Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.
Favourite Thing: Any scientist worth their salt will say that their favourite thing is when an unexpected or novel result happens that makes them feel like they’ve entered new territory. It doesn’t have to be on an Einstein/Newton/Watson and Crick-scale just something that hasn’t been described before. I think scientists (certainly I do) generally enjoy playing Devil’s advocate as well. There’s nothing more fun than backing the minority opinion against received wisdom.
Sciennes Primary and George Watson’s College, Edinburgh 1983-1989 and 1989-1997
University of Edinburgh 1997-2003
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Tennis Coach, Groundsman, Security guard (Guarded the double-green at carnoustie in 1999..at night…sigh…)
Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh
Clinical Research Fellow- a medical doctor undertaking research as part of my training. I aim to achieve a PhD and lay the foundations for a career in academic medicine
Me and my work
I’m working on developing new treatments for lung disease at the Centre for Inflammation Research in Edinburgh.
I’m training to be a respiratory physician (doctor with an interest in lungs and to some extent the person surrounding them too!) and as part of that I’m involved in scientific research into developing treatments for lung disease. I’m funded to do this work by the Wellcome trust who also fund this event (not that there was any pressure on me to take part!). We are especially interested in lung diseases caused by inflammation which is a normal defence system used by the body to beat infection. In the diseases we’re interested in inflammation happens even when there’s no infection or hangs around much longer than it’s supposed too. We aim to resolve inflammation by altering the behaviour of the white blood cells (anti-infection, immune defence cells) that cause it. I am in a good position to see science move from the bench (laboratory) to the bedside (hospital) and back again which is an over-used but important phrase that basically implies that our work is/will be important for people in the world outside our building.
My Typical Day
A mix of experiments, experiment design and writing up experiments and (hopefully) informative papers.
I work mainly in the building shown on the right which is just across the road from
Edinburgh’s main hospital (Royal Infirmary). I can see roe deer, pheasants, heron and buzzards from my window!
I mainly work with human white blood cells called neutrophils and macrophages. These cells function a bit like pacmen in that they can eat bugs (bacteria/fungi), dead cells and other debris that needs to be removed from the body (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpOxgAU5fFQ&feature=player_embedded and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trFKvJT57Vc ). Neutrophils travel in the blood-stream to sites of infection in large numbers and can fight infection by eating bugs, spitting noxious chemicals or as a last resort exploding so that their DNA traps bugs and prevents them spreading.
Interestingly, when neutrophils die and are eaten by macrophages something about this process helps the body return to normality from what is essentially a red-alert/DEFCON 1 scenario.
In the laboratory I work in we investigate this process and how we can turn it to our advantage. I’m lucky in that I have excellent supervision from very smart, experienced senior scientists so that there are always new ideas when things take an unexpected direction.
The experiments we do involve taking blood from volunteers, isolating cells and then seeing how they behave in different conditions or with different drugs/agents. We use standard microscopes but also microscopes that detect fluorescent dyes so that we can look not just at cells but also molecules within them. We can make videos like the ones I’ve linked to above and with fancier fluorescent effects as well. A lot of our work is with a machine called a flow cytometer which bounces a laser off cells and allows us to detect changes in the cell’s size/natural fluorescence and intricate chemistry. We also work with DNA, RNA and proteins using molecular biology techniques like western blotting and PCR.
These techniques let us know exactly what effects our new treatments are having on a cell’s function. They are tricky, pain-staking and open to interpretation but when they work well you know you’re on to a winner!
What I'd do with the money
I think it’s about time I had an oil-painting of myself to hang in the office….
Communicating science is extremely important and we are lucky enough to have a team dedicated to this cause at Edinburgh University. Money needs to be spent strategically to ensure it has maximum impact and I’m sure it would be better assigned by communication professionals than someone whose idea of communication is to hang an oil painting of himself in a small office shared with 5 colleagues!
As an example of how the money might be used I know that there is a dedicated science festival in Edinburgh (it’s a festival kind of city) and that we often take the opportunity to tell everyone who’s interested (and probably quite a few who aren’t) about the work we’ve been doing at the Centre.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Hunting the snark
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Hold Steady, Dave Matthews Band
What is the most fun thing you've done?
That’s a terribly personal question…..
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. Continued involvement in science 2. Recover sufficiently from my Achilles’ tendon rupture to return to playing squash 3. Boundless enthusiasm
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had sort-of convinced myself I wanted to be a doctor but was threatening to pursue philosophy.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Rarely,but then I hardly ever went (joke). I was quite sport-focused at school.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
An image I made was on the cover of a magazine
Tell us a joke.
A farmer was helping one of his cows give birth when he noticed his four-year-old son standing at the fence with wide eyes, taking in the whole event. The man thought to himself, “Great, he’s four years old and I’m gonna have to start explaining the birds and bees now. No need to jump the gun. I guess I’ll let him ask and then I’ll answer.” After everything was over, the man walked over to his son and said, “Well son, do you have any questions?” “Just one,” gasped the wide-eyed lad. “How fast was that calf going when he hit that cow?”