Friday, 2 December 2016

Christmas Lectures: Day 46

Things are now starting to ramp up here at the Ri. A good chunk of the demo's are all built (and currently crammed into the tiny prep room waiting to be moved downstairs where they can be stored in the much larger demo room. Rehearsals are now in full swing (not that I've seen any of them), scripts are being finalised, and stress is starting to show on everyone's faces. Well, except for Saiful, he always seems to be smiling whenever I spot him around the place.

I do start to feel a little guilty at times when I'm sitting here with very little to do whilst I know a bunch of the others are running around like crazy on little sleep trying to get things done on time. I have offered my help on many occasions, but often there isn't much I can do so I leave them to it.

For my part, a good proportion of my job this last week or so has been sorting out the database records so they make a bit more sense, and stuffing envelopes. Lots and lots of envelopes.

My small pile of stuffed envelopes
For those people lucky enough to win tickets in the ballot for this years lectures, they will be getting one of these lovely envelopes in the post soon containing their lovely tickets.

The stuffing party...containing tea
Surprisingly the 600 or more tickets only took a couple of hours to stuff, with a team of about 5 of us. Made a change from sitting at a computer screen for the afternoon. Plus the tickets are kind of pretty.

Also for those of you not following me on twitter (@RetroBagel) the Ri advent calender has gone live for 2016, all on the 4 laws of thermodynamics. They're explained beautifully, with lovely short videos presented by expert physicists giving simple explanations that build on one another to give a good overview of the laws and how they connect with the world around us.
The calendar can be found here

Outside of work, this weekend I'm heading back to see some of my lovely friends (Sorry those of you I'm not seeing!), and last weekend I had a visit from my sister!
We had an awesome time, with cake for breakfast before a flying visit to the natural history museum to see Dippy and its friends (Diplodocus)

One of Dippy's friends

Then we headed over to the Ri to have a quick tour, and then finally headed to tower bridge, had the tour and then saw this:

It Opens!
Yup, we hung around in the dark and freezing cold to watch the bridge open. It was pretty cool, especially as neither of us had ever seen it open before.

So that's about it for now. I need to head off in a mo to go find my train home. Until next time, have fun!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Christmas lectures: Day 36

Winter has definitely decided to settle its gloomy damp self in today. Rain rain rain. Thankfully though, I work indoors! (It has brightened up a bit since I started writing this)

I had news last week that my big experiment for my PhD has finally ended (thank you again everyone who helped out!). In some ways I’m glad – the experiment was quite restricting on my time and everything I did had to fit around it. On the other hand, I will miss certain bits of it.

When I get back though, I can finally start working on my data collection. Ah data, that thing that is so important for a PhD, and also that thing I currently have next to none of. I keep saying to people how I’m going to have so much more time next year as I won’t be constrained by the exercise experiment. Honestly though, I think I’m being ambitious saying that. I have all of my behaviour data videos (about 21 hours worth) that I have to manually go through and score, plus having to go back and re-track a large number of them (~75 hours worth) as likely the settings won’t have tracked properly the first time. Thankfully though, those can be done at high speed by the computer, so it will take a lot less time. And I already did a bunch of them before I left, so it shouldn’t take me too long (I hope).

My first supervisor was actually like this...My current one is not thankfully

On top of that, I now have all of the samples from the big experiment that I now need to start processing. This will include sectioning of ~65 samples (Slicing them up very very thinly), and staining all 124 samples for neurogenesis (The formation of new neurons). Plus we want to investigate adipose tissue, and protein markers and genetic expression. And I will have less than 18 months to do all of this! To put things in perspective, the sectioning and staining alone, if all works out well, will likely take 3-4 months of my time, if I’m super-fast and nothing goes wrong. Which never happens. So my saying I’ll have more time next year is probably not at all true. But I can hope!

Anyway, enough musing about the future. That’s future me’s problem. I should be talking about what I’m doing here. I’ve been helping out with some more demo’s for both the lectures, and the online advent calendar which will go live in a couple of weeks. I’m still not supposed to give too much away at this point, as it will spoil the surprise!

