Sarah Martin

THANK YOU EVERYONE! I'm so so chuffed to win IAS2012 and can't wait to get stuck into experiments with you! Thank you for all the brilliant questions that kept me on my toes all week, thanks for voting for me and thanks to all the other scientists for answering all the hard chemistry questions! It's been brilliant fun! Go science! :)

Favourite Thing: Seeing something nobody has ever seen before is amazing! I also really like working on samples from lots of different scientists and showing them new results that can be found using high tech biology.



2000-2004 Newnham College, Cambridge (MSci Natural Sciences); 2004-2008 St Andrews (PhD in Biophysics)


A-levels: Physics, Maths, English; BA, MSci, PhD, CMAS** SCUBA diver, first aid at work, and working towards a sailing boat skipper license

Work History:

tutoring maths and English (when I was 16-19), order picking medical instruments (19), cleaning halls (20), assisting in a physics lab (22-23), researching in Japan (24), PhD scholarship (24-27), janitor (27), HIV-project volunteer in India (27), science festival helper (29-now)

Current Job:

I’m a research scientist at the University of Edinburgh, in the Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology, SynthSys (age 28 – now)


The University of Edinburgh – but it’s my boss Thierry who interviewed me and gave me the job

Me and my work

I use large machines to study tiny biological processes. My experiment this week is to see how the smallest known alga copes with little food in the ocean – figuring this out will help us grow plants in future that need less or no fertilisers, which are currently made from non-renewable gas and oil reserves.

The machine I use is a mass spectrometer, which I use to weigh molecules very precisely. It can measure differences as small as 1/1000 of the mass of an atom! I use it to tell me which protein molecules are active in mashed up cells and how much of each protein there is.

This might sound quite specific, but it enables me to look at lots of different things, like for example how brain proteins change in a brain cancer, how viruses hijack immune system cells and make us ill, and how tiny planctonic algae manage to survive in the open ocean with very little food about – that’s just three of the projects I’ve worked on recently.


Here’s a picture of me with a mass spectrometer – but it didn’t feel like smiling for the photo.

My Typical Day

collaborating, planning experiments, preparing samples, running a mass spectrometer, analysing data, preparing results – and having fun!

I cycle to the university, which is just 5 minutes from my flat, check whether the mass spectrometer has been behaving in the lab (I usually let it run my samples over night), check emails in the office, join a team meeting where I might present recent results, show a research student how to prepare samples in the lab – this bit can take a while, pop down to the common room for lunch with friends, meet over a cup of tea with a collaborator to discuss their experiment, analyse some results from the mass spectrometer, search the internet to find what is already known about the proteins I discovered, set up the mass spectrometer so it’s ready for the student’s samples, switch on remote control desktop, cycle home, cook dinner, have friends round and play music, quickly check all’s running smoothly in the lab on my laptop just before bedtime

What I'd do with the money

I’d use it to design a cool, high-tech biology experiment that can be run in YOUR classroom, with real results from our £500,000 mass spectrometer – see photos below! We could look at lots of differen things – for example how bugs could survive extreme conditions on Mars, how plants react to pesticides used in farming, or how the biochemistry changes between different parts of a dissected organism. What would be even better is if you tell me what you’d like to study! Message me here:

These are just examples I can think of off the top of my head.

So, message me and tell me what you’d like to study!

The only guidelines are: it should be an organism with a sequenced genome (a list is here:, easy to grow or buy, and it has to be safe to work with in the classroom!

If you’re not sure, discuss it with your teacher and ask me any questions!

And please vote for me to make it happen! Thanks!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

practical, multucultural and passionate

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Adele, Duffy, Sting, Leonard Cohen

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Sailing to Ireland on a 72ft racing yacht as a volunteer with teenagers last year – with 18 very fun people on board!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I’d like a cat, a VW van, and to travel to Morrocco.

What did you want to be after you left school?

An artist or philosopher!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not as much as some others – but given I was there for over 10 years, something would go wrong at some point!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Being interviewed on BBC radio 4 about how plants can adapt to sudden changes in weather! I was very very nervous, but they edited it heavily and it sounded OK in the end.

Tell us a joke.

Two goldfish in a tank – one asks the other: “Mate, d’you know how to drive this thing?”

Other stuff

Work photos:


This is our high-tech lab! If I win we’ll use the money to do the science experiments that YOU WANT – you can work on new science with me using this equipment worth £500,000 pounds. Do you want to try it? Vote for me and message me your science ideas here !  🙂


Here’s a larger view of it!


This was my experiment today! I’ll run it on the mass spectrometer on Friday – and it will run itself over the weekend while I’m away.


Here’s our prep lab I was working in earlier.


Here’s my office! Complete with cookie tin. This is where I sit chatting to you and answering your questions!


Here’s where we have lunch, tea breaks, birthday cakes – our common room, modelled by student Robin who’s spending part of his summer holiday with us working on a tiny green alga. Any questions? Ask me!

VOTE FOR ME PLEASE if you’d like to use my lab in your experiments! 🙂