Schreiner University (2003-2006; Kerrville, Texas, United States); University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (2006-2012; San Antonio, Texas, United States)
Bachelors of Science in Biology; Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology
Research Fellow at University of Aberdeen researching yeast that cause infections, Student Associate researching HIV/AIDS infection and progression at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Postdoctoral Research Associate and part of the Scientific Development Team for a future ISS microbiology/astrobiology experiment (BIOROCK)
University of Edinburgh – School of Physics and Astronomy
Me and my work
I investigate how some of the smallest forms of life (bacteria) adapt and grow in space.
Astronauts carry trillions of cells that aren’t their own into space. These cells are often harmless bacteria, but it turns out that microgravity, or the free falling weightlessness experienced by astronauts, can cause bacteria to do interesting things. Some of these bacteria form better communities (biofilms) in space than on Earth. This can be quite a problem for space station cleanliness and is a concern for the health of astronauts. However, we study bacteria that perform a very useful task – they mine iron and other elements from rock. We’re trying to see if our bacteria (Sphingomonas desiccabilis, Cupriavidus metallidurans, and Bacillus subtilis) also form better biofilms in space. We think better biofilms might improve bacterial mining. This is all part of an experiment for the International Space Station called BIOROCK. If we are right, we can start looking at using these bacteria for potential mining operations in space (asteroids!) or in life support systems that need element/ion scavenging.
My Typical Day
Drinking coffee, emailing colleagues, experiments in the lab, teaching students
Coffee is the essential start to my day. Depending on how experiments are going, I’ll email our BIOROCK colleagues in Germany, Belgium and Denmark to update them and check on their experiments. I do a lot of experiments in the lab that are getting BIOROCK ready to fly and I do a little teaching on a course with Physics undergraduates.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Hopeful, Smart, Determined
What is your favourite space movie?
What is your favourite thing humans have sent into space?
Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber (1983 prop). It flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 2007.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
The Vomit Comet (parabolic flight that lets you experience 22 seconds of weightlessness). We had an awesome opportunity to perform an experiment that needed to be done in weightlessness. And we didn’t vomit!
What did you want to be after you left school?
Exactly what I am now – a scientist.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No. Not even a single detention. I was either really good or really lucky.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Astronomy. Our class was held in a planetarium, which was amazing.
My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:
Tell us a Joke...
I wish I was Adenine, then I could get paired with U.
This is my first check-in point at work – my desk where I’ll have a cup of coffee and do a quick catch up on email.
Then I hit the lab to check on my experiments and setup some new ones. So here we have the lab as you see it when you first enterfollowed by my (messy) bench. My bench has the typical tools you’ll find on most microbiologists’ workbenches as well as lots of chemicals, bottles, and tubes of samples from my experiments. My notes for how to do a couple of different experiments (we call these protocols) for today are taped above my bench. These notes and the results for these experiments will all get written down in an official lab notebook. This all helps me keep track of what questions we’ve answered in the lab and what new questions have come from our observations.
I mentioned getting to do experiments on the vomit comet earlier – that was so much fun! A few Ph.D. students and I were in beautiful Bordeaux, which was a nice working break from the lab in Scotland. The vomit comet flight went through 31 parabolas, which is a maneuver that gave us about 22 seconds of weightlessness. So that’s 31 parabolas x 22 seconds – this equals about 11 minutes total. Tim Peake will easily beat my 11 minutes of weightlessness during his trip.