I’ve now managed to completely sort out the travel for the bursary group that we have coming to the lectures. They’re also now booked in for the behind the scenes tour on the same day so hopefully they will enjoy that as well. We now have to sort out the winner of the other bursary this week so we can let them know on Wednesday. Sadly we only had three entries, despite us emailing every single school we could find in the area – most of them twice! Hopefully the winner will enjoy it.

One of my snaps taken from within the Lecture Theatre

Things are ticking along here at Lecture HQ. We’ve booked out an entire day to simply stuff envelopes with all the tickets next Wednesday. That will be an enjoyable day! Apparently there will be mince pies though, so it’s not all bad.
What else…I finished watching the old lectures now, which kind of makes me sad as I was enjoying those. When I have more time I’m going to go back and watch more of them anyway. (If you’re interested, some of them are here) I’ve also been sorting out and updating some of the webpages to keep things up to date and helped set up newsletters and such to members. Making big spreadsheets with lots of info in them has also featured heavily this last week – I think the skills I gained from making my giant year long timetable last year are paying off finally.

Again mentioning advent, I’ve helped with some of the research and demo making for that which has been fun. That moment when you get asked to nip to the shop to buy eggs, cream and milk in the middle of the working day, and then later have to nip down the road to Pret to buy 4 apples (The number of weird looks I got that day…). The thing the apples are for is going to be spectacular though, I guarantee it, especially if it is as fun to watch as it was to make!

A small hint as to some of the fun we have been having

So, this weeks plans. Currently there are some more newsletters coming up which I’m giving a hand with. There are some books to post soon (Including one to the queen herself!). Not much else on the books at the moment, but I’m sure things will show up pretty quickly.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to so far. Apparently this blog is going to be featuring on the university’s placement blog which is exciting, so hello to anyone who arrives here from there! Also (cheesy as I know it is), I want to say hello to my family, including my awesome Grandmother who is following this and sending me lovely emails of support which just put a big smile on my face. Thank you to you and mum and dad and Catherine, you’re all amazing. (Anyone thinks this is cheesy? Deal with it).

That’s all for now. If you fancy being extra helpful, you could fill in our survey which I helped to construct here

Have fun!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Christmas lectures: Day 25

So, day 25 and all is well. Much of my time at work is still being taken up with re-watching the old Lecture series and marking out the time stamps of third party content. The 1990 series took forever as it was on space with Professor Malcolm Longair, and so there are a lot of images and simulations of things in space. The 1992 one is taking less time as it is on chirality and that is much easier to display in the theatre.

Chirality is also known as handedness. In simpler terms, an object has chirality when it is present in two forms that are mirror images of each other. An easy example of this is your hands - your left and right hands are chiral because they are mirror images of each other. Chirality is really important in chemistry, and you get quite a few chemical molecules that exist in mirror image forms but are otherwise identical. Something is called achiral when it has a plane of symmetry (a.k.a it is symmetrical, like half a cube is symmetrical to its other half).

Hands have chirality, as they are mirror images but not symmetrical. The chair is achiral as it is symmetrical

There you go, hopefully some of you have learned something new today. I've also been doing other things that have been pretty fun. My engineer got to come out to play on Tuesday when I got asked to build cubes
Anyone else remember playing with this stuff as a kid?
I have to point out, there is a legitimate reason for me building these cubes. And if you watch the Lectures at xmas you might just spot them! Hopefully further construction involving the cubes will continue next week and I'll see if I can get some more sneak peak yet meaningless photo's. Obviously I can't spill the beans yet.

Outside of the lectures life is going pretty good. Living in London is definitely different to living anywhere else. Travelling for an hour or more to get somewhere is common place here, whereas in Nottingham if you have to travel for an hour or more that tends to be more of a day trip. I'm hoping to be able to go do something Londony most weekends, to make the most of the time down here. So far it hasn't really worked, but fingers crossed for this weekend.

