Katie Howe

Great questions today! If i didnt answer your question in the live chat please post it here! :D

Favourite Thing: When I get a really difficult experiment to finally work its very satisfying!



Rookwood School, Andover (1996-2002), Peter Symonds College, Winchester (2002-2004), Oxford University (2004-2008), University College London (2008-now)


I finished my PhD about 2 months ago. Before that I did a Masters degree in Biochemistry. I also have A-levels (Biology, Chemistry and Maths), an AS-level (Geography) plus 9 GCSEs.

Work History:

This is my first science job! But I’ve had a lot of non-science jobs when I was at school and university. My first job was in a bakery selling lovely bread and cakes. I also worked in the stockroom at Next and in various offices (boring!) Science is much more fun than any of those!

Current Job:

Now I work as a research associate in the same lab where I did my PhD. You can read more about what I actually do in the section about ‘me and my work’.


The lab is at University College London

Me and my work

I look at egg cells (which get fertilised by the sperm to make a baby) to see why eggs from older women are more unhealthy – this will help us understand why older women are more likely to have babies with problems like Down’s syndrome.

Down’s syndrome happens when a baby ends up with an extra copy of a chromosome. Chromosomes are found in the nucleus of a cell and are made up of DNA, which is the information that your body needs to tell it how to work, for example that you should have green eyes and brown hair etc.

A healthy cell should have 46 chromosomes – 23 of these come from the dad’s sperm and the other 23 from the mum’s egg. Babies born with Down’s syndrome have 47 chromosomes instead of 46, because their mother’s egg had an extra chromosome. This extra chromosome leads to lots of serious problems for the baby.  Older mothers are more likely to have eggs with the wrong number of chromosomes, because their eggs are older.

What we are really interested in is seeing if the eggs from older mothers are missing a key molecule which is important for controlling how many chromosomes the egg has. If we find out what this key molecule is and put it into eggs from older mothers we think we might be able to make their eggs better and help them to have healthy babies with the right number of chromosomes. We don’t know what this special ingredient is yet but we are testing a few ideas!

To get this special molecule into the eggs we use a technique called microinjection. You can see a picture of the view down the microscope in the picture below.


The egg is the round thing in the middle of the picture (really it is about the size of a full stop but the super powerful microscope we use means we can see it). On the right is the injection pipette filled with the special molecule we want to inject and on the left is the holding pipette which holds the egg still so we can inject it. Here is a picture of me doing some microinjection.


In the left of picture you can what looks like a joystick. There are lots of different joysticks which we need to use to move the eggs around and to inject them – it’s a bit like playing a computer game so it takes a bit of practice to begin with – but when you get the hang of it its really fun! These are some egg which have been injected – they have turned green as the molecule we injected them with was labelled with a fluorescent green dye!


After we have injected this molecule we put the cells in a incubator which is at 37oC (body temperature) so the eggs are warm and happy. We leave them in the incubator for a few hours so this molecule can get to work. Then later we label the chromosomes with a dye which turns them blue and then look at them under a special (and very expensive!) microscope. We can then take a pretty photo of the egg and count the number of chromosomes to check if they have the correct number.


My Typical Day

Look down microscopes, take pretty pictures of eggs, try and work out what the photos tell me!

I start the day by cycling to work. I cycle right past Big Ben and the London Eye which is cool (well, only if its good weather!) Then when I get to work, I usually check my emails and think about what I’m going to do for the rest of the day. Next I have to go and start my experiment in the lab. This involves looking down a lot of different microscopes! You can see the lab in the photo below.


When I’m doing an experiment I usually have some gaps where I am waiting for something to happen to my cells. Then I go to my office which is next to the lab. In the office I look at some of my results and plan more experiments to do. There are 4 other girls in my office and we have a lot of fun. Sometimes the people next door tell us off for laughing too loud! This is the office and one of my buddies Jenny who is working hard!


Some days I go to talks given by other scientists, or we have a lab meeting to discuss our results with other members of the lab and to get their opinions on our data. The best thing about my job is that no two days are exactly the same, so it is difficult to get bored!

What I'd do with the money

I would like to set up a website where scientists can post opportunities for young people to do work experience in their labs.

It can be hard to find a place to get some scientific work experience if you don’t know a scientist. A lot of scientists would be happy to host a school student in their lab for a week or two so this website would bring scientists and students together. The scientists would post a brief outline of what they do and what area of the country they work in and then students who are interested in spending some time in the lab could contact them through the website. This would let students see what it is really like to be a scientist!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Little Miss Busy!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

My favourite band are probably Stereophonics but I also like listening to BBC radio 6 because they play lots of music from new bands.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

A couple of years ago I went to work in New York for the summer. I stayed with a lovely American family and also went to lots of cool places like Niagara Falls.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) I would like the ability to go back in time (like Hermione Granger’s time turner in Harry Potter) then I could fit in everything I wanted to do in the day! 2) I would like to travel all over the world and 3) it would be nice to win a Nobel prize for finding out something really interesting and important.

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was about 5 I wanted to be a nurse. Then I changed my mind and decided I wanted to be a scientist.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I sometimes got in trouble for talking too much! And I got sent out of French for answering back to my teacher! I was a quite cheeky at school

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

Hmm – probably going to a conference in America a couple of years ago. I did a poster presentation of my work -you can see in the photos below!. I was very nervous before the presentation as about 10,000 people go to the conference. But it was great when some really important scientists came up to me and asked me questions about my work and said it was really interesting!

Tell us a joke.

My dog kept chasing people on a bike. So we took his bike off him. Then he just sat in the garden and barked all day. So we gave him his bike back. Because his bark was worse than his bike.

Other stuff

Work photos:

The door to the lab


This is me at the about to present my poster at a conference in America – i look a bit nervous!


These are my lab buddies at our christmas party. We had a karaoke party – I really can’t sing so that was interesting!


Here is a graph showing how the chance of having a baby with a problem like Down’s syndrome increases with age. On the x-axis is the age of the women and up the side is the % chance of getting 3 copies of a chromosome (trisomy). You are normally supposed to have two so three copies means the body gets all confused. Downs syndrome is also called trisomy 21 as there are 3 copies of chromosome 21. This graph came from a scientifc paper by Hassold and Hunt which was publsihed in 2001.