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Helium Zone

Meet the scientists!

Photo:

Chris Cooper

Favourite Thing: When I discover something that no one has known about ever before in the whole history of time. Like when my student discovered that we all have a bit of green blood mixed in with the red stuff (see the tube on the right in my picture).

Me and my work

I study blood and how it works (or sometimes doesn’t!)

I work on oxygen, the stuff we breathe that gives us energy to live, work and play. I specialise in blood – especially the red part (haemoglobin) that carries the oxygen around the body. Haemoglobin changes colour (from Manchester United bright red to West Ham United claret) when oxygen binds to it. So I can tell how much oxygen people have in their body by shining red light on their brain or muscle and looking at their haemoglobin. I recently worked with the UK short track Olympic speed skaters checking how well their muscles were using oxygen

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In the past I have looked at the brains of newborn babies on intensive care units to check their oxygen. I don’t have any pictures of real babies but this image should show you how the red light can get into the brain.

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And here’s a picture of my brain being investigated!

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Oh and  in any  spare time I try and make artificial blood – this has led my work to be featured in the Sun newspaper as a possible cure for vampires! On the same theme here’s the vampire Ethan Hawke trying to make a blood substitute in the recent movie Daybreakers. Check out the green eyes…..

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Back in the real world the idea is that a blood substitute would be long-lasting and guaranteed free of disease – currently these are potential problems with blood used in transfusions. But at the moment substitutes are more dangerous than real blood  – time to get back in the lab. to do more research!

In response to a question – here is a photo of me and my PhD student who helped with my performance on the “One Show” on the dangers of high salt diet on the brain See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/theoneshow/highlights/science/food_science.shtml

(note this is red food dye NOT blood)

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My Typical Day

In the morning I write a book on “Drugs in Sport” – in the afternoon I do research on blood.

I am currently writing a popular science book about Drugs in Sport. I’ve  called it “Run, Throw, Swim, Cheat”. I am worrying as the deadline in November as I have to make sure it is published in time for the 2012 Olympics! In the afternoon I go into my office at the university. I talk to my research team. We share ideas about what experiments we need to do. My students then have the fun part and go off into the laboratory and do the work. I go back to my office and have the more boring job of writing begging letters to people to pay for the experiments! My science is not cheap – the last bit of equipment cost £95,000 and over 1 billion pounds has been spent by my rivals in the USA trying (and failing) to make a blood substitute. 

What I'd do with the money

I’d give it to the school whose students asked the most interesting question

I am really fortunate that the government already funds me to do the research and science communication I want to do. I would therefore like to use this particular money to reward those students who inspire me, confuse me and challenge me with their questions. So I would give the money to the school from where I got the most interesting question. I would visit the school (at my own expense), give a talk and illustrate my science with some demonstrations. I would then talk with the students and we could decide together the best way to spend the money on science communication for their school. For example this could be science books, some piece of technology or school trips to science museums and science festivals. You decide! 

When it comes to demonstrations,  you should see the blood milk shakes I can make – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlxKfSbpoX0&feature=related

And here’s my finished  bloody cocktail

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My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

loud enthusiastic tone-deaf

Who is your favourite singer or band?

“The Jam” – because you never forget the band that made you dance (or in my case jump up and down) as a teenager

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Having kids – not for the boring sentimental reasons, but because they give me an excuse to play football in the garden and go on rollercoasters (Kraken at Sea World in Florida is my current favourite).

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

to see my research make a difference to someone’s health or happiness; to be able to run, think and play even when I get old; to score the winning goal for England in the World Cup

What did you want to be after you left school?

a scientist or a social worker

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

For talking all the time in class a teacher once hit me with “the slipper” (this was allowed in the 1970’s).

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

It is always the last result you did that is the most exciting. Recently we worked out how the body stops haemoglobin being toxic when your red blood cells explode (as they do from time to time). This is great as it is a basic science result (we found out how the body works) with real world applications (we can design therapies for malaria or make a better, safer blood substitute)

Tell us a joke.

Two vampire bats are going for their midnight feed. After an hour or so, one bat gets tired of looking and goes home with no blood. The other bat comes home with blood dripping from its mouth. The first bat says enviously, “Where did you get all that blood from?” The second bat replies, “Follow me. I`ll show you.” After a while the second bat leads them to a cave. He says, “You see that wall over there?” The hungry bat excitedly says, “Yes!” The other bat says, “I didn’t.”

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