Alison Thomson

Last Day of Questions and Voting!!! Keep 'em coming guys!!!

Favourite Thing: I love using the fluorescent microscopes!



George Heriot’s School (’95 – ’06), Heriot Watt University (’08 – ’12), Edinburgh University (’12 – ’13), and Aberdeen University (’13 – present)


Honours Degree in Sport and Exercise Science, Masters Degree in Human Anatomy, and I’m half way to a PhD in Developmental Biology.

Work History:

I worked in a bowling alley for a while as an ‘Alley Cat’,and for the fraud department of a bank.

Current Job:

I’m a PhD student at Aberdeen Uni.


My employer is Professor Simon Parson – he’s super cool! There’s a picture of him in my photos section.

Me and my work

I study a very special type of motor neurone disease and how it affects the way our blood vessels grow.

I work on a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), which is a disease that makes the nerves in people’s bodies get sick and die. Unfortunately, the worst version of it is also the most common, and it affects young children, and a lot of them die before they can celebrate their 2nd birthday.

Some really smart scientists have found out that it’s not just your nerves that get sick when you have SMA, but also lots of other parts of the body, like your heart, spleen and blood vessels. That’s where I come in – I’m trying to work out what is wrong with the blood vessels and how we can fix them. I also look at the spleen, because that’s one of the organs in the body that helps you get better when you have a cold, so we need to find out how to fix the problems there.

I look at blood vessels by dissecting part of the eye and colouring in the blood vessels so that I can see them better – that’s when I get to use the fluorescent microscope – it’s super cool!


My Typical Day

Start an experiment in the morning, then spend my afternoon on the microscope looking at my good work!

I do immunohistochemistry – which is just a fancy word for saying I get some tissue (like a piece of the eye) and use something like food colouring to stain different cells so that I can see them better.

Here’s a really pretty picture of blood vessels in the eye myimage6

There’s a lot of waiting around in between each step of the experiment, so I take the chance to go and have a cup of coffee and read some new science papers. I sometimes go over to the anatomy department and help the students to learn their anatomy, which is pretty good fun!


What I'd do with the money

I’d make a kids Science Magazine full of your science questions and hand it out for free!

I am part of the Aberdeen University Science Journalism Society, and we make a really cool science magazine 3 times a year – you can see the magazine we’ve made before:

Every magazine has a theme, and the one we’re working on just now is Food Themed! I’m going to be writing about how we can eat bugs as part of a stable diet – gross!

My official job with the magazine is Marketing Coordinator, which means I have to find ways of getting the money to pay for printing each magazine (We’re a self-funded society). If I win the prize money here, I’d give it all to the magazine because I love the fact that we hand it out to everyone for free all around Aberdeen (and sometimes the whole of the UK!) and it gives everyone an opportunity to learn some awesome new science facts.


I’ve actually just been told that if I fund the next edition, I can make it a ‘Science for Schools’ themed one, so I’ll get to fill it with all the best questions I’ve been asked here, and all the scientists that I work with will help me to answer some of them!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Small. Crazy. Enthusiastic.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Honestly? I LOVE Little Mix! And I love all the golden oldies – Genesis are awesome!

What's your favourite food?

Home made pasta carbonara – yum!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I worked in America as a kids sports coach for 3 summers – I got to travel while I was there and I had SO much fun!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A primary school teacher! My Mum is a primary school teacher as well and she’s my idol, so I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Only for being a little too loud/enthusiastic/hyper!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology… or Music – I can’t decide!

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

I got to dissect an entire human body – it was so interesting and I’ll never forget it!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My Dad! He’s a scientist too and I used to love going to his work and playing with the microscopes and stuff.

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

A baker – I LOVE baking! There’s a picture of some of my cookie monster cupcakes in my photo section!

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

I want to be taller (I’m only 5′ 2″ and I hate having to ask for people to pass me things from the top shelf at the shops!), I’d like to make a huge breakthrough in science (the kind that leads to a Nobel Prize!), and I’d like to win the lottery (duh!)

Tell us a joke.

I asked the guy sitting next to me if he had any Sodium Hypobromite… He said NaBrO

Other stuff

Work photos:

THANKYOU for voting me in to the final! Here’s my happy face:





myimage1 This is my desk – it’s a little cluttered but I like to think that it’s a sign of how hard I work!


myimage7 Here’s my lab bench – I spend most of my time here!


myimage2 If I ever change career I’d be a baker – here are some Cookie Monster Cup Cakes – do you think I would be a good baker?!


myimage8 To the students who were asking me about the cakes I bake – here’s one!


myimage3 This is me and my supervisor Simon. We have huge smiles because I had just won a poster competition!


myimage4 Here we are at the fresher’s fair trying to get new students to join our Science Journalism Society. We made the periodic table of cupcakes to entice them!


myimage5 This is my hometown – Edinburgh. It’s gorgeous when it’s not raining!