Ok, getting very nervous now....
Loreto Secondary School Wexford 2000-2005. Trinity College Dublin 2005-2009. Now still in Trinity!
Medicinal chemistry degree. Working on my chemistry PhD.
Worked in a dry cleaners during college. Now I teach TAP students in TCD, do project work with the second years and have a shoe clip business with my best friend.
Research PhD in chemistry Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College Dublin Chemistry Department
Favourite thing to do in science: I love science and really love applying it to everyday life. I think science is really relevant to everything we do and once you start thinking scientifically it’s quite hard to stop! I’m an enthusiastic cook and chemistry often comes in handy in the kitchen. So many really exciting things are being researched and I like hearing about new discoveries from people working in the area. Some of my scientist friends work on loads of different things from eye cancer to malaria to bubbles!
I’m a carbohydrate chemist and I make sugars no one has ever made before and, with biologists, try and find out what effect they have on our cells
I’m a carbohydrate chemist which means I work with sugars though it’s very important not to eat them!
Sugars are vital to our bodies, not just as food but as information carriers. Sugars on our cells tell other cells important things. For example, which blood group you are depends on which sugars your blood cells have on their surface.
Tuberculosis cells have sugars on them like all cells and these tell our bodies different things. I work on some of these sugars, trying to find out what they are saying.
There are lots of different sugars on cells, all saying different things: for example they can say what kind of cell it is, a neuron or a muscle cell, they can say what stage of its life cycle a cell is in, if it’s just taking it easy or growing. This information is important for every process in our bodies.
The sugars I look at seem to be telling our immune system that everything is fine and there’s no need to get excited. When you have an infection, you don’t want this, you want your immune system to fight the bacteria. I make these sugars and find out exactly what they are saying by working with biologist and cells. If we know what they are saying we can use this to our advantage in medicine when fighting TB.
My Typical Day
Working in the lab making new sugars!
I do lots of different things, I might spend a day at the computer analysing data or I might spend a day growing and feeding cells, mixing it up keeps it really interesting. I’m usually to be found in our chemistry lab making sugars so a typical day is spend doing reactions and purifying products. Sometimes I spend the day trying to identify what I have made using various machines. Every now and then I’ll spend the day reading books and publications in the office or writing reports or analysing data. I feel lucky that I get to do lots of different things and no day is the same as the last!
It’s very important to have a clean and neat working environment to prevent accidents happening. I always try to keep my work area neat (though I have to admit that I don’t always succeed!). Chemistry is really dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing and are not careful. If you are careful it’s perfectly safe. We always wear lab coats, goggles and gloves in the lab. We also use something called a fumehood which is basically a cupboard with a massive extractor fan attached, this prevents you breathing in anything harmful or smelly.
The people I work with are really nice and we’re good friend. We have lots fun together and help each other out a lot. This makes work a lot more enjoyable. We often ask each other’s advice and try to tackle problems together.
At the end of the day I might meet some friends for tea, go home and have dinner then relax on the couch with my pet cat, Lyra!
What I'd do with the money
Get secondary school students to watch fun presentations by students.
I do a lot of teaching here in Trinity and I’d like to make that more accessible to students outside of Trinity.
I work with second year students on projects. The students pick a topic they think is interesting, they research it fully, then the work their information into a presentation. The presentations they make are not at all boring: they are imaginative and fun.
Believe it or not, last year we had a group doing “I’m a scientist: get me out of here,” 2 of them even dressed up as Ant and Dec to present it! We had another group go in search of exotic spices by sailing away on a ship and exploring jungles. We had a big fight style showdown between alchemy and chemistry, complete with rocky style training montage.
The groups all present their work and the best ones go through to a final. The final is always great fun. I would use the money to help students come to the final or record the final properly and get is sent out to schools so loads of people could see it.
The aim of the project is to show the students that there is chemistry in everything and that to show that it’s fun and interesting!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Energetic, enthusiastic, nerdy
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I know this is a bit typical but I honest like a bit of everything.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Lived with a load of my friends in Bologna, Italy and did a project in a lab in Bologna university. Ate so much pizza and icecream and had a fantastic time, made loads of friends and travelled around Italy.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to find cures for diseases.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes, but only if I got caught ;)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Taught others about chemistry. It’s really fulfilling and actually teaches me loads.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Be able to turn invisible! Seriously: have enough money to set up a charity for children that need medical care. I would obviously also like to live in a big fancy house with an indoor pool and a massive wardrobe!
Tell us a joke.
I have a terrible sense of humour and this is my favourite joke (It makes my friends cringe every time): Why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he as a fun-ghi!
And this is the epic view from my window
That’s me with my thumbs up looking silly and that’s Lyn beside me. We share our fumehood and have great fun together.
This is one of the machines we use to work out what we have made. It’s called and NMR and allows you to “see” molecules. It is a giant magnet that is cooled to -269 degrees Celsius (the same temperature as outer space) by liquid helium and liquid nitrogen.
My fumehood usually looks like this (though sometimes less tidy)
In chemistry we sometimes use recrystallisation to purify a substance. This is the biggest crystal I’ve ever made.
I take photos of interesting things in the lab. This is a ruined TLC (water spilled on it). A TLC is used to see what you have in a mixture (same technique as separating the different colours in marker ink).
I love cooking and sometimes I make giant versions of regular sweets. I’ve made a giant mikado biscuit and a giant jaffa cake so far.