It's also getting pretty cold now, which is in some ways more irritating in London. You step out of the warm flat into the bitter cold, all wrapped up in fluffy hats, scarves and gloves and a fleecy jacket. You walk down the road, all cosy warm and feeling the brisk air on your face. Then you hit the tube station. At first its ok, especially as I get the overground, which funnily enough runs above ground. So you stay nicely warm. Then you hit the underground tube. At which point you have to take off all the hats, scarves, gloves and fleecy jackets in order to avoid collapsing from overheating. The sardine tins of trains are like their own mini-ovens, which would be a nice change from the fridged outdoors, only its too hot for too long. Then you get to your destination, and once more step out into the freezing cold air, and you're shivering again in seconds unless you decided to layer up before exiting the station.
Oh well, at least we didn't get snow (yet). Unlike some...
Snow from my home
So, things are starting to heat up at work whilst it's cooling down outside. Deadlines are looming, and the stress is starting to make its appearance in peoples grins (or grimaces). Still, I do feel a little good for my role in spreading the word about our event in Edinburgh. It is kind of nice to see the ticket sales steadily going up and up after all the hard work we put in.

Until next time, have fun!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Christmas Lectures: Day 12

So, last time I mentioned a new section of the Ri website I had been helping to work on which had a bunch of old archive video footage of science done back in the early 1900's by the Bragg’s. This is all now live and can be found here:
So, who were the Bragg’s? William and Lawrence Bragg were a father son duo who led the field of x-ray crystallography (Looking at the molecular structure of things). They’re also the only father son duo to have jointly received the nobel prize with both of them actually being alive. (Also I’ve actually touched one of their nobel prize book things). So if you do anything with molecular structures or crystallography, this is worth a look.
Pretty soap bubbles are a thing

So, what have I been doing? I’ve now finished 2 press releases, one for a bursary competition to win tickets to the Lectures, and one to advertise the event we have going on in Edinburgh. Hopefully something based on them will appear on websites and in newspapers which is kind of exciting. (To be fair, they have since been edited so it’s not all me, and most of the actual basic writing I took from elsewhere so it’s not exactly my work anyway). I’ve also been emailing loads of people and places asking them to spread the word about our Edinburgh event, and it is kind of awesome to see them all up on the websites.
I also got to go help out in the prep room for an afternoon (the prep room is where we test out all the experiments and things for the Lectures and other cool video’s made by the Ri). Once December starts, the Ri channel will release its Advent calendar, and you’ll be able to see what we were doing. (Your only hint is that it involved liquid nitrogen and lots of mess).
Liquid nitrogen is cool

Also Wednesday afternoon, I got to go help out in the Young Scientists Centre. It’s essentially a science lab down in the basement next to the museum where school kids can come do some science. We had a group over from Ireland who were all around 15-16, and on their strange and kind of awesome year of doing practical’s and school trips rather than lessons and exams. They had to solve a ‘crime scene’ by matching up a set of DNA. They had 6 samples – the crime scene sample and 5 ‘suspects’. By processing and running the DNA using electrophoresis, they could see a match between the killer and the crime scene sample. It was nice to see kids of that age being able to try something that I have done, sometimes on a daily basis, during my PhD, and that I didn’t get to try until my third year of my undergraduate.
This is what DNA looks like after electrophoresis. Sort of...

I’m also watching through some old lectures from 1991 (the year I was born!). I’m going through checking for copyright content so we can release the old lectures on youtube so everyone can enjoy them. The ones from 1991 are really interesting, presented by Richard Dawkins on evolution. Plus I’m sorting out some fact sheets on the lectures, and press releases for the Lectures themselves.
Finally, here at the Ri they have evening events on, talks and lectures and things on various topics. Staff get to steward the events (Be the guy on the door who checks your tickets etc) and then watch the session, which is pretty awesome, and you get paid to do it. This week I managed to get 2 shifts, one for a talk with Mike Massimo, an astronaut who has been into space a bunch of times and now has a book out about it. The other was on the science of stress, where they had a panel of neuroscience experts on stress giving everyone an introduction to the subject. They were both good evenings, but meant I was pretty knackered the next day a I didn’t get home till gone 10. Totally worth it though.
So I think that’s pretty much it. It’s all going well at week 2, and I’m still enjoying it. I’m also getting more used to the travelling and times so hopefully I’ll be less tired as time goes on.
I’ll update again next week. Have fun!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Christmas lectures: Day 6

So, the first week is over, and I have to say I'm pretty tired. London, plus the hour commute each way takes a bit of getting used to. But it's going good.

