Ian Wilson

Congratulations to Hannah - very deserving winner! And thanks to everyone who voted for me and made this a fantastic experience!

Favourite Thing: I love to present my work to people – both scientists and non-scientists. It lets people know what kind of research I’m doing and gives me great feedback on my work. Am I doing things the right way; do people think it’s interesting; can they see the point of what I’m doing etc?



Wirral Grammar School for Boys (1999 – 2006) and University of Liverpool (2006 – 2009)


11 GCSEs (grades A-A*), 4 A-levels (3 As and 1 B) and a 1st Class Degree in Microbiology

Work History:

Brantano Footwear Shoe Shop and the University of Liverpool’s Microbiology laboratory.

Current Job:

PhD student


University of Liverpool

Me and my work

I’m in the third year of my PhD, finding out what weapons and defences a really nasty killer microbe has so that people can work out how to fight it.

I’m a PhD student in my third year of studying Genetics. That means I only have a year and a half left to finish my work – eep! I work at the University of Liverpool, which is also where I studied Microbiology. That’s the great thing about science – so many areas overlap that you can start off studying one thing and then move onto another later! As long as you have the enthusiasm, you can try quite a lot of different things.

So my work lets me look at a horrible microbe called Entamoeba histolytica. It infects millions of people in the world and kills 100,000 people every year! There are a few other species called ‘Entamoeba something‘ that are really closely related to E. histolytica – they’re kind of like its cousins. The difference is that they don’t harm people. What I’m trying to do is look at the DNA of each of these species and work out which parts (or ‘genes’) of E. histolytica‘s DNA are different to the DNA of its cousins. Any genes that are different in E. histolytica might be responsible for making it dangerous.

My Typical Day

I sometimes mash up cells and rip out their DNA so it can be ‘read’. I also write loads of small computer programs to pull out the exciting data that lets me know how genes look in different Entamoeba species.

My days are spent doing one of two things:

1) I go in the lab and mash up Entamoeba cells so that I can pull out their DNA, so that it can be ‘read’ by a machine. This lab work’s really interesting but is quite dangerous because I need to use chemicals that could knock me out if I sniff them too much! I got a nasty headache once but I’ve not passed out…yet! Once I have the DNA, I need to prepare it so that it’s clean and ready to be read.

2) I work on a computer, writing small programs to pull apart data from the DNA reader. This is great – I feel like a computer hacker in a spy TV show! The only problem is the DNA reader gives me a LOT of data. So I spend most days trying to dig down to find the important bits that will tell me which genes let E. histolytica cause disease. That’s not easy – it’s kind of like trying to find your pen if your entire classroom was filled with pens! That said, I find out loads of interesting things about the species as I’m doing this – the amount you can learn from a species’ DNA really is incredible!

What I'd do with the money

Arrange a fun series of events during Biology Week in October to get people excited about Biology.

There’s quite a new event called Biology Week, held across the country in October. It’s all about getting people to talk about Biology, whether it’s scientists or the public. This is brilliant – I think everyone should know how interesting Biology is and what kind of amazing research is being done.

What I’d love to do with the money, if I won, is hold a big series of events during Biology Week. I’d like to organise a stand-up comedy night with a science theme, get guest speakers to talk to the public and other scientists, and set up hands-on science displays in a shopping centre to entertain and interest kids when their parents drag them out to the shops!

If I have any money left over I’ll donate it to a school that needs the money for science equipment or classes.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Happy, enthusiastic and…Ginger!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Goo Goo Dolls (look them up and thank me later)

What's your favourite food?

Sweet and Sour Chicken – om nom nom!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Either parasailing in Tenerife or trying to see everything in New York in 24 hours.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A Power Ranger…until I realised I can’t fight! Then an astronaut…until I realised that space scared me. So then a journalist!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I once accidentally kicked a hole in a wall, but, other than that, I was very well behaved!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Chemistry – who doesn’t love a bit of scientific wizardry?

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

Performed a science/stand-up comedy set to an audience in a pub – great experience!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My Chemistry teacher, Dr Randall, was a huge influence on me – he clearly loved what he did and took the time to explain things when I struggled.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A writer

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

1) To be the next James Bond 2) To not be afraid of heights 3) That Cheryl Cole would turn up on my door wanting to marry me!

Tell us a joke.

In Doctor Who, what food does The Doctor hate? Dalek bread!

Other stuff

Work photos:

My work mascot wrapped up warm and cuddling his toy frog myimage1

My little cubby-hole where I grow up Entamoeba before mashing them up to get their DNA myimage2

The rather untidy part of the lab I work in when preparing DNA to be read myimage3

My incubator (fancy word for an oven) in which I grow some of my Entamoeba – see the flasks and tubes? These Entamoeba need to grow at 37C, but others grow at room temperature. myimage7

The DNA reader or ‘sequencer’ that’s used for my DNA samples – they don’t let me touch this one! myimage4

My office – very empty. Lots of scientists suffer from Monday morning-itis! myimage5

My computer with 2 screens so I can work with more of the data at once. myimage6