Just restored internet connection today - sorry about my slowness answering in the past two days
Favourite Thing: Getting that “Bang! Now I GET this – it all fits together!” moment. Can be stuff from my lab or from someone else’s.
Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith 1973-1980
I did Natural Sciences at Cambridge, studying maths, physics, chemistry, biology of cells, history and philosophy of science and biochemistry
I studied for my PhD in London (Imperial College), then a year in Germany, four years in London, two in California (San Francisco), twelve in Boston, USA and for the last six years back in London
King’s College London (KCL) at the Guy’s Hospital Campus, 27th floor. We have great views of the metropolls and an impressive collection of animal skulls (including elephant, hippo, crocodile, dugong and capybara).
My title is “Reader in Developmental Cell Biology”, which means I do scientific research and teaching for the University
Me and my work
I try to understand how cells make bodies – how do you go from an egg to a person?
I’m a developmental biologist, so I study embryos to find out how they grow and shape themselves to make all our body parts. This also involves chemistry and physics and so I get to think about lots of different areas of science. I am in charge of a research group of five people. Our current question is how do parts of the body (limbs, jaws, structures in your inner ear, tubes in your kidneys, etc.) grow longer rather than just bigger when you’re developing from an embryo. Do the cells all change shape, or do they rearrange themselves in line (like forming a queue) or do they just proliferate (divide) on one side? Or a combination of these? Recently we’ve been looking at cell shapes sizes and found a way to have a map of these for any part of the body and got some surprising results about the roof of your mouth (ask me!).
My Typical Day
Every day is different: a mix of meeting team members to discuss results and plans, writing project plans (to apply for grant support), teaching (lectures) and reading and writing scientific articles.
What I like about my typical day is that it is full of ideas. Sometimes it will be discussing the details of a technical problem with an experiment. Why didn’t this experiment work? How can we fix it? Once in a while I help with the experiments myself. Other times I’ll be writing a project proposal for a grant application, often reading about what others have done and deciding where we go next. Should we be doing more about how the brain develops, or follow up our exciting results on the structure of the face? I might be writing up some of our results for publication. That includes designing the pictures as well as writing the words. I sometimes give lectures to university undergraduates about my subject, which is fun because they’re really interested and the lectures have to be different each year because the research is fast-moving in my area.
What I'd do with the money
Since you’ll have voted for me because you think my answers are good, and because the £500 is for science communication, I’ll do more of the same!
I very much want to “spread the word” of science to schools, so the money will help pay for travel to schools I’ll be visiting throughout the year and for improvements to my website (which I admit is not so good).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, nerdy, thoughtful
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Always changing but mostly fairly retro. Now? The Police or Suzanne Vega. I also like classical, jazz and world music.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Skiing in the Rockies (Colorado, USA) or a helicopter flight over a Hawaiian volcano
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be able to live half and half in the UK and USA (my wife is American and there are great things about both countries); to write and produce a successful book and series on TV (or two); to see my two kids grow up happy and doing something interesting and worthwhile
What did you want to be after you left school?
A BBC TV producer/director
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Only for talking too much!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I showed that concentration of a special type of protein (a morphogen) is used by cells like a SatNav signal. The idea is now used to “trick” embryonic stem cells to do useful things.
Tell us a joke.
Two sausages are side by side in a frying pan. One says to the other “Man, it’s getting hot in here”. The other says “Oh my God, a talking sausage!!!”