Photo:

Theo Laftsoglou

Favourite Thing: Looking down the microscope, as it opens up new worlds to your eyes, as much as by looking up to the sky through a telescope! Fascinating!

My CV

Education:

Greek High School (graduated in 2006), University of Glasgow (2008-2012), The University of Sheffield (2012-2013), University of Leeds (2013-present)

Qualifications:

BSc (Hons) in Molecular & Cellular Biology, MSc in Bionanotechnology, Register Scientist (RSci)

Work History:

Glasgow Science Festival Team (2009-2012)

Current Job:

PhD student

Employer:

University of Leeds

Me and my work

I’m trying to understand how a friendly bug produces electricity, so that we can use it to turn our waste-water into green electricity.

Some bacteria need oxygen to live and, like us, they will die, if they are left without oxygen. Other bacteria are more flexible and have means to survive when oxygen is not present. And, there also is a different type of bacteria to which oxygen is toxic and they will die, if they are exposed to it. I am working with a bacterium of the second type that can survive with, or without oxygen. Its scientific name is Shewanella oneidensis, though its nickname is Shewy! But, before we talk about Shewy, let us see why we are using oxygen.

When we eat, our food is broken down in our stomachs to provide us with nutrients and energy. During this process, at the cell level, our cells generate electrons. Those electrons, however, cannot hang around on their own, so we use oxygen to pass those electrons onto.

While we only use oxygen to pass those electrons onto, Shewy has a remarkable respiration system and it can use almost any molecule that is able to accept electrons, including solid metals. So, we have bacteria, Shewy, that in order to live pass electrons to solid metals in their environment; in other words, they generate electricity (a flow of electrons). So, if instead of solid metals we have an electrode, we can capture and store electricity.

The electrons, of course, are “made” inside the bacterium, but they must travel all the way through to the outer surface of the bacterium to interact with metals in the surrounding environment. This is achieved by different proteins that act as electron-carriers. Those proteins cannot use the electrons, but they can carry them from one place to the other. And that’s where I come in! I’m trying to understand how proteins do that and how the whole bacterium co-ordinates the flow of electrons.

My Typical Day

It’s always a combination of experiments, meetings, seminars, reading papers, and analysing data. Never gets boring!

In a typical day, I tend to get in the office at about 7 or 8 am and have my coffee while replying to e-mails and either do some reading, or do the calculations for the day’s experiments. Then most of the day is spent in the lab doing my experiments. I often need to have a chat with other members of the lab, or from other labs when I need some help with a particular technique. There is a lot of team-work in Science. Once a week, all the lab members meet with the professor to discuss our work and ideas. Besides that, I at other times attend seminars, where leading researchers visit us from other Universities to present their research. I quite like attending such seminars as I keep up-to-date with advances in my field and also learn a lot about other closely related fields. Then, it’s lunch time! I usually take half an hour to an hour break before I get back to the lab and to my experiments. By the end of the day, I tend to plan what I have to do the next day.

However, before I head home for dinner, it’s exercise time at the gym. I’m not a huge fan of the gym, but it’s necessary as I like to keep fit. In a lazy day, though, I might just do some running. Then, in the evening, I usually do some more reading with some nice music on, or catch up with friends locally at a coffee-shop / pub, or with friends from Glasgow, Sheffield, or Greece via Skype. Other times, I might do some writing, or just play some strategy games.

What I'd do with the money

A fun interactive activity about renewable energy sources at local Schools, where, with the help of students like you, we make a YouTube video in order to reach a much wider audience.

The vision: To let students in groups build their own microbial fuel cells and compare their output to draw a winner. In the process, the students will learn a lot about this new technology and understand the importance of renewable energy sources. The students will then make a YouTube video explaining to other students around the world what they have learnt.

The microbial fuel cell is a device that uses the flow of electrons (bio-electricity)  from the metabolism of growing microbes. The small scale microbial fuel cells that the students will build can power a small light-bulb. They will learn a lot about Biology – the metabolism of microbes, but also about Physics – electrical circuits, and Chemistry – the reactions involved.

The support: I am a STEM Ambassador since 2009 and a former member of the Glasgow Science Festival Team from 2009-2012, with extensive experience in working with schools and educating students and the general public in a fun way. This experience of mine and my enthusiasm for Science will be combined, along with experts from the University of Leeds and local schools to build this project up and deliver it.

The money: The money will help towards costs to buy the bits and pieces for building the microbial fuel cells, and any costs that may arise from making a YouTube clip.     

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Crazy. Curious. Ambitious.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Must be Scorpions and generally 70s / 80s rock music.

What's your favourite food?

Home-made Bolognese pasta, or pizza.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Mountain-biking

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t know at the time. But I knew I wanted to do research and discover new things.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

A little bit for being late and a bit too enthusiastic at times.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I enjoyed mathematics a little too much, along with Biology.

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

I always enjoy DNA manipulation. I’ve even designed a gene!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Funnily enough, it was the DNA molecule (& the evolution of life).

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

I have always enjoyed Science, really. But, I had been trained & worked as a paramedic, so maybe that.

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

To be an astronaut for a day. To get back into extreme sports. To make the world a better place for future generations.

Tell us a joke.

The rotation of the Earth really makes my day!

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is my desk at the office:

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In the office, we are a total of 4 PhD students and one technician. So, as you can imagine, there is quite a social atmosphere.

 

This is my work-bench in the lab, where all the science happens!! Each scientist has its own bench so they can store their solutions and equipment:

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Now, this is the glove-box, which I use to study the different proteins. It is basically a box with gloves, where we can control the air inside it, and the air inside the glove-box is actually nitrogen gas. We use a box filled with nitrogen gas for when we don’t want to have any oxygen in some of our experiments. In my case, the presence of oxygen changes the behaviour of my proteins.

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