Last day: Oh no, I'll miss you guys [sobs]
Favourite Thing: Find stuff out!
Birkdale School Sheffield 1996-2003, University of York (undergrad) 2003-2008, University of York (PhD) 2009-2013
PhD Bioelectromagnetics, MEng Electronic Engineering, A levels, GCSEs, Grade 5 Guitar and a First Aid certificate
St Cuthbert’s Church Cheadle, Youth worker 2008-2009, NHS Newcastle Medical Physics department 2013-2015
Postdoctoral Researcher in Medical Microwave Imaging
University of York
30, brown hair, green eyes … wait, what sort of site is this?
Hi! I’m Greg, I live in York and I’m a medical imaging researcher. Before I came here I worked for the NHS in Newcastle, and I’ve also been a youth worker in Manchester. I like all the normal things: films, music etc, and I can never get out of bed on Saturday mornings.
My main hobby is cycling: I used to be a mountain biker when I lived near any mountains, now I love going on relaxed cafe rides with friends, or going on tour and getting lost in the middle of countries you’ve never heard of, carrying nothing more than I can fit in my saddlebag. I’m trying to visit all the countries of Europe – there are 47 of them – preferably by bike, but my girlfriend’s a non-cyclist so I might have to start taking some non-cycling holidays!
Back at home, I do like a good pub quiz – and sometimes we even win them. It’s a bit geeky I know – being able to quote all the states of America is rather sad, but you do learn some interesting stuff. I guess that’s why like being a scientist, and also why I like travel: there are so many fascinating things out there in the world, and I learn something new every day.
I design new ways of detecting cancer
My work is about designing new, safe, low-cost ways to detect cancer, so we can put scanners in more places, scan people more regularly and find it – and stop it – earlier. The problems with the ways we have of imaging cancer at the moment are that they’re either really expensive (like Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or else they use high energy particles (like CT scans or PET scans), which need to be closely controlled so they don’t cause a danger to people around the scanner. I’m trying to detect cancer using the thermal radiation emitted by your body, so it’s completely safe and can be used anywhere. In the future, I hope that systems like this could be in every GP surgery, so you can scan people quite often, and catch the cancers before they become a problem.
My Typical Day
I might do some experiments but I’ll probably be designing or programming new pieces of equipment. Oh, and drinking coffee.
Come in, have a coffee, turn on the apparatus to warm up, have another coffee, decide I’m definitely not a morning person … answer emails, try to put off doing whatever I’m meant to be doing, wish I could wake up; did I tell you I wasn’t a morning person?
I’ve got several mini-projects on the go at any one time. Most of my time is currently spent designing parts for the imaging system I’m building; in a few months when it’s finished, I’ll start doing serious experiments with it. Last week I was testing some new sensors that the company built for us. Right now I’m designing the electronics that will transfer the data from the sensors to the computer, and then I’ll need to program the computer to process the images. My project is joint between the university and a company called Sylatech, so I might be at either site I’m at the university today but I need to go to the company net week: they built the sensors and we need to decide whether they’re good enough or whether they need redesigning.
At the same time as this, I’m doing some experiments to investigate what we should be able to detect with the finished system. This basically involves getting a lot of beefburgers, heating them to different temperatures and pointing an antenna at them to look at what radiation they emit. You can’t just do experiments without thinking about them though, so before I start I have to spend a long time reading the scientific literature and then thinking very hard about how to design the experiments, otherwise the results I get will just be nonsense data.
Soon, the university will start recruiting undergraduate students for their final year projects, so I’m trying to think of a project they could do as part of this work: it would be good for the students to be able to work on something really cutting-edge.
Finally, a lot of life as a scientist is doing the same sort of hundred milllion semi-unimportant tasks that crop up in any job: filling in spreadsheets of expenses, doing risk assessments, all that kind of stuff. Sorry guys but you can’t escape those whatever job you do!
What I'd do with the money
I’d produce some teaching resources about radiation: what’s harmful, what’s helpful and how to tell the difference.
There’s a lot of bad information out there about radiation. Lots of people think that microwaves give you cancer (they don’t), or just think that ‘radiation’ is a dirty word. The light we get from the sun is radiation though: it’s exactly the same as radio waves, microwaves and infra-red, just at a different wavelength. People don’t understand what may be harmful to their health, and what can only help us.
People are scared of what they don’t understand, so I’d like to help them understand it. If I won the money, I’d use it to design a set of materials to educate people about this – about what they need to know to live in a world surrounded by electronic gadgets – about when they should be worried, and when they should be thankful that all this technology is improving their lives every day.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Friendly, sporty, enquiring
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Far too many to list! My Spotify says I’m currently listening mainly to Nine Inch Nails, Rasputina, Abney Park and the Dresden Dolls, does that answer your question
What's your favourite food?
Oooh that’s a hard one. Lamb curry.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Cyclocross racing: it’s like mountain biking on road bikes. Lots of mud, lots of spills, lots of fun. Flying a plane was good fun too.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Funnily enough, I wanted to be a scientist!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really, I was too much of a nerd. It paid off though: my teachers were usually ready to believe the “I left my homework at home” excuse.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Physics or electronics: I never could decide between the two.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Going to Turkey on a conference, natch. I’ll take free holidays when I can get them! More seriously though, you get these moments where you’re struggling with a problem late at night, and suddenly you get an idea, and realise you’ve just found something that nobody else has ever seen before. Those moments are pretty special.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I mainly liked science in school because we got to do practical things and mess about doing stuff rather than writing essays or doing sums. Some of my teachers were really good, so I should thank them for inspriing me.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I’d love to be a diplomat, negotiating vital deals with the rulers of exotic countries … I dunno, Kyrgyzstan. I know I’d be no good at it though, so it’s a good thing I ended up in the lab!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Win the Nobel prize, win the Tour de France and relocate my lab to Hawaii
Tell us a joke.
Did you hear about the statistician who had lots of girlfriends but didn’t tell anyone? He was a discrete data.
Here’s my desk. The circuit board on the right is part of something I’m developing to capture data from medical images. If you look closely on the left, you can spot my taste in reality TV.
Here’s part of an experiment I did a few years ago, looking how much energy you absorb from a microwave field while standing or sitting in different postures – it depends on how much of the energy penetrates right through you and how much is reflected near your skin. The big paddle thing in the background spins round during the measurement, to ‘stir’ the energy and make sure there are no cold spots in the chamber – which is effectively a big microwave oven. I also did some experiments testing the difference made by wearing different amounts of clothing …
Here’s a more recent experiment: I’m testing the antennas that are part of my current project. The spikes on the walls are made of radio absorber, so I can measure the antenna without any energy being reflected. The antenna here is so new that you’re not allowed to see it – sorry!
Even in the common room, there are whiteboards with lots of incomprehensible squiggles. Some people are just a bit too devoted to their jobs!
The coffee pot in the kitchen is empty: emergency! I heard some very heated words being exchanged last week about people who make the coffee wrong! Seriously though, despite appearances, scientists are human and need to eat and drink just like everyone else.
… and here’s what I like doing at the weekend, because even scientists need some time off.