Many thanks to everyone who asked questions and voted, the moderators for all their help and the other scientists for making this so much fun. Im going to miss this now it's finished :-(
Garbally College, Ballinasloe (1990-1996 Leaving Cert). University College Dublin (1996-2000 BSc and 2000-2005 PhD).
BSc (Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Microbiology) and PhD (researching how a bacterium that lives in soil causes pneumonia in horses and certain groups of people).
2005-Present: National Centre for Biomedical and Engineering Science, NUI Galway.
Senior Technical Officer
Favourite thing to do in science: I love getting involved in new projects, having to learn or invent a new lab technique and doing something nobody has ever done before!
I use a robot called Janus to work with other scientists trying to find cures for different types of cancer and other diseases.
I’m a Biologist working in Galway with people from different backgrounds (Biology, Engineering, Medicine, Chemistry, Computer Science, Physics and Maths) from all over the world (UK, USA, China, India, Thailand, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland, Italy and Russia) on lots of different projects.
Oh, and I also work with a robot called Janus…
We bought Janus in 2010 to help us carry out more experiments much faster and more reliably than would be possible by hand. A typical experiment would involve giving some cancer cells a drug to see if they survive.
Janus allows us to carry out thousands of these experiments at the same time, as “she” can quickly add very small amounts of the drugs to thousands of cells, in lots of different compartments of the same plastic dish, or “microplate”. She can then keep track of where the different drugs have been added, and tell us which drugs have killed the highest numbers of cancer cells. Then we can take those interesting drugs and do more experiments, looking at the dosage, treatment time and even drug combinations.
This type of research is called “Screening” and we can also use Janus to screen samples from the environment, such as soil or marine samples, for new compounds that might have a biological function, e.g antibiotics. Then we would work with Chemists to identify and make the new compound and Clinicians to see if it could be used to treat patients safely. We can also work with Stem Cell researchers trying to find new ways of getting stem cells to repair heart tissue, bone or cartilage.
My Typical Day
Every day is different, which is great, but normally involves some labwork, some maths, some computer programming and some writing.
I get up around 7:45, get myself ready, then get my two year old son Charlie ready and then have breakfast with him and my wife Helen. I’m out the door at 9.15 and at my desk at 10:00.
I usually have my labwork planned a week or two in advance, so I know which project I’ll be working on. I get Janus ready for the day, running some tests to make sure she’s a happy robot, and then sterilise all surfaces, to prevent the cells becoming contaminated. If it’s a new project, I will need to do some programming to get Janus to do what we need.
I then meet with the researcher (normally a PhD student) who wants to run an experiment on Janus, get the cells and drugs they want to test, and place them on Janus’ deck area where the experiment can take place. This can take just a few minutes (she’s really quick), or if there are lots of samples, hours or even overnight while I’m at home in bed! If it takes a long time, I can just walk away and have some lunch, and if Janus needs me she can send me an email on my iPhone!
Once we have some results from Janus, we need to do some maths to see which is the best drug. It’s not very difficult to do, but if you have a lot of data, it can take some time. We always repeat experiments at least three times over different days, so we can be really sure of our results.
Once we are finished the labwork, the experiment is written as a research paper, with Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion sections, and published (hopefully) in a Scientific Journal.
I leave work around 18:00 and am home around 19:00 to play with Charlie for a while before he goes to bed. I play football some evenings, or just watch TV or read. I like to watch Game of Thrones, Dexter and The Big Bang Theory.
What I'd do with the money
I’d like to run a schools competition where students make a video explaining a scientific topic in a fun way, e.g evolution, gravity, energy.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Solid. Liquid. Gassy.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I love rock and indie music. I go to gigs as often as I can and got to see The Stone Roses in Phoenix Park this summer. My favourite bands include The Clash, The Pixies, Nirvana, Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
That’s a tough one. It would probably be between white water rafting Snake River in the USA, flying a tiny two-seater propeller plane over Newgrange and the Boyne valley, or snorkelling off The Great Barrier Reef.
What did you want to be after you left school?
That’s an easy one. A scientist!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not much, although I did fail my first ever Science exam in school! I got a part in the school musical and had to spend a lot of time rehearsing instead of going to class. If you were unlucky enough to hear me sing now you’d know I made the right choice sticking with Science!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Scientists get to travel a lot, either learning how to do new types of research or presenting their work to other scientists. I’ve been to the US (Washington & Atlanta), the UK (London & Cambridge), Germany (Hamburg & Heidelberg) and Spain (Valencia). It’s also great to be able to publish your work, either as a research paper or even as a chapter in a book!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be able to visit every country in the world at least once. To have enough money to do all the research I want. To live a long and happy life with my family and friends.
Tell us a joke.
There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who can count, and those who can’t.