Hey Isabella – Hmmmm significant impact…a tough one! I did a PhD, where I worked on one particular problem. In my case it was a problem about whether you could make water-based liquid scintillator solutions (a scintillator is a substance which emits a flash of light when a charged particle passes through it). I found that it is not easy to make them so that they are efficient enough to be useful…if anyone wanted to do any work on this in the future they could look at my thesis as a first point of call. Massive shame that I didn’t solve the problem and everyone would look to my thesis for the answer though!
Most scientists contribute to their fields but only in a small way. Science progresses from the many small contributions that the individual scientists make. It is only very rarely that an Einstein comes along and changes everything in a flash! I’m not an Einstein but I like to think I’ve helped to advance science a little.
There have been a few highlights in the past 25 years. One of the oldest is work on a project that I did (when I was in the US) which helped to explain how the poliovirus manages to punch its way into cells to start an infection.
Though it’s not related, I was also pleased to be able to do a lot of work on the structure of human serum albumin (HSA), a protein found in the blood that normally carries fat molecules around. However, many drugs also stick to HSA and can get trapped there so drug companies are keen to find ways to make their drugs less sticky for HSA. And our work has helped to show them — to some extent — how they might be able to do that.
More recently we have been working on proteins from foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). Our very latest paper (published online just last month gives us some important new information on a FMDV protein called 2C. This is an little nano-machine that helps the virus to make copies of it genes in infected cells. Our work shows for the first time that the protein actually assembles into hexamers – rings with six copies of 2C. This might not seem so important but it’s a first step towards explaining how the protein does it job. And that is a starting point for thinking about how to develop a drug that might block it.
I helped to show for the first time in humans that different parts of the brain are used when you a) find your way about and b) follow a very familiar route (as if on autopilot).
I invented a new memory test which people with damage to the part of the brain that helps with a) above (its called the hippocampus) find very difficult.
When people have Alzheimer’s Disease it often attacks the hippocampus in the early stages. The memory test might help identify these people early on, so that they can get better treatment.
While working on my PhD I came up with a model (explanation) of how we learn new words (and why we sometimes get the sounds mixed up, so you might say “darn bore”, when you meant “barn door”). This has been quite influential, and it could be important, because problems with the mechanism could lead to dyslexia and other language and educational disorders.