Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, University of Leeds; Nanomedicine Laboratory, University of Manchester; Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Laboratory, Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Barcelona (Spain).
University of Manchester
I’m Chris, I’m 25, I live in Manchester and I get to do a lot of cool science.
I am the fourth generation of engineers in my family, so I guess you could say there was a good chance of me becoming one too!
I grew up in Godalming, which is a tiny town in rural Surrey but I have been living in the north of England since I left home at 18 to go to university.
I currently live in Manchester with my partner. We are both quite outdoorsy, so we quite often head out walking in the Lake District or the Peak district on the weekends. I am also a pretty big sports fan and spend plenty of time watching rugby, cricket and football.
Working at the interface of engineering and medicine, I am inventing new technology to help treat degenerative diseases using advanced materials like graphene.
I am sure that most of you will have been in a hospital at some point, or at least seen one on TV – you will have noticed that doctors use a lot of expensive and advanced machines to treat their patients. It is engineers who invent and improve this technology for use both outside and inside the human body and this discipline is called Biomedical Engineering. This is what I do and it is an extremely interesting job because you have to understand both engineering and medical science.
My main expertise is in materials (what we build technology from) and specifically how they interact with the human body. Materials and how they behave are really the bedrock of improving technology around us – it wouldn’t have been possible to make computers smaller and more powerful without improving the materials that we make microchips from.
Most of my work revolves around graphene, which is made out of carbon (same thing as in your pencil ‘lead’). It was discovered at the University of Manchester and won the Nobel prize in Physics in 2010. Graphene has some pretty amazing properties including being the thinnest, strongest and most electrically conductive material – which means it could really improve technology in a lot of different applications. In my case, I am using it to try and improve the technology that gets used in Medicine.
This is an image of us ‘growing’ Graphene – the glass tube glows red as it is at 1000 degrees celcius.
One half of my job is working in a team of other engineers in creating new Neuroelectrodes – these are devices that can sense and stimulate the electrical signals coming from human nerves (and the brain). These devices are used for a lot of different medical applications from treating diseases like Parkinson’s to building artificial eyes. They can even be used to connect your brain to a computer that one day might allow people to control a robotic hand and to feel what the hand touches! I have been spending a lot of time working in Barcelona (Spain) whilst on this project, which has been really nice.
These are images of us analysing the performance of new Neuroelectrodes.
The other half of my work involves trying to use these materials to control Stem Cells. Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells and there are many thousands of types of them. Each type of cell has a very specific job to do and when we get sick it is often because one of these cell types is not working properly. Stem Cells can transform to become any one of these cell types and so we can use them to try and replace ones that are not working and so cure the disease. We can potentially use them to grow whole new body parts. Engineers who work in this area are known as Tissue Engineers. Specifically, I am trying to use the unique properties of Graphene to control and direct the way that stem cells behave – the aim is to be able to able to create a ‘stem cell factory’ that would allow us to grow a lot of these stem cells and control exactly what they do at the same time. This would be very useful to a lot of other medical scientists.
My Typical Day: I am lucky in that no two days at work are the same. They all involve experiments and lab work but what I am actually doing changes a lot so I never get bored of it.
Well for starters, I am currently working in two countries. My Main work is based at the University of Manchester, I have attached an image of my office there:
But I am also working at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, which is in Barcelona and far, far more hot and sunny than Manchester. My Barcelona office looks like this:
In both cases, my day involves a lot of lab work – doing a really wide variety of different experiments. I really like this as it is very hands on and I am physically doing things rather than being sat at a desk all day.
What I'd do with the money
The money will be added to the public engagement fund of the EPSRC-MRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Regenerative Medicine, which is active in promoting and educating the public in science and research around Manchester.
The EPSRC-MRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Regenerative Medicine is extremely active in promoting understanding of regenerative medicine and science in general in the Manchester area. Among activities held over the last couple of years have been events at the Manchester Museum and Museum of Science and Industry (including the famous stem cell game, 3D printing demonstrations, histological staining and microscopy experience and science speed dating). We have also run workshops for college age and primary school children as well as adults only events at the museums.
Examples of these activities can be found here:
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
with some difficulty!
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Invented a new type of Neural Electrode. It´s incredibly satisfying to know you had a hand in creating something that could have a real impact.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My father is also an engineer and he raised me to always be curious about how things work and why they are designed the way that they are; I think all good engineers have that same curiousity.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
All the time – I used to do a lot of stupid things and drive my teachers up the wall. I always worked hard in lessons though, you will never achieve anything worthwhile unless you work hard for it.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I have no idea…a doctor? When I was young I wanted to be an explorer, either that or play cricket for England (secretly I would still like to do both of these).
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Black Keys
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Tell us a joke.
A wife asks her husband, a software engineer: “Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have eggs, get 6!” A short time later the husband comes back with 6 cartons of milk. The wife asks him, “Why the hell did you buy 6 cartons of milk?” He replied, “They had eggs.” (I think engineers will find this quite funny – if you don’t get it, look up Boolean logic).