Woah, down to the last two. It's getting real!
I finished my GCSE’s in 2000 (which makes me feel quite old), I got A levels in Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Maths in 2002 and then went to the University of Kent to study Biomedical science for 3 years. In 2007 I went back to the University of Kent to do a PhD in Cancer research
I have a PhD, so I’m allowed to call myself Doctor Sam. Love that! I also have a BSc Hons (Bachelor of Science with honours), 4 A-levels and an AS level (including general studies) and 10 GCSE’s
Up until the end of my first degree I’d had loads of part time jobs such as a kitchen cleaner, paper boy, bar tender and gym instructor. After university I worked in labs as a scientist trying to make new drugs, including a female version of viagra that would also slim and tan! After this I did a PhD in cancer research which I finished last year.
At the moment I work as a research associate at a university. As well as trying to develop new ways of helping brains and nerves heal themselves, I also help teach students how to be a scientist.
I work at Imperial College, right in the middle of London next to the natural history museum. Experiment not working? Go look at Dinosaurs.
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love doing new experiments where you know you are the first person in the world who has ever looked at that particular thing. That is quite cool.
In my work I am trying to find a way to help the nerve cells in our bodies and brains mend themselves after really bad injury or disease. This could help paralysed people or people with Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the problems with illnesses like Alzheimer’s is that the brain cells aren’t as good at repairing themselves as other bits of your body so the disease is difficult to treat. The same problem is seen when people break their spines and are paralysed for life. We want to find a way of making these cells become like other body cells for a short while, letting them fix themselves, then they can go back to doing their normal job in the body.
Research costs lots of money and so we are given money by the Royal British Legion, the charity that sell poppies to help injured soldiers.
To do this job I grow lots of small dishes of different types of cells, such as nerve cells. Sometimes I simulate the blast of an explosion on these cells and see how this changes the way that the cell works.
I spend lots of time in the lab and am really busy. I sometimes wish that I could clone myself to help do all the work. Then I would have more time to read up on what other scientists were doing and try and get ideas. My friends have just told me that one of me is enough, but here is what I reckon it would be like if I did clone myself.
When doing these experiments I spend quite a lot of time using microscopes. Some of the microscopes are very futuristic looking, with lasers that allow you to take a really detailed 3D picture of cells much much smaller than this full stop.
The picture here shows some cells (the blue bit is their nucleus, like the brain of the cell). The little white ruler in the bottom right shows how big the cells are. This ruler is 50 micrometers long. One micrometer is one thousandth of a single millimeter, or one millionth of a meter! (This image is actually in 3D on my computer and I can twist it all over the place to see right around each cell, but sadly I can’t put that on here for you.)
We can look at the details of the cells using special dyes that recognise certain bits of cells. A bit like how some hair dyes can target only the grey hairs. This picture (my favourite) shows the tiny skeleton of the cell. Can you see all the thin red lines? They are called actin filaments and do some of the same jobs that our bones do. We use this dye to see what changes happen to the cell shape.
For the most part I really enjoy my work. Particularly when I’m doing a brand new experiment. The worst part of the job is when things go wrong. Especially if you have spent weeks working on that experiment.
My Typical Day
I spend about half my day in the lab doing experiments and the other half trying to understand what my results mean and think of new ideas. Sometimes as a scientist you get surprising results and you have to find out whether it is something really cool or just a mistake.
So my daily routine. I wake up far to early 🙁 Take the train to London and then dodge buses as I bike 7 miles to work. When I’m on the train I usually plan what experiments I’m going to do based on what I found out the day before.
We have a lot of fun in the labs and we are always laughing and joking which makes work more enjoyable. Here is a picture of the desk from the girl who sits next to me. It was her birthday so we wrapped everything up as a present.
I start work at 9 and work till 6. About half this time I spend in the lab doing experiments. Sometimes at my bench, sometimes in the microscope room and sometimes in a room where I look after lots of dishes of cells that we need for our experiments.
Here is a picture of me looking after these cells.
Certain experiments can be quite long but I usually have my iPod on when I’m in the lab. The problem with having my headphones in is that I often forget where I am and start dancing. Our labs have glass windows so I put on a nice little show without realising. The last part of my day is spent writing up the different experiments that I did that day and what I found out. This is probably the most important bit of being a scientist and I try and do some of this each day. I also use this part of the day to write any reports or presentations, as scientists always share their discoveries so that other people can add to them. At the end of the day I cycle back to my train and go home.
What I'd do with the prize money
I want to make a website where you can design and do your own experiments to solve questions you’ve always wanted to know the answer to, then publish the results to the world. A bit like an on-line mythbusters, but you get to do the experiments yourself.
I really think that science can be very exciting, but learning lots of facts and names can seem boring. I want to get people doing their own science, at home or at school, answering real questions that they don’t know the answer to.
It used to be that all sorts of people really wanted to discover things and did all kinds of experiments at home. Some of these people became very famous scientists and their discoveries helped change the world.
So I want to make a website where anyone who thinks of lots of questions can try and work them out. You can come up with your own ideas and test them. (Does tapping the top of a can of coke really stop it fizzing? Nan thinks it is the same snails who keep eating her tomatoes, but is it?)
The website will have info on how to make your idea into a proper experiment. Then you can put your research on the site and it will be reviewed by students from other schools, who might suggest extra experiments that you could do. The top-rated article in each age group every month will win a prize, and all the research will be available online.
There will also be a separate section for teachers with an experiment library and help on setting up a science club which could work on bigger projects. There will be scientist helpers who can give ideas and suggestions to students and teachers.
The final part of my plan, and I’ve not fully thought it through yet, would be to get students from all over the country to work on a science project that could be published in a real science research journal (the kind of thing that scientists read to find out about new discoveries) with different clubs helping towards the final piece of research. This will need a lot of organisation, but if it were to work, then students might become published scientists, something that usually doesn’t happen until after getting a PhD.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly, imaginative, easily-distracted (the hyphen makes that one word!)
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Probably my PhD which was trying to make a new therapy for cancer. I enjoyed it more than anything I’ve done before and it nearly worked. Now someone else is trying to improve on it.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes. Mainly in 6th form. I was quite cheeky and prefered playing football and rugby to doing work.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Ah, tough question. Probably Muse, although I also like Linkin Park, Eminem and Childish Gambino
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I’ve done so many fun things that it is hard to choose, but the first time I properly rode a wave when surfing was awesome!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would definitely be a bit taller as I’m a bit below average height. I want to be the fastest person in the world (Usain Bolt would be slow in comparison) and I would have enough money that I could buy a house in every continent and spend my life travelling with all my friends.
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a snail on a ship? A snailor.