Favourite Thing: Drinking tea! When I’m not in the lab I spend the rest of my daydrinking tea whilst analysing results or reading about the cool experiments other scientist have done .
Loreto Grammar School, Omagh (2001-2008), Newcastle University (2008-2011), Queen’s University Belfast (2011-2012), University of Liverpool (2012-2016)
BSc Medical Microbiology and Immunology, MRes Molecular Medicine
I’ve worked in a pharmacy, a card shop and I worked as a youth leader at an Irish language summer college
University of Liverpool
Me and my work
I put lung cells in an acidic environment and try to find out how they react to this stress
Many people suffer from gastric reflux, a condition that causes stomach acid to travel back up the throat. Some children, who have illnesses which affect the way their brain works, have gastric reflux. Because they cannot cough very well to stop it, some of the stomach contents, including acid, gets inhaled into their lungs. This happens slowly over time and causes these children’s lungs to become slightly acidic. The acidic environment causes lung cells to behave in a strange way; they get stressed and many of the cells start to die. The lungs become damaged and aren’t able to do their job properly. When this happens, the children can become unwell and sometimes they have to stay in hospital for a long time so they can have treatment.
I want to know how the lung cells behave when they are exposed to an acidic environment. I look for signals that the cells send out to say they are unhappy and also look for changes that happen to the cells when they are left in this acidic environment. If we know how the cells are stressed out and why they die then we can make new treatments to treat children with gastric reflux so their lungs stay healthy and they don’t have to spend time in hospital.
My Typical Day
I grow lung cells on plastic dishes and put acid on them to see how they react
I grow a special type of cell that can grow and divide again and again and again without dying. My cells are healthy lung cells which have had their DNA changed so that they never stop growing. I grow these in plastic flasks or plates in a liquid called media that contains all the nutrients they need to survive.
When I do experiments I add some hydrochloric acid into the media and measure it’s acidity using a pH meter. When the media is at the right pH, I pour it onto the cells and leave them in a cupboard, called an incubator, that keeps the cells at 37° Celsius (the same temperature as your body!). After a few hours I take the cells out again and collect the media and the cells. I do tests on the media and cells to find out what is being made by the cells. Some of the proteins that are made by the cell may be released as stress signals. If I know what kind of stress signals the cells are sending out I might be able to find a drug to make them relax again.
What I'd do with the money
Donate the money to funding STEM projects in the Merseyside area
Some of the researchers I work with are STEM ambassadors and I would like to become one also. You may have heard of STEM from your teachers, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. You may have had STEM ambassadors come into your school to talk to you about science, maybe show you some cool experiments or answer questions, like the ones you’re going to post on I’m a Scientist.
With the £500 we could travel to Merseyside schools to talk to the schoolchildren about science and research. We could buy equipment and materials that would allow us to do some fun experiments with the pupils. We could also make a DVD about research and how you can become a researcher that could be sent out to schools across the country.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Short, loud and curious
Who is your favourite singer or band?
David Bowie and Beyonce
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Jumped into the Atlantic Ocean after a really cold winter. The sea temperature depends on the last 3 month weather and only a month before it was -20°C! It was freezing but exciting and fun!
What did you want to be after you left school?
A medical researcher
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
It hasn’t happened yet but in September I get to go on a free trip to Barcelona to present at a conference!
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I always loved science at school so I really wanted a job where I could do science every day
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A journalist. I think I’m pretty curious and I’ve always wanted to do a job where I’d be investigating something
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To finish my PhD
Tell us a joke.
How do you know atoms are liers? Because they make up everything!
These are the cells I grow. They are epithelial cells taken from the lung of a healthy donor. They have been genetically changed (mutated) so that the can carry on growing and dividing infinitely.
I grow the cells in little plastic flasks. They have a special lid with a filter that allows air in but keeps germs out! I can look at them and take pictures, like the one above, using a microscope. I regularly check my cells to make sure they look healthy and happy.
The flasks are kept in a special box, called an incubator, which keeps the cells at 37°C (body temperature!).