2008-2013 University of Coimbra (Portugal); 2013-2017 University of Warwick (UK)
Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences
Centre of Histocompatibility in the University-Hospital of Coimbra, Immunology Department of Warsaw Medical School, Holon Pharmacy, University College London
University of Warwick
Favourite thing to do in my job: I have WAY too much fun popping the bubble wrap I find in the lab! Other than that, I really like to play with DNA (the molecule that carries genetic instructions/information in living things and viruses) and modify it to create mutants with special powers.
I’m an open-minded and enthusiastic person from near the Mediterranean sea.
I came from a small town in the middle of Portugal. After finishing my Masters, I decided I wanted to keep doing science but in a different place. So I moved out and started a PhD in the UK. It has a big, scary jump at first, but I have been here for 3 years now and I am very happy with my scary decision.
I like to spend most of my free time outdoors, hiking or riding my bike. I don’t really like football or any sport that involves running, but I’ve done many years of Karate before moving in to the UK and I really enjoyed that. I am a big anime/manga (Japanese cartoons) and comic books fan, and I tried to teach myself bits of Japanese, but failed miserably. I wish I was better at painting because I enjoy doing that was well.
I share a house with 2 other scientists, one came from Italy and the other from Poland. We have a pet (well, sort of): a grey squirrel that visits our garden every morning (we named her “Paulina”). The 4 of us love food! We try to cook dishes from our home countries, and share traditions of our own culture with each other. I know 3 words in Polish and I got good at baking home-made pizza, so I think this was a great learning experience so far… right?
I modify the DNA of viruses so they can “see” evil bacteria.
I build mutant-viruses. It goes something like this: imagine a circle; imagine a scissor going through that circular strand and cutting it once; then, on the site you made the cut, you add an extra bit of “information” that was not there before; you glue it back together. This is how I spend 70% of my time in the lab: making different little “circles” of information (the viral DNA). This is the very basic procedure to create mutant-viruses (a virus with different genetic information, having new features and super-powers). In collaboration with other scientists, I design and modify these viruses so they can help us know if a certain dangerous bacteria is present on your food or on your body.
“Multidisciplinary” is the big word scientists often use to describe this kind of project, meaning it requires several fields of science to study a problem. My work involves bits of chemistry (attaching colourful, glowing dyes to the viruses), genetic engineering (playing with their DNA) and biology (investigating what is the most comfortable environment for the viruses to grow, multiply and be happy).
For example, our team has made this mutant-virus that can recognise Salmonella bacteria (you can get very sick if you eat food contaminated with this bacteria) in a few minutes. It works more or less like this: you put the sample you want to test (could be blood, urine, water,…) and the mutant-viruses inside a small machine. This machine shows you a graph that basically describes how your sample and the mutant-virus react with each other. So, if Salmonella is present, the mutant-virus will bind to it, and the machine emits a signal, warning you that evil Salmonella is probably there.
My Typical Day
I don’t think that really exists in science.
My days vary a loooooooot, and that is precisely one of my favourite things about being a scientist. I normally spend my day divided between the lab doing experiments, at my computer reading and learning new things to try out, and talking to other scientists (and non-scientists) about ideas and intriguing problems. I try to do all these 3 things every day, to keep an healthy balance between the amount of cookies I have while seating at my desk and the amount of tea I drink while talking to people (you can’t eat in the lab, so I need to keep this rhythm fairly regulated).
What I'd do with the prize money
I would use the money to support an outreach event we are trying to organise at the University.
I am part of a small group of scientists interested in organising events to involve kids (and grown-ups) in engineering and science in general. One idea is to create an activity of an apocalypse scenario where, in order to survive, you need to figure out how to clean your drinking water, how to build shelters using only a couple of available materials, how to create a medicine to treat a deadly disease,..
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Stubborn, curious, enthusiastic.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Organising an event to get more people involved in the bone marrow donation programme (by listing people in a database, it makes it easier to find a match in case someone needs a bone marrow transplant).
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My parents, who always encouraged me to explore the outdoors and ask questions. Also, books: “Physics of the impossible” (by Michio Kaku), “Journey to the centre of the earth” (by Julio Verne), and in a way, the villains from comic books- crazy scientists in comics don’t represent very well real-life scientists, but I still find them fascinating!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not very seriously – my parents were called at school a few times because I was too talkative with my friends during classes.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Probably a journalist.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Lately, I have been listening to a band called “Vampire Weekend”. “Sigur Rós” is probably my favourite band ever.
What's your favourite food?
Anything with peanut butter on it!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Hiking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
You mean besides a life-time stock of peanut butter? *evil laughter* I would wish to keep doing a job I love, while earning enough money to travel, and having the freedom and time to meet new people and learn new things.
Tell us a joke.
A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs help with his luggage. He says, “No, I am travelling light!”. (I know, it’s almost sad I laugh at this joke!)