Really enjoying answering all of your great questions!
University of York (2008-2012)
Masters (MChem) in Chemistry, Biological and Medicinal Chemistry (with a year abroad).
Charity shops, Coventry Rugby Club office, MetPrep Ltd.
University of York
Favourite thing to do in my job: Looking at something that no one else has not seen before is exciting, and using interesting equipment to carry out your experiments, such as a synchrotron (particle accelerator) to generate X-rays.
I look at how bacteria eat plants to see if we can use their digestion methods on waste as an alternative to the fuel in our cars.
Currently, fossil fuels are used to power our cars. In particular, oil. However fossil fuels are non-renewable, which means that one day they will run out. Scientists are looking into various forms of renewable methods which will not run out, to create the fuel needed to power our cars. One such method is using the waste plant material left after farmers have ploughed their fields. The downside to using this material, however, is that it is very hard to break down to produce what is known as bioethanol or biodiesel fuels. Harsh treatments of steam and chemicals are used at the moment, which are not cheap or clean to the environment.
This is where my enzyme comes in to the story. An enzyme is a biological molecule, often a protein, that plays a role in helping a reaction take place. My enzyme is able to speed up the breakdown of the long chains, such as cellulose, within the plant material. To do this, it uses copper metal to react with oxygen in the air to break one of the very strong bonds in the cellulose chain. In nature, fungi and bacteria use produce this enzyme and use it to break down plants for their food. So, we can hopefully learn from them and use it in our industrial systems to produce our biofuels.
Therefore, my work involves looking at the exact mechanism of the enzyme, which includes looking at the enzyme’s structure. To look at the structure of an enzyme, a method known as X-ray crystallography is used. This involves making crystals of the enzyme and hitting X-rays at it to get a diffraction pattern. From this pattern, its 3D structure can then be worked out.
My Typical Day
Working in the lab or at my computer in the office, along with regular coffee and tea breaks.
My days vary depending on whether I need to run certain experiments in the lab, or make my protein to use for these experiments. Making the protein can take up a lot of my time, so I hardly ever get to sit in the office during these days (although I make sure I stop for my regular tea and coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon!) On other days I can be running experiments in the lab, analysing the data at my computer in the office, writing up results or reading papers to help me learn more about what I am doing or to see how other scientists are progressing in my area.
What I'd do with the prize money
Help organise and set up a science stall at a festival.
I would hopefully use the money to help set up a science stall at a festival in Wales (Green Man Festival) that has an area dedicated to science communication to the public.
The stall would involve activities for children, including demonstrating important scientific ideas through painting or crafts, such as making DNA bracelets!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Honest, creative, crazy!
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Travelled to the Netherlands for a conference.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
A video in Year 9 Chemistry on the discovery of buckminsterfullerene (a rare form of carbon!)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really. Only once and that was for laughing, so I don’t think it should count!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A pharmacist or I would own my own cafe.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Changes regularly, but Hozier at the moment.
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Lived in Finland for 9 months.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I wish I owned a dog, I wish I could eat as much cake and chocolate as I wanted and never get fat, and I wish I could fly to anywhere in the world without having to sit on a plane for hours!
Tell us a joke.
I once told a Chemistry joke……but there was no reaction!