Cherwell School 1998-2003, UCL BSc Molecular Cell Biology 2003-2006, UCL PhD Cell Biology 2006-2011
PhD, BSc, A-levels, GCSE’s
UCL 2006-2011 (teaching assistant for undergraduate practical classes), British Science Festival September 2009 (Festival Assistant), Regents Park College 2001-2003 (Waitress)
Post-doctoral research associate
Favourite thing to do in my job: Having an idea, trying something out, and seeing what happens. If it doesn’t work, you still learn something new (like how not to do the experiment next time). If it does work and you discover something exciting that you didn’t know about before, it’s even better!
I am trying to understand how mitochondria, which make energy for the cell in the form of ATP, are important for making good eggs. These are fertilised by sperm to make a baby so if they aren’t “good eggs” this can lead to some people having problems when they want to have children.
Mitochondria are a bit like little batteries in the cell and make the energy the cell needs to survive. This energy is called ATP and is used by the cell to do all the normal things like grow and divide. The cells I study are called oocytes. These are the egg cells made in the ovary of the female and they are fertilised by sperm from the male to make a baby.
Mitochondria are especially important in these cells because from the time when the oocyte is fully grown until several days after fertilisation when the newly formed embryo has already divided into many cells, no new mitochondria are created. This means that the mitochondria in the oocyte must be able to make all the energy that the embryo needs for the first few days of its life, until more mitochondria can be made. This makes the oocyte mitochondria very important for determining what makes a “good egg” as only those eggs with good mitochondria that can make enough ATP will be successfully fertilised and make it through those first few days.
I am studying mitochondria in the last part of the growth and preparation of these egg cells for fertilisation and we call this process oocyte maturation. To look at what mitochondria are doing during oocyte maturation, I inject something into the oocytes which makes the mitochondria fluorescent so that we can follow what they are doing on a microscope. Lots of our experiments involve injecting things into oocytes. We call this microinjection because the oocyte is very small and we have to do the injection by looking down a microscope. Here’s me at the microscope doing some microinjection, and a picture of what you see when you look down the microscope. The round thing in the middle is the oocyte, on the right is the holding pipette which we use to position the oocyte ready for injection, and on the left is the injection pipette containing the stuff to make the mitochondria fluorescent:
Once the mitochondria are fluorescent we can look at them in the oocyte using another microscope. This one is attached to a computer which controls how often a picture gets taken. Here’s what it looks like:
Once you put all the pictures together you have a movie which allows you to see what the mitochondria are doing. I then analyse these images. This involves sitting in front of the computer and looking at a lot of data!
Here you can see that the mitochondria (the green things) are moving from a symmetrical distribution (a nice ring shape) to an asymmetrical distribution (it looks a bit like a horseshoe). By analysing this movement we get a spreadsheet with lots of numbers which we can turn into a graph:
This graph tells us something about how and when the mitochondria are moving and we think that where the mitochondria are in the cell and how they move around during oocyte maturation might be important for making a good egg.
My Typical Day
Do some experiments, look at the results of previous experiments, try to have some excellent ideas for future experiments!
No two days are exactly the same, which is one of the things I like best about science, but I start the day by walking or cycling to work. The lab is at UCL, a university in central London.
This is the door to the lab:
A lot of my time is spent doing experiments in the lab and the first thing I usually do is to get things set up and prepared for whatever experiment I will do that day. There are often gaps in the experiment while I wait for things to happen and during this time I go to my office and spend some time in front of the computer. I share my office with 4 other girls and several plants! Here’s a picture of the office and one of my office buddies hard at work:
In the office I might look at what the results of previous experiments were to try to understand what is happening, and think about what experiments I might do next. I also read about experiments that other people have done to see how this might fit in with what I am doing, or give me ideas about what other things I can try. I might also attend a seminar to hear about work that people are doing in other labs. Among all this hard work though we also manage to make time to have some coffee and eat some cake, and maybe go for a drink at the end of the day:
What I'd do with the prize money
Get students to make fun science apps for smart phones
I thought it would be nice to do something that involves the students who have participated in I’m A Scientist Get me Out of Here. My idea is that students could design science apps for smart phones and we could get them made. These could be about anything the students think is fun and interesting about science, maybe to help teach other students about it, or even just a fun science game-it would be for the students to decide!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
cheerful, determined, chatty
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
The best thing in the lab is probably getting difficult experiments to work. It can be quite satisfying when you finally get a result after trying lots of times in lots of different ways. Outside the lab, attending scientific conferences is lots of fun. You get to show people what you have been working on and see what other people have been doing, and often they are held in nice places. Below you can see a few conference pictures from Philadelphia in America, Banff in Canada and (slightly less excitingly) Nottingham!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Occasionally. Usually for chatting too much in class!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
This is difficult…I like The Strokes and Bloc Party but my guilty pleasure is a bit of Beyoncé or Shakira
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Probably my trip to South America to celebrate finishing my PhD.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1)To discover something very exciting and important to science 2) then go on a nice long holiday after all the hard work 3) followed by lots more wishes!
Tell us a joke.
A sloth is out for a walk when he’s mugged by four snails. After recovering his wits, he goes to make a police report. “Can you describe the snails?” asks the officer. “Not well, it all happened so fast,” replies the sloth.