SynBio-CDT PhD Candidate | University of Bristol | 2016 – 2020
A Gap Year | Europe & USA & Cuba | 2015 – 2016
M.Biochemistry, First Class | University of Oxford | 2011 – 2015
I’m mad about science – learning, researching, and communicating it.
I believe it’s not enough to be a good scientist – we need to be able to explain our work clearly and concisely to others for it to have any useful effect.
“If I [do scientific research worthy] of angels, but do not have [good communication skills], I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
1 Corinthians 13:1, The Science Communication Bible
“It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.”
Not Albert Einstein
I’m a second year PhD student on the Synthetic Biology CDT, and I work in Dr Paul Race’s lab at the University of Bristol.
As a synthetic biologist, I aim to apply engineering principles to living systems, redesigning organisms to be reliable, reproducible, and more useful. The government has highlighted synthetic biology for its potential to ‘heal us, heat and feed us’ – these practical applications drew me to engineering.
My work is focused on antibiotic resistance – bacteria that cause diseases are learning to survive and grow in the presence of drugs that normally treat the infections they cause. Antibiotic resistance is one of the gravest problems that society faces, and a truly global issue.
We’re taking an unusual approach to discover new antibiotics, in collaboration with diverse groups across the University of Bristol. Dr Kate Hendry’s lab in Earth Sciences have collected sponges from the Atlantic seafloor with a robotic hoover to study how climate change is affecting them. She provided us with samples of these sponges so that we can study the bacteria they contain. This resource is has never been studied before, so we’re hoping to discover some weird and wonderful new biological activities, including some new antibiotics!
Science Communication & Outreach
I’m passionate about science, and I want to share that passion with others. I’m an ambassador for EPSRC RISE, a scientific expert in the EU 2020 Horizon project PERFORM, and I’m setting up a synthetic biology outreach website – BioByDesign.com – with colleagues.
Many recent scientific discoveries have the potential to affect everyone’s lives, and it’s important that everyone is aware of the implications, and that their views are taken into account. Some new technologies are scary even to scientists, while others pose uncomfortable philosophical and moral questions. Sometimes scientific discoveries are rolled out without fully considering the human costs. Having the power to introduce a new technology does not mean that we should or must.
It is important that channels of communication between researchers and publics run both ways. The behaviour and beliefs of scientists can be the biggest impediment to effective dialogue: many adhere to the discredited knowledge deficit model, believing that the public don’t trust science because they are uninformed. This patronising view harms relations by ignoring the public’s real concerns. Rather than listening to people, scientists often create negative ‘imaginaries’ of the public – this is particularly evident in synthetic biology, where researchers are preparing for controversy long before applications have reached the market.
I believe that scientists have a duty to society. We need to be less arrogant and more willing to listen, to accept that we are accountable and our research should be transparent.
I’m passionate about combatting social isolation in vulnerable groups, so I volunteer at FoodCycle, Callington Road Psychiatric Hospital, and the 365 Homeless Shelter. Modern society creates and sustains loneliness. I believe it’s important that we take social responsibility for each other in what can often seem like a cruel and brutal world.
I love reading fiction and listening to hip-hop – both can be emotionally expressive, beautiful, and complex, and both revolve around language and its uses.
I’m extremely keen on football, and if I could play five-a-side as well as I retain pointless statistics about the PL, I would be a truly fearsome opponent.
I try to keep up with films, and I’m getting slowly better at taking photographs – hopefully my writing is improving more quickly on my blog!