University of Bristol 2010-2013 University of Bath 2013- Present
University of Bath
I am second year PhD student working in a sustainable science centre attempting to use microbes to produce the higher value chemicals found in crude oil from a sustainable source.
Global scientific consensus agrees that to prevent catastrophic climate change and the endangerement of human civilisation less carbon dioxide must be produce on a phenomenal scale. The only realistic option to the problem is for society to move away from fossil fuels as an energy source, both for heating and for transport. The use of fossil fuel alternatives for transport is highly controversial because of the cost of switching over to them, yet the prices of petrol and diesel are kept low and supply constant because of the need for a wide variety of other chemicals that come in them. These chemicals are used for a huge range of purposes, including virtually all plastics, solvent, lubricants as well as food and perfume additives. For lots of these chemicals there is no other way to get them except in crude oil and so this stops people from moving away from petrol and diesel because it is still cheap and easy to get hold of.
What we try to do at the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) is try to combine lots of different areas of science to answer big questions like this. I mainly work as a genetic engineer but closely with lots of chemical engineers and chemists and what we are trying to do is to ‘re-engineer’ yeasts to convert ‘renewable feedstocks’, a fancy way of saying waste or plant material that is cheap and easy to get hold of, into these high value chemicals that can only be found in oil to create a new green supply of these chemicals.
We are interested in the minute in yeasts because they are often found on fruits and flowers and help to makes normally made by flowers. Some of these are very similar to those used to make perfume that are normally found in crude oil. This gives us a good place to start as some of the work is already done for us in making these complicated chemicals.
My Typical Day:
Really varied, screening wild yeasts for useful chemical production to cloning yeast to increase the production.
A major part is screening lots of natural yeast for different levels of chemical production.
Screening lots of yeasts, lots,
Looking at what they make:
Cloning in new genes so they make more or different chemicals. Making the DNA for cloning:
Looking for successful clones, sometimes there are lots,
So many it can get boring, so we have to find ways to keep it interesting.
We then have to look to see if the gene is working.
What I'd do with the prize money:
Me and a couple of my colleagues are currently working on a board game to take to secondary schools to make learning about element scarcity more interesting and exciting. With the money hopefully it will look really great instead of something made out of cardboard and glue stick!!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Mental, Funny, Outrageous
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Dr Hepworth, year7 chemistry and Dr Blower A level physics, they used to blow something up every week. Science class was always fun with them.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No never! Except that time in year 9 when the chemistry lab burnt down and I wasn’t allowed in the lab during my GCSEs
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Baker/chef, did it for three years before going to uni, its basically chemistry anyway.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I don’t need to feel that old!!!!
What's your favourite food?
Is Gin a food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Human pyramid, 3am in the middle of the Dorset moors in fog so thick we couldn’t see three feet.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Lots of money, obviously. Do something amazing in science, cure a disease etc. Get a house on the beach.