survived to get lots more fantastic questions.. yay!
Favourite Thing: I love solving puzzles using my own knowledge, logic and investigative thinking skills. You start on a case and arrive at a crime scene and you only get to see some of the facts that are important and they are all jumbled up and are often confusing. By thinking carefully and using what you have learnt through studying, working with other scientists and through experimentation things often start to get clearer. I love learning from other scientists and my students (and you I hope!)
Madras College, St. Andrews (1982-1988)
Applied Chemistry, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland (1988-1992)
Fisheries Research Services (now called Marine Sciene Scotland), Aberdeen (1992–1998), Scottish Water (1998-2001), Irish Environental Protection Agency (2001-2002), Scottish Police Services Authority (2002-2007)
The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland (2007-present)
Lecturer in Analytical and Forensic Science and member of the IDEAS Research Institute
Me and my work
I teach the next generation of forensic scientists and analytical chemists how to figure out complex problems and specialise in lab analysis (fire accelerants, drugs of abuse and pharmaceuticals), fire scene investigation and the interpretation and presentation of the evidence obtained in court.
I teach chemistry to students and we apply our chemical methods to legal questions asked by the justice system – the courts. My main areas of specialism are the analysis of traces of substances in either body fluid / tissue samples or in samples recovered fromfire scenes. i have to analyse all of these substances very accurately and precisely and then figure out what the results mean in the context of the criminal investigation. I also teach the evaluation and interpretation of evidence and the presentation of that evidence in court to students and other professionals such as fire offiers, crime scene managers and scenes of crime officers (SOCOs). I also carry out environmental research dealing with the analysis of emerging contaminants in environmental samples such as river water, wastewater, sewage sludge and soils. Emerging contaminants include drugs of abuse and other pharmaceutically active compounds such as hormones (natural and synthetic – the latter mainly coming from the contraceptive pill), high usage anti-imfammatories (paracetamol, ibuprofen etc) and antibiotics. i use techniques like solid phase extraction and mass spectrometry to do my work – in forensic science i use chromatography, spectroscopy and microscopy to do my work.
My Typical Day
I tend to be juggling teaching forensic science, expert witness training, and carrying out forensic chemistry research and environmental research so I have to be quite well organised. I love it all (mostly! – depends on the day..)
My day normally starts with me getting woken up by the cat ridiculously early… I arrive at work anytime between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning and sometimes leave early-ish or if I’m really into something interesting am sometimes happy to stay quite late, especially if my research takes an interesting direction. I teach students here mostly in term time but at the moment lectures have finished and so has the exam marking(I teach Recovery and examination of evidence, forensic chemical analysis, fire scene examination, forensic toxicology, interpretation, evaluation and presentation of evidence and look after laboratory project students) . When I am not doing that I am working with research students and scientists from all around the world and am lucky enough to travel with my job. I have been doing some teaching in France and have really enjoyed improving my language skills and looking after visiting students over the summer. My favourite subject is toxicology – basically the study of harmful substances on humans and animals. I have a background in environmental toxicology (the effects of pollutants in the environment – mainly fish, seals, dolphins and whales) before I became a forensic scientist and this uses many of the same skills I use in Forensic toxicology which is the study of harmful substances related to criminal cases or unexplained deaths. We often need to know what has happened to someone when they can no longer tell us themselves. I will post more about my work over the next day or two! Keep your eyes on the profile!
What I'd do with the money
I would use the money to help set up a website and blog to be used by myself, my forensic scientist colleagues and my forensic and analytical science students so you could log in and see what it is really like to be a forensic scientist or a forensic scientist student and what we get up to!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, Talkative, Inquisitive
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Changes every five minutes as I am a music geek/obsessive – it would have to be Arcade Fire although i’m loving Kitty, Daisy and Lewis at the moment….
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Getting bumped by a female Gray Whale and then stared at by her big intelligent eye whilst kayaking in British Columbia on the west coast of canada
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
ok the honest answers? (i) to always be surrounded by good friends and family and have more time to spend with them (2) to climb the mountains of South America with the wind in my hair, a smile on my face and a pack on my back with no worries on my mind and (3) to be involved in making a movie – I love the cinema and film festivals and it’s one of my favourite ways to relax.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to work in a Chemistry Lab and to see the world! Actually I can’t deny it – that’s absolutely true….
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Me and some mates took the afternoon off school and went to watch a big golf competition in St. Andrews (I don’t even like golf) and we were caught by the headmaster who was watching it on tv and saw us – Doh! That taught me… and i’ve never set a foot wrong since. Honest.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh