Name: Dr Owen Rackham
Research institution: University of Bristol
Research career length: 4 years
Research Council: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Location: Bristol, UK
Brief summary of research: Combining mathematics, computer science and biology to better understand biological systems and develop new medical treatments
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, ICT and German
BSc in Computer Science, Exeter University
MSc in Natural Computation, Birmingham University
BSc in Computer Science
Operations Analyst at Natures Way foods
MSc in Natural Computation
PhD on Understanding the multiscale dynamics of the Cell
Post doctoral researcher in a computational genomics group
What A levels did you study?
Maths, Physics, IT and German.
Computer Science BSc
Natural Computation MSc
Complexity Sciences MRes
Please give us a description of your job / research and tell us what inspired you to do what you're doing...
I am a second year PhD student in computation molecular biology. What this means day to day is that I use maths and computing to study patterns in the way that cells in the human body regulate themselves and use this to help us understand how each of the cell types in the body (skin, muscle, heart etc.) come to be. The DNA in each of your cells is identical but what makes them different is which of the genes in the DNA (these are small chunks of DNA that carry specific instructions) are turned on and off. This means that the genes turned on in a heart cell are different from those turned on in a skin cell. What we hope to be able to do is to identify the differences in the cell types, work out a way to control the changes taking place, and then force cells to change their type. This may mean in the future that by taking some skin cells from your mouth, we may be able to re-program them and grow new organs or tissues that can be used in medical treatments. There are two reasons that I love this job. Firstly, I work in a fast moving area of research where I am regularly amazed by the work I see happening around me. I feel excited to be involved in something that is constantly re-inventing itself and presenting new challenges and problems. The second reason is the lifestyle this job allows me. One day I might be tucked away in a coffee shop reading, or discussing the latest piece of news over a game of table tennis, and the next I may be at an international conference meeting leading scientists and other PhD students. Research can be hard work but it never feels like a chore; I feel lucky to work on something that I enjoy doing all of the time!
How does your job or research contribute to the world we live in now?
In the last two decades we have entered a new era in terms of our understanding of how our bodies work. My particular interest is with regenerative medicine. This is a field of modern medicine that one day hopes to be able to re-program the cells in your body in such a way they can be used for other things. This may be in order to grow new organs for patients suffering from damage or disease or to help a patient’s brain recover from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Describe your typical day...
Do you have a 'pet project'?
I am terrible for pet projects as I have had a lot! More recently some of these have been very much non-work related, such as learning to play the guitar and to DJ. Others are very closely related to my work, for example applying for a grant to visit a laboratory in Japan.
What do you love most about science / engineering or maths?
Science is constantly changing and never fails present new challenges. No other discipline can claim to have shaped the world we live in more, or can be expected to play as important a role in the future.
What do you remember most from school science?
Dissecting a sheep’s heart…. never have I been more grossed out and amazed at the same time!
What do you think is the most significant scientific / engineering / mathematical development in the last century?
Sequencing of a human genome!
Name one quirky / crazy fact about your job...
At school I wanted to be an architect but when I found out how long you had to be at university for I changed my mind. However, I am now 7 years into my studies…!
Where I live...
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Music - I will go anywhere for a good gig! I also occasionally flail around in the sea and pretend to surf (but mainly as an excuse to eat fish and chips and play on the beach afterwards!).
Computer Science, Natural Computation, Complexity Sciences
PhD in Computational Molecular Biology
This career case study originally appeared on the NOISE (New Outlooks in Science & Engineering) webpage on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) website. NOISE is a UK-wide initiative to promote science and engineering. Originally funded by EPSRC, NOISE is now an independent platform for early career researchers to engage with the general public about the importance of research and inspire your people to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.