So so busy with work today - I have an important meeting with an amazing scientist. Answering questions when I can but sorry i'm getting behind!
Favourite Thing: I love using my creativity to try and answer questions that no one has even thought of before. Sometimes this means I have to think of new ways of doing things or even design a whole new piece of equipment! It is so exciting to know that you are the first person EVER to know something new about how the world works.
The Latymer school in London until 2008, The University of York, 2008-2012
BSc Biology (with a year in industry), A levels in Biology, Chemistry and Music
I worked at the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for a year before realizing that plants are what I love best!
I’m now doing a PhD and teaching undergraduate students
The University of East Anglia and the John Innes Centre
Me and my work
I work with wheat, an important crop plant that is used to make bread and pasta.
I decided to work with wheat because of the growing world population. There could be around 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, and all these people need to be fed! There are many things we need to do to produce more food, and breeding wheat to produce higher yields can contribute to this.
I am interested in what happens to wheat physiology (the way the plant works) when we change the type of wax covering the surface of the plant. All land plants have a layer of wax (called epicuticular wax) covering their outside surfaces. These waxes are incredibly important for the survival of the plant. I guess you could think of them as the plant’s skin. Waxes help protect the plant from disease and insects, help reduce water loss, and affect the way the plant uses light.
Changing the type of epicuticular wax that a wheat plant has will change how the plant works and acts in it’s environment. I am trying to understand what type of wax will help the plant work best in particular environments. If we can understand this, we may be able to breed wheat that is able to grow faster and bigger, and is better adapted to it’s environment.
My Typical Day
Between May and August I spend all my time out in the field, whilst you’re more likely to find me in the lab or office for the rest of the year.
The wheat plants that I work with are planted in the soil in the Autumn, and take until around May to grow into adult plants. Between May and August, whilst the plants are adults, I spend almost every single day, from 6 am until 7 pm, out in the wheat field! I measure lots of different things including the temperature of the plants, amount of light the plants are using and how fast the plants are able to photosynthesise (the chemical process a plant uses to convert sun light into energy). This gives me important information about how well the plants are able to grow. I also collect leaf samples that I take back to the lab to use later on.
In August we harvest the plants and measure yield (how much we have managed to grow). If you live out in the countryside you might have seen the combine harvesters and tractors harvesting the fields? The image below shows my wheat field halfway through a long day of harvesting.
For the rest of the year (September to April) I spend my time in the lab doing experiments with the leaf samples I collected in the field. These experiments allow me to understand a bit about the chemistry of the leaf, including the amount and type of wax on the surface. I also spend time in my office analysing data from experiments that I have done. This is probably the least exciting bit of what I do, but is important. Only by looking at my data can I see what I have done so far and decide what experiments to do next!
I also help to teach undergraduate students at the university. This is one of my favorite parts of my job – the students are fun, lively, and ask great questions that really make me think about science in a different way!
What I'd do with the money
Create a portable ‘Plant Science Roadshow’
I absolutely love talking to people, both young and old, and getting them excited about science. Some of my best times as a researcher have been spent at science fairs, in schools or doing cafe conversations (pretty much how it sounds… lots of people meeting up in a cafe to talk to a scientist who leads discussions about an important or complicated topic). I think it is very important to try to inspire the next generation (you guys!) to become scientists so that good research continues to be done in the future. It is equally important to help adults and older people understand the science they see in the papers or on the TV, and have up to date, scientifically correct, information.
With the £500 I would be able to make my own set of props, posters and displays that I could take to science fairs and into schools to explain to people why plant science is so important for the future. Any suggestions on what sort of resources would help you to learn best would be much appreciated so that I can make sure I do the best possible job!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, Fun and Curious
Who is your favourite singer or band?
London Grammar (at the moment!)
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Travelled around Vietnam
What did you want to be after you left school?
A conservation worker in the Amazon!
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
A little. Mainly for chewing gum and talking
What was your favourite subject at school?
Biology and music
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I love talking to people about my work and helping them see how exciting science is
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My fantastic A-level biology teacher was the reason I chose to do biology at university
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To live in Brazil 2) To have a job that I enjoy and also helps make the world a better place 3) That my Hogwarts acceptance letter finally arrives
Tell us a joke.
Why did the skeleton cross the road? To get to the body shop
This is what my wheat field looked like this summer:
If you look carefully you can see that some of the wheat is dark green, and some is a much lighter colour. These different colours are caused by the different types of waxes on the surfaces of the leaves.
Wheat will only grow out in the field over summer. If I want to work with plants at any other time of year I have to grow them in a glasshouse. At the John Innes Centre where I work we have a lot of very large glasshouses where we can control everything from the temperature to the amount of light the plants receive.
The next picture is of my bench in the lab
It is normally very messy- I had to spend a good while tidying it for this picture! Perhaps you also have some of the same things in your science lab at school?