Born and raised in Ireland. 🇮🇪 Landed on the shores of Florida 7 years ago on a journey to become a cancer biologist and full-time Protein Photographer! 📸
I love all things music 🎵 and sports ⚽ – ask me about my favorite bands and my favorite Irish sport, hurling!
Have you ever seen what the molecules in our bodies looks like up really close? Now is your chance! That’s what set me on a path which landed me here in Memphis, Tennessee. I originally come from the middle of Ireland. Like Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, I wanted to go on an adventure and see the world! I set off for USA 🇺🇸…
During my chemistry graduate studies in Tampa, Florida, I learned all about the little machines that keep our bodies ticking – proteins. I wanted to know everything about them! Especially because when they don’t work properly, we can get very sick from it. That’s why I became a structural biologist. In short, I take photographs of tiny proteins – millions of them! Using a special camera attached to a big microscope called an electron microscope 🔬. I use these photos to determine why certain proteins can lead to cancer when they are not formed correctly.
But I don’t just photograph proteins all day. I also love sports! I am learning all about American sports like American football, baseball and hockey. I am also a guitarist 🎸. My style of playing is the louder the better!
My pronouns are:
I photograph proteins using an electron microscope 📸 🔬. I then use these photos to learn all about the protein and explain why we get sick when these proteins don’t work properly 👨🏼🔬.
Proteins are the little machines in our bodies that keep things going. Imagine a tiny world of builders, farmers, carpenters, teachers, and soldiers. That’s the proteins in your body! But often they don’t work properly. Imagine a builder without their hammer! This can make your body very sick.
But thankfully, we have the tools to figure out why proteins sometimes don’t work properly! The tool I use is called a cryo-electron microscope. I use this microscope to take millions of photos of the protein from all angles and sides, just like a paparazzi taking photos of a celebrity. But imagine if we had to freeze the person we were photographing 🥶 ! That’s what we do to the protein – we put it in a “cryo” state (meaning it gets REAL cold, REAL quick). This stops them moving around too much so we can get a clear photo. When I have these photos, I can piece them together and figure out how the protein works 🕵️♂️ !
Here at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the main problem I am looking into is why these proteins sometimes cause cancer when they stop working. We work tirelessly to ensure that every child lives a full and happy life, and that all their proteins are in top condition 💪 ! It is amazing to work every day to this goal and I would love to tell you much more about it!
My Typical Day:
My day starts at 7am and I arrive in work (after breakfast) at 8:30am. My day is filled with experiments in the lab 👨🏼🔬. I often meet with friends to talk about how our research is going. After work I spend time with my girlfriend and my dog 🐶 , usually watching movies or cooking.
On a typical day I wake up at 7am, but I am not a morning person 🥱 , so I need a shower to wake myself up. I play with my Boston terrier, Abe, for a bit as my girlfriend and I get ready for work. I drive to St. Jude with a bagel and cup of coffee with me, and a podcast playing. Upon arriving in lab, I plan my day out. What experiments do I need to start? What ones from the previous day do I need to finish? What do I want to have for lunch?
Often my experiments involve purifying proteins – this means growing it up in bacteria 🧫 , and then separating it out from all the other gunk. We do this so that when we take a photo of it 📸 , we don’t get a bunch of other stuff in the photos. After lunch, I take my pure protein, put it on a tiny stage, called a grid, and very quickly freeze it using liquid ethane. Now I am ready for photographing using the electron microscope! But that is for another day. At this stage, it is 5:30pm and I am tired! After a chat with my boss about my experiments, I head home.
At home, I usually grab some food and get ready for what I am doing that evening – gym, cooking, hanging out friends, or just vegging on the couch watching a movie 🎥 ! I am usually in bed before 11pm after some more play time with the dog.
What I'd do with the prize money:
I recently started a friendship with a fellow biologist in Nigeria who works on bacteriophages – tiny viruses that attack bacteria. I would love to use this money to help the team get their amazing research out!
The SEA PHAGES project is an international program aimed to increase young researcher interest in biology. Students are tasked with finding and naming their own bacteriophage and performing experiments on them. This program was recently introduced at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria 🇳🇬; however, resources are limited. I would love to see this prize money going directly to the bacteriophage research team at the University of Ibadan to facilitate their work. This may involve helping to pay for a conference visit, or perhaps helping to fund publication.
Ph.D. Chemistry (University of South Florida) (2015 – 2019)
B.Sc. Biopharmaceutical Chemistry (National University of Ireland, Galway) (2011 – 2015)
Diploma. Christian Brother’s School (Ireland) (2011)
Undergraduate Researcher, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland (2014 – 2015)
Chemical Technician, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Co. Clare, Ireland (Summer 2014)
Ph.D. Candidate, Chemistry, University of South Florida (2015 – 2019)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Structural Biology, SJCRH (2020 – Present)
Editorial Advisory Board, ASBMB Today (2021 – Present)
Researcher, teacher, mentor, writer, tutor, sandwich maker, clothes folder, lifeguard, photocopier, coffee fetcher…so many different jobs I can hardly remember!
Postdoctoral Fellow, Structural Biology, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (2020 – Present)
Investigating the structure of proteins in the context of known cancerous mutations.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, friendly, curious
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Mentored future doctors and scientists
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
What was your favorite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
An astronaut of course
Were you ever in trouble at school?
All the time for talking!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favorite singer or band?
What's your favorite food?
I love seafood
What is the most fun thing you've done?
All the music festivals!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Stay happy, stay fit, stay curious
Tell us a joke.
I would tell you a chemistry joke, but all the good ones Argon 😔