Stunned and thrilled that I won. Thank you everyone who voted for me. And thanks everyone for the questions and for inspiring and enthusing me.
Favourite Thing: Finding something new! I am very lucky to have a job where I can think of a question and then work hard to find the answer.
School: Icknield High School, Luton, 1976-1981. University: Royal Holloway and Bedford New College 1983-1986.
12 O’Levels, A Levels in Maths, Biology and Chemistry. I have a few degrees too (BSc, PhD, DSc, PGCHE).
University of London. University of Southampton. University of Northampton. University of Nottingham. I once spent a summer working as a gardener and a decorator.
I am a Professor of Human Nutrition and the Deputy Head of the School of Biosciences
The University of Nottingham
Me and my work
I’m the old crumbly in the Iodine Zone. I am interested in how the food our mothers ate before we were born sets us up for disease as we get older.
I study diet in pregnancy and have been involved in showing that what a woman eats when she is expecting has an effect on the health of her baby, not just as a child but also as it ages. When mums diet is poor, babies are born smaller. People who are born smaller are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
My work looks at two things. The thing I enjoy the most , is working out how it works. Why does mum’s diet have an effect on the health of her child maybe 70 years later. We work with animals to try and get to the bottom of this. By feeding either low protein or high fat diets to pregnant rats we find that their babies grow up to have conditions like diabetes and heart disease. We showed that feeding junk food in pregnancy makes the babies behave differently too- they become risk-takers that like to over-eat. Because we are using animals we can measure things in their organs to see how diet acts on genes that are linked to disease.
The other thing that we do is working out what can we do with this knowledge to make life better for people. We do work that looks at how controlling women’s weight during pregnancy might protect children from disease and are also interested in the effects of breastfeeding and the ways in which babies are weaned onto solid food.
My Typical Day
Always busy, writing, teaching and training.
One of the hard things about being a scientist is finding the right balance between work and home life. I really value my free time and try hard to avoid letting work take over (usually this is an Epic Fail). I have 5 children (aged 9-25) and a new granddaughter. My day always starts with having to drag teenagers out of bed! I am pretty cruel some days and have a lot of tools I can use on my 13 year old son (bells, a hooter, wooden spoon).
When I am at work my days are very varied really because I have so many different responsibilities within the University. What I do depends on the time of year. Universities have even longer summer holidays than schools (4 months!) but the staff don’t take all of that time off. In the summer we do research all the time and in term time, time gets sucked up into other things.
I could break it down into three areas that cover most days.
1. Teaching. I spend about a quarter of my time teaching students. Some of these are undergraduates (students doing their first degree) and this involves giving lectures to big groups (sometimes 200 in a class). I also teach and train students studying for a PhD, which is always one-to-one. I have PhD students from all over the world in my group at the moment with people from Oman, Uganda and Malaysia as well as the UK.
2. Research. This is the best bit of my day. In the past, doing research meant I actually went into the lab with my white coat to do the experiments. These days I don”t do that very often and instead I have the ideas and direct my staff and students to do the work. I then get to do lots of thinking about what the results mean and about what we need to do next.
3. Boring stuff. The University is made up of lots of smaller units called Schools. I am the Deputy Head of School so that means I have a lot of things to do that we call “Admin”. Admin is a word that on some days means “boring” and on other days means “irritating”. It’s got to be done though and it involves dealing with money and planning ahead for what the School needs to do.
What I'd do with the money
Buy science equipment for my local school so that young people can love science too.
Science is brilliant! I want to share the love and enthusiasm that i have for my subject and pass it on to children in the local area.I’m getting old and crumbly now, having worked in science for 27 years. If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life when I was 13 years old, science wouldn’t have been on my agenda.
My own life in science came about because I had teachers who could inspire me and give me the chance to do experiments and find out about the world for myself. I would like more young people to have those sorts of opportunities. Science comes to life when you do experiments, have ideas that you can challenge and test. If I were to win I would donate to local primary and secondary schools to provide kit that gives those opportunities to do exciting things focused on biology and the natural world.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, busy, supportive
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Joy Division- very 1980s but they are really cool and trendy these days.
What's your favourite food?
Chicken curries, but not too hot
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Flying in a glider
What did you want to be after you left school?
I really wanted to be a medical doctor when I left school, but I was told I wouldn’t get the grades.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Not as often as I should have been… When I was up to no good I didn’t get caught. Usually it was being told off for talking when I should have been working.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Up until year 8 I really hated science and was into history. Then I fell in love with biology.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Finding out things that nobody has never seen before and then communicating them to a wide audience.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My science teacher in year 8 and 9, Mr Porter, was the person who brought science to life for me. That changed my life.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. To be World President. 2. To go into space. 3. To be a member of the first mission to Mars. If I achieved number 3, then the first two might change a bit!
Tell us a joke.
Q: What kind of ghosts haunt chemistry labs? A: Methylated Spirits!
The main place where I work is my office, which is the nerve-centre of my operations. This is one of two special places where I have great ideas for research. The other is in the shower, but I won’t show a picture of that!
My research team is divided into two. One group don’t need laboratory space as they work on projects that involve processing questionnaires and looking at medical records to answer questions about diet and health. The others are mostly based in this laboratory, where we can measure genetic markers and other biological targets.
We also have some specialist equipment in another lab. The kit in the photo below is able to measure tiny contractions and relaxation of blood vessels. We use this to see how the vessels react to drugs and hormones and test some of our theories about nutrition and health.