Thank you for an amazing couple of weeks: students, scientists, and the I'm a Scientist Team :)
Primary Schooling (1995-2003, California, USA); Secondary Schooling (2003-2007, Ontario, Canada); Bachelor’s Degree: University of Liverpool (2009-2012, UK); Master’s & PhD Degrees: University of Glasgow (2012-2016, UK).
In secondary education, I have a typical North-American high school diploma, in which grades 11 and 12 are judged to be most important (like A-levels). In 11th grade, I took English, Ancient World History, World Religions, Computer Engineering, Maths, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. In grade 12, I took English, Modern World History, Politics, Maths/Calculus, Biology and Chemistry. In higher education, I have a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Molecular Biology from the University of Liverpool, Master of Research (MRes) in Molecular Functions in Disease with Distinction from the University of Glasgow.
I have had a few gigs working on short projects in various labs. I have worked in a lab that was trying to figure out what different viruses look like so that we can prevent infections, and I have worked for a lab that made tiny Lego-like bricks with pipes in them to make chemical reactions easier (and fun!). Outside of labs I have worked at the World Museum Liverpool as a demonstrator in an exhibit called Inside DNA. I explained to people things like if you were to unravel the DNA in just one cell of your body, it would actually be 2 metres in length (longer than most people are tall). I also explained how half of the letters in your DNA are exactly the same as those in a banana! We are all half bananas.
I am a full-time PhD research student. This is both a ‘job’ and an incredible learning experience about not just bones, but life!
I am interested in the different types of cells that live in and around bone. Yes, there are many kinds of cells just for bone! Each cell type has an important bit of work to do, to help bones grow and stay healthy during your life.
Imagine you are shrunk down to the size of a cell in a bone….
There you will see the wobbly, blue-coloured osteoblasts, cells that ‘blast’ out protein, calcium and phosphorus – which all combine to form normal bone. The proteins look like a tangle of ropes, and the calcium and phosphate minerals fill in the gaps like cement, to give bone its strength. Osteoblasts are so happy to keep chugging out bone material that they can get buried alive in it!
Then you will find the spiky, purple-coloured osteoclasts, which gang up and fuse to combine their bone-breaking and acid-spewing abilities. Osteoclasts have an important job in helping give bones their ‘architecture’, shape and strength, but when left unchecked, they can cause bone-shattering mayhem!
Perfect balance of both, osteoblasts and osteoclasts, is absolutely necessary for healthy bones. In a healthy person, these cells take turns in doing their jobs: osteoblasts making crude bone, and osteoclasts shaping and landscaping that bone. Osteoblasts then come back and make more bone… and the cycle continues forever! In some diseases, such as osteoporosis (meaning ‘bone with holes’) osteoclasts start to win this epic tussle, causing weak bones that can easily break.
Cells are very tiny machines that are made up of billions of different chemicals. By looking at the inner ‘machinery’ of the osteoblasts and osteoclasts, I hope to put a spanner in the works when cells act up.
In the lab, I use mice to study how bone develops from birth to old age, in diseases, and how the bone cells behave each situation. I take bone cells out from bone, grow them in dishes and see if they look normal or unusual. I can then break open the cells and see if their chemical machinery is normal or unusual – I do this with a lot a high-tech equipment that can recognise cell chemicals! I also take lots of tiny X-ray pictures of tiny mouse bones.
Check out this cool animation about osteoclasts and osteoblasts!
My Typical Day:
I come into the lab, feed some hungry cells by gently squirting red juice-like stuff on them, and then I use some high-tech machines that can recognise the molecules and chemicals the cells are making, and then I use giant computers to analyse and measure the density and strength of many mouse bones. I also have some lunch with lab mates. On some days there are meetings where we discuss ideas, plans and share our latest findings – these meetings usually provide jelly-filled donuts.
No day is ever the same. Everyday, I walk into the lab building feeling like I’m getting closer to solving a mystery. There are different challenges all of the time.
On a given day, I could be:
Making sure my bone cells are growing happily. Happy cells = happy me.
Taking the cells, freezing them in time (by adding a certain chemical), and then dyeing them to make them pretty (and so that I can see them under a microscope).
Putting cells under the microscope to count them using computer software, but sometimes I can just lose track of time as I stare at how cool they look.
Seeing how cells from different mice compare by counting them or measuring their colour. This is a scientific result!
I could be doing 3D X-ray scans of tiny bones from mice that are either young/old or healthy/diseased.
I could be collecting my results and making cool looking graphs that explain what I see – this is new knowledge!
I could be discussing ideas about cells and bones with other scientists and we could be planning what to do next.
Running 10 kilometres in mud. (Oh right, this is probably the weekend by now.)
What I'd do with the prize money:
I would use the money to help enhance my museum workshop event, where I show people of all ages real bones from all kinds of animals that the museum has collected. I explain the cell processes and how evolution has shaped them.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, Determined, Creative
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was a fairly well behaved student, but I do remember getting in a bit of trouble a couple of times.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Top 5 right now: R.E.M., Nada Surf, Wilco, Editors, Pixies
What's your favourite food?
Pizza or Indian food
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. Travel to everywhere on the planet, 2. Have my own giant laboratory with the best equipment, 3. Live a happy life and meaningful life – leaving Earth a better place than I found it.
Tell us a joke.
I find jokes about bones rather… humerus.