Annoyingly the IT system at the Ri doesn't seem to like me very much! Something went wrong when I first arrived and all of the calendar invites I got sent before I arrived got deleted! So its been a week of trying to get people to resend things, as well as finding out I'm supposed to be places at the last minute. It all worked out in the end though!

So, stuff I have been doing. I've written my first 2 press releases for local media in Edinburgh and Gloucestershire. Neither of them have actually gone to the press yet, but they will do hopefully next week. We're trying to get people excited for a show based on the 2014 xmas lectures that is going to Edinburgh December 1st this year (so if you know anyone with kids in the area...). I've also helped to sort out and proof read a new section of the website that is going live on Monday - I'll put up a link once it's up. There is a bunch of really awesome heritage video's about old science stuff, some of it relevant to some of my science friends.

I'm also helping to organise a bursary which gets kids who could never normally afford to come to the Lectures, which is nice to do. And setting up surveys, and hopefully next week I'll start up the instagram again so you can all follow cool pictures from behind the scenes. 

I also got to meet the lecturer himself, Prof. Saiful Islam. He is genuinely lovely and very interesting, and I think he's going to be a great lecturer. 

And finally, one of the coolest part of the week, I got to go see the archives of the Ri. If you come to the Ri itself, down in the basement there is an awesome science museum with loads of cool stuff in, including the first crystallography machine, various original electrical generators and also the first ever isolated samples of the elements discovered in the Ri back in the days of research:

Potassium – isolated from caustic potash by Humphry Davy in 1807 using electrolysis.
Sodium – Humphry Davy first isolated sodium in 1807 from molten sodium hydroxide.
Barium – isolated by electrolysis of molten barium salts by Humphry Davy in 1808.
Boron – discovered by Humphry Davy who first used electrolysis to produce a brown precipitate from a solution of borates in 1808. He produced enough of the substance to identify it as an element but pure boron was not produced until 1909.
Calcium – isolated by Humphry Davy in 1808 from a mixture of lime and mercuric oxide using electrolysis.
Chlorine – Elemental chlorine was discovered in 1774 but was thought to be a compound and was called "dephlogisticated muriatic acid air". Humphry Davy named it chlorine in 1810 after experimenting with it and declared it was an element.

I got to go behind the scenes, actually stand in Faradays old lab (not a replica, the actual lab), and see the hidden archive room which included cool things like the original worlds largest pencil (it has since been usurped by another one), a piece of original meteorite, and original letters and books written by some of the most highly prestigious scientists in history.
So all in all week one has gone well. Everyone has been really lovely, and I'm looking forward to next week and seeing what it has to bring. 

It's lovely to hear from everyone by the way, thank you for the comments left, they make me smile!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Christmas Lectures: Day 1

So my first day working for the Royal Institution of science (yes, THE royal institution of science!) is over. And good lords I am knackered!

The actual Royal Institution
This weekend just gone saw me up sticks and move to London to start my 3 month placement here. For those who are unaware, my PhD is part of the BBSRC DTP groups (BBSRC = Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. A.K.A. the people who give me money and let me do science) (DTP = Doctoral Training Program A.K.A a program which has lots of PhD's as part of it, and lots of other things we have to do alongside it).

One of the other things we have to do is spend 3 months doing something that isn't our PhD. And I was lucky enough to be successful in applying for the Christmas Lectures position with the Royal Institution.

My role is as a Media assistant - from what I can gather so far that means being organised a lot and knowing how to write things and use social media well. I'm hoping to be involved in some of the actual lecture prep as well, and I'm apparently going to be around for a lot of the rehearsals, though sadly I won't be in the room during the actual filming.
They've allowed me to read the preliminary script today, and it already looks set to be awesome! Obviously I'm not allowed to give details away, but I highly recommend you all tune in. It's going to be a great introduction/recap on all things energy, accessible to people at all levels. And there isn't just chemistry in there (though there is a lot granted), there is even some biology and physics too.

