After finishing school I couldn’t decide between studying science or humanities. So I started out studying linguistics, history and Latin. Needless to say it didn’t work out so I switched to molecular biology and haven’t looked back! Since then I’ve done some supplementary courses in Astronomy and Astrophotography because space is awesome.
BSc Molecular Biology, University of Basel, Switzerland. Currently working on my PhD in Astrobiology, School of Physics, University of Edinburgh.
Research assistant molecular biology labs, Hoffmann-la Roche Pharmaceuticals
University of Edinburgh
I’m an Astrobiologist working on microbes that are currently on the International Space Station, looking at how they can survive in space!
My main experiment is bolted onto the outside of the Space Station where microbes are exposed to the many harsh environmental factors of space. I’m mainly focussing on how they can survive the super high-radiation of space, which is a pretty tough thing to do.
This is cool because it can tell us about how microbes could survive in high-radiation environments like the surface of Mars and maybe even on comets/asteroids. It can also tell us something about where the upper physical limits of life in the universe actually lie. So if we ever start colonising other planets, we can use these radiation-resistant microbes to help produce our air and recycle our waste- not bad for bugs!
My Typical Day
Coffee, coffee, trying not to set anything on fire in the lab, coffee, putting out any lab fires, pub!
Firstly, coffee, obviously.
Because my experiments are still in space, I’m working on some ground controls. This involves exposing bacteria to various kinds of radiation you’d also find in space (x-rays, UV-rays) under different conditions to see what happens to them (basically, how fast they die). This will help me understand what has happened to the space station bacteria when I start analysing them back here on earth.
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d take pupils from selected schools to the Boulby mine and show them around the Astrophysics and Astrobiology labs situated there.
Depending on circumstances, I’d organise a visit to the 1.1km deep Labs at Boulby. If a visit isn’t possible, I’d establish a ‘remote’ engagement activity, possibly involving instruments from the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, nerdy, easy-going
What was your favourite subject at school?
Everything except geology/geography. Rocks don’t rock my world.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nope, just never got caught!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Skiing down a mountain in the dark. Also the most terrifying thing.
My samples on the International Space Station
A close up of the box containing the many biological samples
Me pretending to look busy
Bacterial samples stained violet before before looking at them under the microscope
Bacteria ground controls (so the same kind of bacteria as the ones on the Space Station, but grown here on earth as a comparison)