When I was in Nigeria, the highest-powered microscope I had used had a mirror as a light source to reflect sun from the window. This was when I studied zoology for my bachelor’s degree. At this point, I realised that most of my knowledge was at the organ and system level and I wanted to know more. I eventually started using higher powered microscopes until I was doing some cool superresolution microscopy during my PhD in New Zealand to study the rearrangement and remodelling of cardiac proteins. Now I work in biophysics which is the interface between biology and physics where we try to answer real-life medical questions.
Can you walk us through a typical day?
My days are very busy. In my role at Diamond, I have to understand everything about the biology of the samples that we are measuring. I read proposals and papers to understand the data that our users want to collect. I’m also responsible for collecting data at the beamline and analysing data. Sometimes, my days are so busy that I can be collecting data on the beamline while I’m reading the literature to help us understand exactly what we are seeing. It means that everything is fast paced which I really enjoy. Due to the diversity of proposals that we get at Diamond, it also means that no two days are alike.
Please explain the engineering/technology you are working on currently:
We do fluorescence microscopy and soft X-ray tomography at B24. With soft X-ray tomography you image the whole cell and get the cellular landscape. However, if you want to study a specific process or interaction and localise them, we can tag specific features of the cells with fluorescence and merge this data with the X-ray data. This allows us to get the whole picture of the cell as well as specific processes such as viral entry or how cells respond to vaccine candidates.
Image: Chidinma Okolo (left) running an online student workshop in the lab, supported by Lulu Ntambo (right) from the Comms Team.
I’m really proud of my journey and how I arrived at this point. I just love being at what I consider to be the beating heart of research. Everyone says seeing is believing and, in my work, I get to see some amazing things that nobody has seen before. That is the beauty of microscopy and especially the techniques that we are using at Diamond. I also love the fact that I interact with people from all walks of life. It’s very stimulating and keeps me motivated to do more.
I think it’s important for everyone to know that your background doesn’t define you but can be used as a powerful motivator to improve and get to where you want to be. I would also say that learning and education are extremely powerful forces that can really help you progress quickly. There are sources of information everywhere and many of them are freely available online. So my advice is to go and learn and work out what you like. When you are motivated and committed to learning and asking questions, it’s never too late to start whatever you want to do.
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