What is your job title?

Professor of Immunology

Please describe your journey into STEM?

My brother Iain was much older than me and was fascinated with marine biology and conveniently we lived nearish the beach. Iain would take me to the beach most weekends to show me the amazing and diverse life held within rock-pools. We even had a tank back home in which we could both study the rock pool life more closely. My favourites were our two hermit crabs. One day there was one crab and one empty shell- it had outgrown its shell and shed it only to become fish food. Our rescue mission to find a shell for the other hermit crab and nurturing it through its shell shedding moment was the final spark that cemented my love of science. I assumed that I would study zoology but unfortunately Iain became very unwell when I was in my teens. Watching him struggle with his illness made me question why and how people got sick. This lead to me developing an interest in the concept of immunology and the body's immune system and how it deals with infection, and that is what I have studied and researched ever since.

What is a STEM-related question or challenge you would love to solve one day?

Although typically we talk about how our immune system has evolved to deal with infectious threats like bacteria or parasites, in actual fact our immune system spends a lot of its time ignoring bacteria and microbes that make our helpful microbiome. So how does our immune system know what is good like the microbiome versus what is bad like a tummy bug? This idea fascinates me and I would love to solve it.

Why do you think the Great Science Share for Schools is important?

Science is so incredibly fun and fascinating but I think there is an idea that it is something only the very cleverest people can do, yet in childhood many of us have a wonder and curiosity about the world around us. The Great Science Share for Schools helps many children spark their curiosity and investigate and test their ideas, which is vital to help people have the confidence to explore science later on in life, whether they do it as a career or not. If I had not had Iain in my childhood I probably never would have got so excited about science, as all the sciences were not necessarily always my strongest topics at school - I did very well at subjects like music and history as well as biology but struggled more with physics.

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