That first moment when I walked into the building did feel pretty awesome. That place just has so much history to it. Specifically the history of science, which is my thing (science, not history). And then I got to go stand in the lecture theatre itself! The actual lecture theatre from the actual lectures! (yes I am a fangirl). The me from my childhood could never have dreamed that was possible

The lecture theatre, where I stood this morning!

The work days are going to feel pretty long for a while. 8 hours working is fine, no problem, but it's the near hour commute either end that is the killer. Mainly because I'm not used to it. (Yes I know many of you work longer/harder/further etc. Changes are always tiring). Hopefully everything will become normal asap and I'll be used to it all before you know it.

Well, that's all for today. I'll do another update when I have more to say.
Have fun!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

'Supercharged: Fuelling the future', and my own near future

I'm sorry it has been a while since the last update. To make it up to you all, please follow this link to an amazing science game: Cool biology game link
I also have some very exciting news for those of you who haven't already heard. This year as part of my PhD I have to undertake a 3 month long placement away from the lab. This can be pretty much anything as long as it isn't actually my PhD. I've been incredibly lucky with my placement. 

I'm going to be a media assistant for the 2016 Royal Institution Christmas lectures!

'Supercharged: Fuelling the future'

For those of you who have never heard of/seen the lectures, I highly recommend watching them, Especially this year, given I'm involved! In essence, every year on TV over the Christmas period there are a series of 3-4 hour long lectures on a given science topic. Last years were on Surviving in space and presented by Dr. Kevin Fong. All of them are accessible no matter what your level of scientific knowledge. Back in 2010 Bruce Hood did a series on Neuroscience (My area) and I absolutely loved his way of explaining things and putting a different spin on all of the things I was learning in my degree.

This year, Professor Saiful Islam, Professor of Material Chemistry at the University of Bath is running the lectures (The dude in the picture above). The topic for this year (in case you didn't get it from the rather cryptic title) is energy.

To find out all the interesting details about this years lectures, follow this link: The Royal Institution Lectures information Link
My role in the lectures is as media assistant. This means I'm going to be involved in all the press surrounding the lectures, as well as getting to help out behind the scenes and actually being present for the filming of the lectures themselves! I'm a little scared, as my chemistry and physics knowledge isn't exactly great (Damn it Jim I;m a Biologist not a Chemistry person/physicist!). But, this is the best chance I have of learning all about it. And working alongside Professor Saiful Islam is going to be amazing (i really hope I actually get to speak to him!). Most of my job is going to entail press releases and interviews and such. I'll do some shout outs about what I get involved in so you can all read it or watch it or listen to it (whatever it is).

((There is a good interview with him, which you can find at this link: Interview link ))

It's also the 80th anniversary of the lectures being televised, so they're going to be recreating a bunch of old and iconic experiments, including Faradays electricity generation experiments (hense the topic). They are also apparently inviting back some previous lecturers, so I might get to meet lots of very exciting people during those three months. (If Bruce Hood shows up I may have to fangirl quietly). 

Now this would be cool to do

I'm so very excited about it. I've watched the lectures on and off ever since I was a kid, and always wanted to get into the audience. I never thought I'd actually get to help set them up! And doing the 80th anniversary set is extra special.

If you want to watch any of the old lectures, a bunch of them are online and free to watch. I highly recommend it, they're really good and there is a wide range of topics: Past lectures link

So hopefully I'll do some blog posts about my newly forming understanding about energy so we can all learn together, and those of you with a better understanding of it than me can correct me and hopefully guide me in the right direction. 

(Also, my PhD is going fine. My big experiment is coming to an end, and I've helped out my supervisor on one of her experiments. She is saying I might get to be first author on the paper!)

That's all for now. I'll try and be back soon with my first blog on energy!


Friday, 6 May 2016

What is a Neuron anyway?


