In answering this http://ias.im/44.1357 I did some experiments - results are in the comments section. Got a massive amount of lab work on today, but I will answer your questions - be patient :)
I went to Tuxford Comprehensive in Nottinghamshire from 1988 to 1995, studying both my GCSEs and A-levels there.
I did my Bachelors degree in Biochemistry with Medical Biochemistry at Cardiff University and then moved across the River Severn to the University of Bristol to do my Ph.D in Biochemistry.
Following my Ph.D I took the opportunity to travel and moved to Charleston, South Carolina in the USA to work as a research scientist. I spent my time there looking at the reasons behind antibiotic resistance.
The work I do here in Oxford is looking at new ways of treating Malaria. The bugs that cause Malaria are getting used to the medicines that treat the disease, so it’s always important to be looking for new ways to kill the bugs.
I’m a biochemist, but the branch of biochemistry I work in is structural biology. I want to look at the structure of proteins to find out more about how they work and sometimes how to stop them working. The part of biochemistry I have always found interesting is how diseases can be treated and how the medicines we take work.
Proteins in our bodies and in all living things can be thought of as little machines and communication pathways that allow us to to all the things we do. I’m interested in the proteins in bugs (bacteria and parasites) that can make us sick. The problems I try to solve have varied from how antibiotics work against bacterial infections (like tonsillitis) to my current work on looking for new ways of treating Malaria (a parasitic infection). If a protein is vital in keeping a bug alive it can be used as a target for medicines that will stop the protein doing it’s job and therefore kill the bug and give your own immune system the help it needs to make you better.
So how do I do this? Well I want to look at the structure of these protein targets to find out about the important part in making it work (it’s active site). Normal microscopes aren’t good enough to look at proteins in this level of detail – I need to know where all the individual atoms are – so I use X-rays which are powerful enough to get the right level of detail. I also get to use some pretty fancy machinery to solve these protein structures including the Diamond Light Source – a vast machine that provides the high intensity x-rays you need to look at protein structure http://www.diamond.ac.uk/Home/About/Films/applications.html. Once I know the structure of the protein I’m interested in, I can see what shape chemical is needed to block it’s active site and the beginnings of a cycle to develop a new medicine has started. I work with chemists who will make the new medicines and with parasitologists and cell biologists who can work out it the new medicines work to kill the Malaria parasite. All the information we discover will gradually improve our understanding of the protein target and the medicines we are developing against it.
My Typical Day:
Some playing about in the lab, some playing about on computers, sometimes some playing about on very expensive machines (http://www.esrf.eu/AboutUs), some teaching and of course a coffee break.
Generally no day is the same – there isn’t really a typical day! Most days I will spend some of it in the lab making proteins or doing experiments with proteins. I also spend some time most days at my computer checking for new literature in my area of research and looking at the proteins on my computer. If have some data on the structure of my protein I will be sat at the computer building the atoms of the protein into the data I have collected, there are some pretty good computer programs that can do some of this for you, but it all needs to be checked by hand and sometimes your eyes are just that much better at positioning the atoms than the computer!
I also work with a lot of other scientists in different labs around the world so I have to spend time writing reports and presentations so we can keep up to date on all aspects of the project. We also have regular meetings and occasionally I go and work in their labs – this can be fun, I spend 5 weeks earlier this year working in Toronto, Canada. I also travel to conferences to present my work. In fact scientists get to travel quite a lot for work.
I also do some teaching at the university. I take undergraduate tutorials on how to work with proteins. And I teach graduate students (those studying for an M.Sc or Ph.D) about X-ray crystallography (which is the technique I use to solve protein structures). So some days I need to do preparation for these tutorials.
And of course a few coffee breaks and chats with people around the lab :).
What I'd do with the prize money:
I’d like to spend some of the money to come and visit you and chat more about science. I would also like to donate the rest of the money to one of the outreach programs at Oxford University.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Like a few of the other scientists in the zone, I’ve asked around my colleagues… tenacious/principled, inquisitive and organised.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Once or twice ;) I did manage to get myself banned from school trips due to misbehaviour, but the teachers relented and removed the ban.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
A surprisingly difficult question! I listen to a range of stuff, from bands like Radiohead, Beck and The Arcade Fire to 80’s collections (for singing along to in the car).
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
One serious wish first, I wish they would sort out university and research funding so all the people doing research and teaching can stop worrying about their jobs and focus on the more important things they do. Now the less serious: Teleportation as a means of travel, so I don’t have to waste any holiday time on a plane and boringly a euro millions win certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Tell us a joke.
I’m really bad at remembering jokes, does this happen to other people?