Photo:

Gemma Sharp

Wooo! Thanks for voting for me guys :) I can't stop grinning! Thanks for all the questions, you're a clever bunch. I'll miss the live chats, but you can keep up with how I'm spending the money at www.eggandspermrace.com xxxxxxxxxx

Favourite Thing: I really like finding out about all the cool things that happen in the body to make it work properly. There’s still so much that we don’t understand about ourselves, and I think it’s exciting to be one of the people who gets to help us learn a bit more about how we work.

My CV

School:

Backwell School, North Somerset (1996-2003)

University:

Cardiff University (2003-2007) BSc (hons) Biology, University of Bristol (2008-2010) MSc Reproduction and Development

Work History:

I worked for an exam board that sets exams for GCSEs and A-levels for three years when I finished uni at Cardiff… it was nothing to do with science at all, but it gave me enough money to pay for my Masters degree, and I worked with some really nice people.

Employer:

University of Edinburgh

Current Job:

PhD student

Me and my work

I’m trying to find out what causes pregnant women to go into labour when they do. To do that, I’m carrying out experiments in a lab and making a computer model using my results.

I work at the Centre for Reproductive Health in Edinburgh as a PhD student looking at what triggers labour in pregnant women.

It’s important to study this sort of thing because if scientists can understand what happens to make pregnant women to go into labour at the end of 9 months, then we might be able to understand what ‘goes wrong’ when women go into labour too early.

The earlier a baby is born the higher the chance that they could be seriously ill, so it’s important that we understand more about premature labour so that we can start working on treatments to stop it happening.

I’m currently building a ‘computer model’ of some of the things that happen at the end of pregnancy that might trigger labour. Hopefully my model will tell us a bit more about which proteins and which reactions are most important in causing premature labour.

There are three important things I have to do to build a good computer model:

1) Reading – finding out what other scientists think happens just before labour and what they think the important things to look out for might be

2) Modelling – A large part of my time is spent sitting at my computer feeding the model with information and playing around with it to see what happens if I remove certain chemicals or change how fast a reaction takes place etc.

3) Lab experiments – I need to carry out lots of experiments on real human uterus cells to make sure that my computer model behaves in the same way as a real human cell would. There’s no point building a computer model if it doesn’t behave like it should! I grow lots of uterus cells in plastic flasks and measure how much protein the cells produce under different conditions.

My Typical Day

I check my e-mails, pop to the lab to make sure my cells are still alive, then it’s either lab work or computer modelling for the rest of the day, with a nice catch up with my work friends at lunch.

What I'd do with the money

If I won the money I’d put it towards making a really good activity stall that we can take to music and science festivals all over the UK to teach people about the science behind sex and reproduction.

The activity stall is called the Egg and Sperm Race, and the website is here.

There’s a really cool game on the site where you have to navigate a sperm through the female reproductive tract to reach the egg. It’s so hard  (just like real life!).

We definitely have a place at Green Man music festival this August,  so now I desperately need to raise some money to help put together something really fun and interesting to take along. That’s why it’d be super awesome if I won I’m a Scientist (hint hint!).

At the festival, we plan to use a model railway to illustrate how hard it is for a sperm cell to find an egg cell (I know, model railway, sounds unlikely right? Well we’re giving it a go!) and then show how it’s even MORE difficult if either partner has an untreated sexually transmitted infection. We’re also putting on an activity called ‘Celebrity Babies’ where we explain the genetics behind things like eye colour and hair colour and then see what the babies of different celebrity couples might look like!

There are loads of other things we want to take along too, like these amazingly cute sperm  toys:

and an egg cell pinata that you hit with sticks with sperm dolls stuck on the end until jelly babies come out!

We’re also handing out free condoms and free Chlamydia testing kits.

But all these things cost money 🙁 so vote for me please so that I can make a really good activity stall and get people thinking about the science behind sex!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

like a squirrel

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I can’t pick a favourite! But I listen to a lot of Belle & Sebastian, Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire etc

What is the most fun thing you've done?

When I was living in Cardiff I used to put together a (really little) free music magazine. It was hard work actually, but getting to interview my favourite bands was really fun, and seeing people pick it up in shops and bars was awesome.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Hmmm… 1) for me and everyone I know to be happy, healthy and successful for the rest of our days, 2) to live in a cool flat with a cat and a dog, 3) to have some of my work published in a really prestigious journal like Science or something.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I had no idea what I wanted to be! I liked English Language and Psychology at school, so I thought I might like to be a speech therapist or something. I actually started a degree in Psychology in Cardiff, but changed after the first year because I didn’t really enjoy it. I’m glad I changed to Biology, because I’m really happy doing what I do now.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Err… in general I was alright. If I was ever told off though it was always in PE. Once I arrived late and the teacher made me spend my lunchtime making sure all the hockey sticks were pointing in the same direction (why?!).

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I haven’t been a scientist for very long, so I haven’t got much to pick from, but I’m really proud of a literature review I wrote for my Masters degree. It’s like a big essay outlining all the research in an area. It got a really high mark :) and writing it is what made me want to learn more about childbirth

Tell us a joke.

Oh dear. Umm. Here’s a chemistry-based joke someone told me at a party once (I didn’t laugh either): Two atoms are walking down the street. One atom says to the other, “Hey! I think I lost an electron!”. The other says, “Are you sure?”, and the first atom says “Yes, I’m positive!” (geddit?!)