (part of the brain) in mammals evolved to be much more massive than in other animals.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

That’s easy: David Attenborough and the BBC Natural History Unit. Everyone who works there as far as I am concerned is a genius.

What would your superpower be?

Being able to generate astonishing amounts of heat – I have a really high metabolic rate!

If I could change one thing about the world...

Make all education free.

My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:

Seeing my PhD supervisor help out Allison Woollard! (My supervisor was Peter Holland – the guy with the chicken and the snakes. He is the head of the Zoology Department at Oxford.)

The most Fantastic thing about Life is:

How interesting it is.

Other stuff

Show us where you work:

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