One of the reasons I enjoy my job so much is that every day is different. One day I could be using an electron microscope to image nanoparticles and the next I could be writing a programme to speed up data analysis. There is also lots of opportunity to travel – both in the UK and outside. The project I am currently employed on is a collaboration between five different universities in the UK. A great thing about this, is the opportunity to work closely with other researchers and perform experiments in their labs that we can’t do ourselves. Most of my time is spent at Imperial, but here I am recording my research adventures. From conference presentations to experiments in different labs across the country, I hope you can share my passion for research along with the ups and downs of experimental science.

“What’s so great about posters?”

After four full days of fantastic science BPS 2016 is finishing today. I’ve heard some great talks by scientists I’ve admired for many years and also managed to speak to a few of them. I’ve been asking around to see what the highlights have been for everyone and it’s often the poster sessions. I’ve been trying to reflect on why this is.

Many of the presentations I’ve heard represent years of hard work by a team of people to produce the exceptional data shown. Completing the picture (or coming close) is often complicated and requires long term collaborations to piece the jigsaw of results together. It’s inspiring to hear and to see how all the pieces fit together when the right questions are asked.

One results of presenting a large body of work however, can be that there are fewer examples and discussion of current data and experiments being worked on right now. There are certainly many exceptions to this but maybe the popularity of the poster sessions is in part due to the fact that they are perfect for this type of discussion. It is much easier to present work in progress in this format and to have an in depth conversation about what is working really well and maybe what is not working as well. During my poster session wanderings I’ve overheard numerous discussions like this and also many suggestions being made – a fantastic way to progress science.

I’ve also seen the poster sessions as a great way of discovering new science and new people. I’ve read posters on a range of topics I wouldn’t necessarily have attended talks for. It’s a more informal way to meet researchers and ask questions outside of the talks – with thousands of researchers, finding one person can be challenging, but knowing they will be at their poster is a great way to be able to introduce yourself and start a conversation. Maybe this is why the sessions are so popular.

On that note, I’m about to head off to the last poster session of this conference. I’ve earmarked a few but I’m also looking forward to discovering some new ones. I’ve had a fantastic first BPS conference and hope there will be many more to come.

Half way through BPS16 and Hollywood

Time is flying by here in LA and we’re already half way through BPS 2016. The sheer breadth of exceptional research presented here is impressive and it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about topics outside of my own speciality. This morning I went to the ‘Biomimetic Models for Study of Cytoskeletal Organisation’ symposium. For the non scientists this is essentially modelling, building and controlling the complex network of filaments and tubules that act as a ‘skeleton’ linked to the cell membrane which is essential in a variety of processes including structure, cell division and signalling pathways. There has been a vast amount of progress in this field in recent years and there were some fascinating and inspiring talks discussing how we can build similar systems from scratch in the lab to model and further understand fundamental processes.

Another great aspect of the conference is that the Biophysical Society organises multiple talks and activities for professional development and education. These include speed networking, advice on grant writing and Q&A sessions for every career level. Today I went to a panel discussion on the Science of Hollywood given by ‘The Science and Entertainment Exchange’ which is a program to connect industry entertainment professionals with top scientists. I had no idea what to expect but loved it and it raised lots of interesting questions. In the scientific community there can often be criticism of the accuracy of science in films and it was great to get a new perspective on it. From a Hollywood perspective, the story is understandably key and the science might be a secondary consideration as long as it it sufficiently plausible. I discovered that this can be partly due to the stage at which the consultation occurs – close to the end of a project there may be little room for changes however fantastic the science could be. However, if there is opportunity from the beginning of a project, then science really can inform and shape the story. The talk also presented the idea that film might be a great opportunity to promote science. As scientists we know how ‘normal’ we are, but how much do we promote this during our outreach projects to dispel any preconceptions other people may have? It inspired me to add a short paragraph about me as a person to my blog. The science will always be the main focus and drive for my career but it doesn’t hurt to mention I’m a relatively normal person too.

Tonight is the national lecture followed by the conference reception and dance. Hopefully see you there!

Subgroup Saturday and other events

BPS16 has now officially started with scientists flocking to the conference centre from all directions – we could spot the name badges and poster tubes on our walk in this morning. I had a great time at Subgroup Saturday yesterday which is when specialist subgroups within the Biophysical Society hold their own meetings. They are traditionally smaller than the main sessions during the conference and a great way to meet other scientists in your field as everyone is in the same room together. I particularly enjoyed the Mechanobiology subgroup and spent most of my time there.  The BPS360 app has been really useful for planning my time – it even notifies me just before a session starts. If you’ve not discovered it yet I would really recommend it.