Piginadeckchair - I suppose you can't explain why toast lands butter side down all down my dressing gown, as it did this morning (grrr!) can you?
Sadly no I can't, I'm a neuroscientist not a toastologist (though that would be a cool title to have!) There is a website that tells you the answer though if you're interested:

Nickycky - I have a theory. Gravity. The buttered side is heavier, so falls faster than the non-buttered side. It makes PERFECT sense
Good answer! Sadly no. Have a check out of the link above though, its interesting.

Jez lawrence - I love your analogy! That is exactly how it works. And yes, zombie gags are a must!
((For other peoples interest, here is Jez's analogy for how DNA works))
"I've always thought of your DNA as a book with loads of little and not so little chapters. Each cell reads the chapter about itself and if any footnotes reference other chapters, then it goes and reads those too (e.g. see chapter 432.b "how to make enzyme x")."

So, thank you for everyone who read the introduction to the blog! It's lovely to see so many people reading and interacting with it. Science should be something that everyone can read, not just those of us in a lab. Please keep on asking questions and leaving comments, I love reading them and will answer any questions left in the next post.

Speaking of questions, I got asked what these guys were from the last blog:

Your friendly neighborhood fluffy neurons
It's actually a very good question (which I will get onto in a second). As a quick aside, it is very easy as a scientist to forget that people don't know things that you take for granted these day's because "Well I learned that back in first year of university/A2 levels, so doesn't that mean everyone knows it?" So please, if I accidentally start doing that then ask away!

So anyway, back to the question. The fluffy objects in the above picture are cartoon representations of neurons. So...

What is a neuron?

The very basics are: Neurons are the teeny-tiny cells that make up your brain and your spinal cord. Oh, and they also let you move, tell all your organs to do their jobs at the right time, tell your muscles what to do, tell your hormones what to do...
So actually, not that basic.

A better explanation please?

Ok. I'm hoping that you are all aware that your body (and the bodies of all living things) are made up of microscopic things called cells. You get all sorts of different types of cells (Blood cells, skin cells, muscle cells etc), and they all have a specialized function and a specialized structure to allow them to perform this function. Neurons are just the same, they have a special job and a special structure. This is what they look like for real:

This is a real image of real stained neurons

The basic job of a neuron is to pass information from one place to another. An easy way to imagine this is to think of neurons like wires in an electric circuit. The battery (the source) gets turned on, passes electricity down the wire (the neuron) and the light bulb lights up (the response). So, when you want to move your hand for example, your brain sends the message (The battery), the message travels down the neurons to your hand (the wires), and then your hand moves (the light bulb).

I hope that makes some kind of sense!

Lets go a bit more complicated

I hope someone is still reading this far! I promise its not too complicated.
Ok, lets look at the actual structure of a neuron:

Typical neurons, always looking complicated
We'll start on the left and work our way across.

This is a cool name if nothing else. Dendrites are at the top of the neuron, attached to the cell body. These are like tree branches, spreading out into sometimes pretty wide areas. They connect up to other cells and receive messages. 

Cell body and Nucleus:
The cell body is just like it sounds - the main body of the cell. 
The Nucleus is the bit which holds all your DNA that is in that cell. The genes that are active in the nucleus of the neuron tell the cell to be a neuron and make sure it has everything it needs to work properly.

The axon is the bit that takes the message that the dendrites received, and carry it along to wherever it is supposed to go. Cool fact: The longest axon in your body runs all the way from your spinal cord in one long cell down to your toes! In tall people that is a very long way.

Myelin sheath/schwann cells/nodes of ranvier:
These are a bit more complicated (I studied all of this at A2 Biology). Myelin is a protective wrap (like a blanket) that goes around the axon. It is made of Schwann cells. The Nodes of Ranvier is the name of the gaps between each wrap. The purpose of having these is to make the messages get passed along faster, by having them bounce along the gaps rather than having to trundle all the way down the whole length and risk getting lost. 

Axon terminals:
This is, as the name suggests, the end of the axon. This again has branches, a bit like the dendrites. Only this time, the job of the axon terminal is to pass the message along to the next cell, rather than receive any new ones.

Phew. Lots of information there. Please ask if you don't understand something and I'll try and make it make sense!

