Science Questions

How does a biologist end up working on lasers?

Sun, 11th Jul 2010

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Question

Ben asked:

How does a biologist end up working on lasers?

Answer

We asked this question of Clare Bryant, a biologist who now works in a multidisciplinary team working with lasers...

Clare -   It was quite interesting, actually. I started doing some work with a colleague of mine called Julia Gog in the Maths Department and we had a few beers one evening and we were chatting about the sort of basic principles that were involved in how Salmonella infect cells.  She asked me a lot of really awkward questions and I was sitting and thinking, “Well, do I know the answers? - Well I think I do".  I went away and looked in the literature and in fact, not many of the answers were actually known.

So we started to talk about this and then we started to collaborate with a physicist called Pietro Cicuta and when we had our experimental questions, Julia would say, “What about this?”  And I say, “Well I think it does that, but I can't quite build the kit to do it so I don't quite know how to do this.”  Pietro said, “It’s all right.  I can build a piece of gear!”

So we started the three-way collaboration with awkward questions.  My ideas for biological experiments and Pietro then saying, “Yeah, we can do this.  We can do this this way, that way or the other.”  It’s then proven to be just really, really exciting to do experiments.  I never dreamed it possible, to be honest.

Ben -   So, this is how the real novel stuff comes about, isn’t it? It’s when researchers from different fields get together, maybe over a beer, maybe for coffee perhaps, and this fantastic fabulous research comes out.

Clare -   Yeah.  It’s just amazing to me.  I hadn’t been sure how multidisciplinary work would really happen and having had this kind of interaction with these guys, I'm now trying to learn their language.  Obviously, the mathematical language is very, very different from the biological language, and they (Julia and Pietro) are embryo biologists, but the kind of interaction between the three of us is just proving to me to be a real eye-opener and an obvious way forward for us.

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