One of things I’ve enjoyed most so far has been bumping into lots of collaborators and catching up with other researchers I haven’t seen in a while. We even managed a few beers together at the end of the day despite the jet lag. If you’re looking for views of LA there is a rooftop bar at Ace hotel with great views (although very expensive beer).

In other news, tonight is Oscars night. It’s really exciting to be in LA at the same time, although I’ll actually miss all the action as I’m planning to be at the Biomaterials and Biosurfaces session. I did however manage to go and see all of the set up on Friday when I arrived – the red carpet was already there albeit covered in plastic and you could walk right into the theatre and admire the massive Oscars statues – not something you get to do every day! I’m always fascinated by how much science actually goes into film production so I’m really looking forward to ‘The Science of Hollywood’ talk tomorrow (2.30pm, Rm 403A).

Time to sign off now and get back to the conference – I’m at the poster session this afternoon (Membrane Structure I at 1:45 in the Great Hall LB43) so please come past and say hi!

Biophysical Society 60th Annual Meeting, USA 2016

This week I’m off to the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in LA. This is my first Biophysical Society meeting and by far the largest conference I’ve attended – there are close to 7000 attendees. I will never have seen so many scientists in the same place at the same time and I’m really looking forward to it. We’re lucky the meeting coincides with the Oscars so I will no doubt be trying to spot a few celebrities in between lectures.

I’ll be guest blogging for the Biophysical Society during the meeting so look out for my updates. It’s a real honour so I hope you enjoy them. I’m just finishing off my final preparations – my poster for the meeting has been sent for printing and I’ve been looking over the schedule online. The poster board size is 6′ x 4′ so it will definitely be bigger than me! I’ve also spent some of this weekend looking through the scientific sessions programme, there are so many great speakers it’s going to be hard to choose between them.

The conference kicks off on Saturday with subgroup meetings – these are smaller meetings based around specific topics and will be a great way to meet researchers before the main meeting starts on Sunday. One of the challenges is always trying decide which talks to attend, there are generally two or three sessions running consecutively. I’ve downloaded the app (BPS360) and am going to use it along with the desktop planner to organise my time to try to get to as many talks as I can. It’s a great resource to keep track of where and when everything will be happening at such a large event.

For those of you following me, I hope you enjoy my updates and for those of you also travelling, safe journey and I’m looking forward to meeting you!

Nordic Workshop on Scattering from Soft Matter, Sweden 2016

I’ve been attending the Nordic workshops on scattering from soft matter for a few years now. Each year a different university hosts the workshop and this time it was Uppsala. It’s a really strong community and I enjoy meeting familiar faces, presenting my results and discussing new ideas. The meeting is only 24 hours long but we always manage to fit in a large amount of science and hear the latest updates on the new X ray and neutron facilities being built in Lund (MAX-lab and ESS).

semla-2048x1152Uppsala was pretty cold although we had fantastic sunshine. On my way back to the airport I grabbed a coffee with my cousins and had a Swedish easter delicacy (Semlor) which is a sweet bun with marzipan, cream and icing sugar – delicious!

European Biophysics Congress, Dresden, July 2015

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The European Biophysics Congress takes place every two years in different cities across Europe. This year Dresden was the location and I was lucky enough to receive a travel grant to go to the conference. It’s a large scale event with thousands of researchers arriving from across the globe to the conference center. Myself and another collaborator found cheap flights to Berlin and took the opportunity to do some sightseeing the weekend before, grab a few beers and then got a train to Dresden.

One of the great things about conferences is the opportunity to catch up with other researchers who have moved around the globe, meet new people and hear a wide range of talks. There were sessions like ‘Membrane Structure and Domains’ and ‘Membranes and Vesicles’ which directly relate to my own area of research (model membrane systems) which were a great opportunity to hear the latest results in  my field but I also really enjoyed listening to and learning about new areas of research in the ‘New and Notable’ sessions and hearing the plenary talks. We’re often very busy in the labs back at the university so taking a few days to just think and learn more is a really great way to come up with new ideas and consider new perspectives.

On the last day I also managed to fit in a historical walking tour of Dresden. I realised how little I knew of the city and how much it has changed over the years. I would love to return and do some more exploring one day.