So, I think that's enough science for one day (for you readers at least). If anyone has any requests on a topic they would like to know about, please ask!

If you're really interested in neuroscience, I can highly recommend watching the royal institute christmas lectures from back in 2011. Its a four program series entitled "Meet your Brain", presented by Professor Bruce Hood. Absolutely fantastic introduction to neuroscience. (Click on the title to go to the page)

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Welcome to the Lab

Hello again!

To kick-start the new science side of the blog, I thought I would begin with giving you a little bit of an introduction into what I do, and what my lab does. I won’t go into loads of details, but hopefully this will give you a brief look into my life as a scientist.

What is Neuroscience? Does that mean you study brain surgery?

You will be surprised at the number of times I've been asked this. (The answer is no I do not).

Neuroscience is pretty as well as fascinating
Neuroscience is the study of the structure or function of the nervous system and brain. This includes research into horrible diseases such as Alzheimers, ALS, MS etc, as well as fascinating processes such as memory formation or the long and complex process of us being able to interpret what our eyes see.

Ok, so what does the lab do?

The lab group as a whole has a main interest in the field of epigenetics. We look into how epigenetic mechanisms can underlie the beneficial effects of exercise on both mental and physical health. From this, we want to find out how epigenetics and exercise can help us become more resistant to disease and the negative effects of getting older.


It may sound complicated, but the basics of epigenetics is actually fairly easy to understand.

Genetics are cool, and not that scary
Hopefully you already know that in the majority of the cells in your body you have a bunch of stuff called DNA which houses all of your genes (those wonderful things that encode pretty much everything to do with your body, such as your hair colour).
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression (which genes are turned on or off at any one point), without the genes themselves being changed.

For an analogy (because I like analogies), think of your DNA as a book. The pages are your genes and the words are the code that makes up the genes. Your eyes reading those words are the genes being expressed.
 Epigenetic mechanisms are little notes appearing attached to a page telling you to skip to the next page, or a little note reminding you not to skip a page that you would usually skip. These notes change how you read the book (your gene expression), but don’t actually change any of the words or pages.

Ok, so what do you do with this?

We can study these epigenetic changes and see how they interact with the environment. We can also see how these mechanisms are connected to both positive and negative changes in response to a changing environment (such as ageing or exercise). This is what we are interested in.

How does this connect to neuroscience?

In my PhD, I’m looking at how exercise and ageing interact. As we get older, a number of changes occur in our bodies. Exercising on a regular basis can make you fitter, healthier and happier. It’s also believed to help maintain both physical and mental health during older age
So basically I'm looking to see how the way you live your life can impact on your brain function when you're older via the mechanisms of epigenetics.

These guys are a brains best friend
There is obviously more to a lot of this than I have explained here, but this will do for a starter. I'll hopefully have my first explaining of science blog out in a couple of weeks or so.

Feel free to leave comments asking questions or leaving feedback - both are very much appreciated.

See ya next time!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Science time!

Hello everyone,

It's been a long long time since I posted anything on here (for which I feel bad about), so sorry about that!

I've been looking further into my PhD, and as part of my BBSRC DTP work I have to do scientific outreach to people. Now, first of all:

What is outreach?
This basically means that I, as a scientist, have to get my science work out to you people out there, both scientists and more specifically you non-scientists.

Why outreach?
Well, it's important that science reaches everyone. Science shouldn't be some exclusive club that you have to have 3 degrees in before you can understand it. So it's important for the people doing scientific research to tell everyone else about it in terms they can understand.

So why are you going on about this?
Well one of the ways you can do outreach is by blogging about science! So that's what I'm planning to do. I'm going to attempt to explain something to do with my degree (or if I'm really lucky, something else science related) once every couple of weeks or so.

If anyone has any requests or questions or comments, please please please ask me. Part of this works by interaction with people, and I need input from you lovely lot.

I'll try and make this as interesting as possible. Please give me feedback on how I'm doing, I'd like to be able to improve on my writing styles.

I'll post up the first bit before the end of the week - I'm thinking possibly having Thursdays or Fridays as my update day, as I usually have Wednesday evenings free.

Keep smiling!