Susan Skelton

Had a fantastic time! Thank you to all the students for all your brilliant questions! I really enjoyed answering them and chatting with you all!

Favourite Thing: Using light to pick up and move around cells and molecules without touching them!



Lochgilphead High School (1997-2003), University of St Andrews (2003-2008), University College London (2009-2013)


8 Standard Grades, 5 Highers (Physics, Maths, English, French, Music), 3 Advanced Highers (Physics, Maths, Music), Master of Physics (MPhys), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Physics

Work History:

University of St Andrews (undergraduate researcher), DESY, Germany (summer researcher), University College London (PhD student), Osaka University (postdoctoral research scientist). However, I’ve also enjoyed working in other part-time / temporary non-sciencey jobs such as waitressing and in a tourist information centre.

Current Job:

I’m currently working as a research scientist in a nano science lab in Japan.


Osaka University in Japan

Me and my work

I use powerful light beams to explore the world on the smallest scale.

Imagine if you climbed out of the bath one day and discovered you’d shrunk in the wash by about 1500 million times! If you wandered through to the living room, instead of seeing chairs, tables, and your family, you would be surrounded by atoms, molecules, and cells.

Imagine that you started sticking those atoms together in interesting new ways, like tiny lego bricks. You could build all kinds of amazing new materials: everything from brand new medicines to tiny robots. Inventing new things on this incredibly small scale is called nanotechnology and it’s one of the most exciting and new areas of science today!


We still don’t know much about how the world works on really small scales.  ‘Nano’ means ‘extremely small’ so nanoscience and nanotechnology deal with the very smallest things in the world – things that can only be measured using nanometres (one nanometre is one billionth of a metre, or 0.000000001 metres!)

It’s hard to imagine just how small these things are.  I work with things that are thousands of times smaller than a human hair  – things like cells, molecules, and even single atoms.

What is so interesting about the nanoworld is that things behave very differently there to how we expect.  If you dive into a swimming pool, your speed and your weight keeps you moving through the water for several metres.  But if you were nano-sized, the water would be like treacle and would soon bring you to a gloopy halt!

Nanotechnology has the potential to touch almost every aspect of our lives: it can be used to make very sensitive sensors to detect disease; it could revolutionise medicine, allowing us to treat diseased cells individually; … and it could even be used to build a bridge into space!

So I am a nanoscientist – and my work involves learning more about this truly amazing nanoworld.

Here is a really cool movie that takes you on a journey inside our bodies to explore the nanoworld inside us.  Enjoy! 🙂 (Don’t forget to turn up the sound!)


What does the nanoworld look like?

Things look different in the nanoworld!   I love using powerful microscopes to zoom in really really close to see nature in amazing detail!

These amazing pictures show us what a fruit fly looks like, if only we could get so close…. As we look from left to right, the pictures get more and more zoomed in and we get closer and closer to the fruit fly’s eyes.


Who would have guessed a fly’s eyes would look like that?!


Touching and MOVING

Nano-objects are far too small to see or touch – they are billions of times smaller than our fingers so they are tricky to pick up!  We get round this by using light to pick nano stuff up and move it around to study.  Just like a tractor beam from a sci-fi film, we can move things without touching them at all!




We can also make nano-objects.  Here at Osaka University, we make objects so small that the detail would be impossible to make even by the world’s most skilled craftsman using the most delicate tools. But light can be concentrated down to a very small area and used to make tiny objects with very fine detail.

The bull was made first.  It is so small that if you lined up a herd of one hundred bulls, nose to tail, they would fit across a single full stop!! It’s in the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records as it is the smallest sculpture ever made.


Now we have perfected the technique, we want to use it to make “nanobots” – nano-sized robots which could travel inside the body through the blood vessels and cure disease!

My Typical Day

Most days I do experiments – with lots of breaks for tea and chocolate!

The best thing about my job is that no two days are the same!

I spend a lot of time doing experiments to learn more about how the nanoworld behaves.  When I have an interesting result, I write a report about my experiment for other scientists to read.  I also spend some time helping students with their research.

Sometimes I travel to conferences (often in exciting far away places) where I tell other scientists about my research and hear about all the exciting things other scientists are working on, too.

What I'd do with the money

I want to bring some fun experiments to your schools, so that you can explore the nanoworld too!

I’m enjoying chatting with you all so much that I want to come to visit you at your schools and show you my research! 🙂

I would spend the money on some really cool experiments that I could bring in to schools to show students how amazing the nanoworld is!  I plan to do this in a few months, when I am back home in the UK.  Maybe I could visit your school?!

I would bring a computer linked to our super-powerful microscopes, so you can have a look at whatever you want (bacteria, bugs, bogies – it’s entirely up to you!), really really close up! I would also bring some other fun experiments and activities, like a Mighty Seltzer rocket making competition, so you can learn some more about some of the things that nanotechnology is really useful for!


My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Creative, hard-working, chatty.

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

Anything italian, but especially pizza!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Snorkeling on the coral reefs off the tropical islands south of Japan.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I couldn’t decide between being a dancer or a scientist!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Sometimes, for chatting too much! – but usually I was a goody two shoes.

What was your favourite subject at school?

When I was younger I preferred arts subjects like music, art and english, but as I grew older I started to like science more. In the last two years of school, it was definitely physics.

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

Getting the chance to live and work abroad. Being a scientist means that you can work almost anywhere in the world, which is awesome if you like travelling. As well as working hard in the lab, I get to spend my weekends and holidays travelling around Japan!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I had a great physics teacher at school who really encouraged me to understand science beyond the equations. At university, I learned about the exciting research that was being carried out and knew I wanted to be involved.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Probably something like a journalist or a detective as I like finding things out.

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

To be nano-sized for a day, to travel to all the continents of the world, and to make a difference through my work.

Tell us a joke.

How do scientists freshen their breath?……. With Experi-Mints!

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is the chemistry room where we make our nano materials.  We have lots of equipment to weigh chemicals, to mix them together, and to separate them apart again.  We wear white coats if the chemicals are dangerous.


To be able to see really small stuff, I have to cool down my equipment by pouring a very cold liquid, called liquid nitrogen, inside.  Although it is a liquid, it is much colder even than ice, so when it touches something at normal room temperature, it boils everywhere! (It’s a bit scary!)


This is the laser lab where I use light to move and study the nano objects.  The tables are covered with holes so we can easily attach equipment wherever we want and it won’t move around.   Most of the things on the table are mirrors and lenses that we use to steer the light to where we want to use it.  I spend a lot of time with a screwdriver, moving things around.  It’s a bit like a giant meccano set!


Here I am in the laser lab using light to move some nano objects!




And finally, lots of you have been asking some fantastic questions about robots.  Although I don’t work with robots myself, I was lucky to have the chance to meet this famous Japanese robot called Asimo, here in Japan!    Asimo is able to hold a conversation, run, jump, … and even have a kickabout with a football!!


Check out the video below to see Asimo showing off his skills!