Your Scientist ID:
St. Ita’s College Abbeyfeale 2001-2006 (Secondary School) and University College Cork (2006-2010)
BSc (Hons) Biochemistry
Pallas Foods Newcastle West (Summer 2007), Biology Dept., Salve Regina University, Rhode Island, USA and Physiology Dept. UCC ( Summer 2009)
Full-time PhD student
Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre and Department of Pharmacology, University College Cork.
My Work: I am interested in finding out if certain bacteria can be used as medicine to help your bowels when you’re suffering from the runs or whether nothing is moving at all!!
I’m Kevin and I am a scientist. What kind of a scientist is difficult to describe!! So allow me to explain how I got to where I am today!
I was always very interested in science when I was younger, in particular, biology, I used to love the Horrible Science books, if you don’t know of them, you should!
I studied Biology and Chemistry for my leaving cert and to cut a long story short, after getting my results, when I was 18 I moved to the beautiful city of Cork to study Biological and Chemical Sciences at University College Cork or UCC as most people call it. This course was very general which was perfect for me. The reason being, I knew I loved science but I wasn’t quiet sure exactly which part of science I loved the most. In my first two years I studied everything from physics to Zoology ( the study of wildlife!). In the end I chose Biochemistry as my degree.
In biochemistry I learned a lot of cool and interesting things about how the body works right down to some of the smallest molecules. I learned how DNA works to shape who we are (but also that it is not the only thing that decides who we are!), how important proteins are for absolutely everything and even how our food is used after it’s all been broken down.
After I graduated from Biochemistry I decided that I wasn’t quite ready to stop learning! I wanted to know more!!! I also wanted to be able to find out and discover new things that nobody else knew about, I wanted to create new knowledge!!! So I decided to do a PhD in Pharmacology. Now pharmacology is the study of drugs and medicine, however my PhD has a twist! I am not just interested in normal drugs (which are traditionally made from plants) I am interested in how bacteria, living, functioning beings, can be used as drugs!
Your body has more bacteria cells than human cells!!! Did you know that? So when you get sick, your human cells can change a little, but so do your bacteria!! So if we can figure out these changes, and what these bacteria might be doing, we might have new ways to make people better by changing the bacterial cells in our body!
It is also worth knowing that most (but certainly not all) of these bacteria live in our bowels!!! Scientists now know that when our bowel gets sick, the types of bacteria in the bowel change. What is even more exciting, some experiments have shown that bacteria can actually help make your bowel better! However we do not know too much about these changes or what these bacteria do for our bodies. So this is why I am here, I want to help find out!!!!
My Typical Day: Arrive in the lab, do experiments, look at my results, discuss, debate and discover new ideas!!
When I arrive in the morning, in general I like to get straight into my experimental work. I use a really cool piece of equipment known as the Ussing Chamber. This instrument can keep pieces of bowel alive, by mimicking the environment in the body. It then uses electrical currents to measure fluid transport in the bowel! As you may be able to imagine, the levels of fluid or water in your bowel is very important when you have the runs, or when nothing is moving at all! Too much and you will be running!! Not enough and you’re left sitting and waiting…
So as I said this Ussing Chamber keeps pieces of bowel alive outside the body and this lets me add bacteria and measure how they change fluid and water in living pieces of bowel.
After I finish my experiment I can then look at my results and try to explain exactly what is happening. I discuss my results with my work mates and supervisors (teachers!) and I debate what it all means!!! I can think about writing a paper about these results and also presenting my work at international meetings! I’ve presented in London and Bologna (Italy) so far!
My other activities include teaching undergraduate students in science and sometimes helping them with their final year projects. I am also very interested in scientific communication, especially to people that are not involved in science! I have given presentations about my work to non-scientific audiences both in UCC and to a national audience in Dublin. Now am I very excited to be doing this!
Aside from the science, I love sport, in particular, running, swimming and soccer and I try to do at least one of these activities each day. I am also a fairly big music fan, once when I was younger I nearly crashed my poor laptop with too much music! Movies aren’t too bad either in my opinion but you can’t beat a good book!! Really loving the Dark Tower series by Stephen King at the moment!!!
What I'd do with the money: Creative Science Competition!!! Realise the full potential of your passion!
My idea is to encourage and challenge secondary school students to think about science outside the box. I believe while science is wonderful, we must not forget about our other interests.
Many people think of their study subjects as completely separate. You might find yourself thinking, I want to do science in college, why do I need to study art, or french, or any other subject for that matter!!! You might find yourself focusing on one subject rather than the other.
I would like to see students combine their subject knowledge and individual talents to work on a science project and communicate it using other subjects or even hobbies that they are passionate about. So you love art, why not do a science project and communicate your work through your paintings??? After all, a picture paints a thousand words! You consider yourself an athlete? Why not work on a sports science project? Perhaps it will help improve your performance! You’re all about languages… why not give a scientific presentation in french?! Let’s not forget about music!
So, how does 500 euro sound people? Pretty nice, if I win, I would put the money toward a Creative Science competition and get students to realise just how important and useful all their subjects can be. Even the ones that seem to have nothing in common!!!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
So difficult, first thoughts…Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ray Lamontagne and….the Killers I think…but the list goes on and on and on…
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Also difficult, perhaps water skiing in Rhode Island with friends in the United States but I’ll have to think a little more..