Thank you everyone for your votes and awesome questions. I'm going to work really hard to make this webcomic happen!
Canadian International School of Hong Kong (1997-2007). University College London (BSc, 2007-2010). University College London (MSc, 2010-2011). King’s College London (PhD, 2011-2015).
Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), Advanced Placement (AP) exams (Chemistry, French, and Physics). BSc, MSc, PhD in Neuroscience.
King’s College London
King’s College London
Favourite thing to do in my job: Looking at cells that have been stained with fluorescent dyes under a confocal microscope is always really impressive. The cellular structures always look so beautiful when magnified.
I’m a cell biologist, but also a perpetually hungry human who can’t stop thinking about her next meal, lover of animals, and an amateur baker & photographer.
I’m 26 years old, and I grew up in Hong Kong. In 2007 I came to London for university and have stayed for postgraduate studies and my current position as a postdoc since then. It was a bit tough adjusting to the various accents but even I’m taking on a bit of a British accent even though everyone tells me I have an American one!
As someone who grew up in Chinese culture, expressions of love were often in the form of “have you eaten yet?” rather than hugs and kisses, so naturally I love food. When I’m at work, I plan my experiments around lunchtime. I love trying new restaurants and new recipes at home and I have a little food blog that I update once in a while. I’m a bit obsessed and I made a spreadsheet of all the restaurants I’ve liked in London and ones I have yet to try.
I have a wonderfully sweet cat named Honey whom I adopted from the RSPCA, but I actually had two dogs when I was younger too and I miss them a lot. If I could, I would have a pet rat as well – they are so cuddly! Unfortunately living in London means not a lot of space so I will have to wait until I get a bigger house to fit in all the animals.
In my free time I do Jiu Jitsu which is a type of martial arts, play video games, or I’m experimenting with baking recipes. I am constantly thinking of my next travel adventure (going to Japan in September)!
I grow cells in a dish to make them mimic the conditions of brain diseases, and then smash the cells apart to see what proteins are causing the damage.
My work focuses on two organelles within brain cells: mitochondria and the endoplasmic reticulum. In healthy conditions, these organelles talk to each other to promote good “traffic” within the cell, helping to absorb excess ions as well as generate energy for the cell. In some brain diseases, the contacts between these two organelles appears to be broken. We think that the same thing could be happening in Alzheimer’s disease, which would then contribute to the brain cells becoming sick. If you have Alzheimer’s disease, molecules which normally are helpful to the cells, become sticky and clump together. We want to see whether these sticky molecules affect the contacts between the mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum, and how to reverse it to hopefully stop the cells from dying.
At the moment, I grow cells in a dish which I then genetically manipulate to give them the proteins that form the sticky clumps. When that happens, I take the cells apart by smushing them up and down in some detergents to release all the proteins inside, so I can see what the toxic manipulation is doing to these proteins. Once we have an idea of whether the mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum proteins are affected, we can more easily identify drugs to target these proteins. Eventually, this could contribute to treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related brain diseases.
My Typical Day
Every day is different: I can be looking at my cells under a microscope, analysing data on the computer, or separating all the molecules in my cells to see what’s inside.
Yesterday, I checked my cells under a microscope to see if they were still alive. I fed them some more with nutrients to keep them going, and I also transferred them to a new flask to keep them happy because they’ll keep growing otherwise and get too crowded, which they don’t like. There was a plate of cells I was going to perform an experiment on, which was to look at the interaction between two proteins inside the cells. It involves breaking apart the cells and if the interaction is strong, the chemical reaction produces a glowing signal which a machine then reads. After that, I analyse my results on the computer and do some statistics.
Today, I taught my Master’s student a new technique on analysing cells under a microscope. I did some more statistical analysis of another experiment I performed last week, and made some graphs of the data to put in my lab book. In the afternoon, I volunteered at our Institute’s Open Day where I gave a lab demonstration to some members of the public. So as you can see, no day is ever the same!
What I'd do with the prize money
I would like to produce a series of webcomics which tackle the barriers of becoming a scientist, and introducing young scientists to proper experimental design.
My idea is to produce a webcomic which would be updated online and can be used as a public engagement resource that is accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. It would address the barriers of becoming a scientist, such as how we surround girls with “girly” items from birth and subtly giving out the message that they might not do something so “manly” as being a scientist. It would also address the barriers for kids from less well-off backgrounds who might not ever think of going to university, let alone become a scientist, due to reasons such as lack of money or support from their family. I hope to also sneak in some snippets of proper experimental design in the form of baking recipes along the way!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Silly, curious, perfectionist
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Giving a talk to members of the public about drug treatments in Alzheimer’s disease at our Open Day! Many of them have some sort of connection to dementia, either as carers, or they have a loved one with dementia, so it was really motivational to speak to them and reaffirmed the importance of the work that we do as scientists.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Subscription to Scientific American magazine, my chemistry and physics teachers.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No! My parents were very thankful :)
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Journalist, probably. Or a doctor (clinician).
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Dresden Dolls
What's your favourite food?
This is a really hard question. I love food! Probably noodles: Chinese noodles, Japanese noodles, Korean noodles, Vietnamese noodles…you get the idea.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I went to Iceland recently and got to see the Northern lights which was amazing. Such a beautiful sight to witness.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy no matter what job I was doing; be surrounded by great food, family, and friends; contribute to the treatment of patients in some way.
Tell us a joke.
What’s a neuron’s favourite TV channel? The Ion Channel.