Philippa Bird

Thankyou to everyone who voted for me!!! Xxxx

Favourite Thing: (Other than spending time with my little brother) Playing with the laser to make it work properly. It’s like lego for grown-ups.



Stroud High School 1999-2004, Downfield Sixth Form 2004-2006, University of Oxford (Magdalen College) 2006-2010, University of Bristol 2010-present.


GCSEs A* in Maths, Double Science, English Language, English Literature, IT, German, Latin, Music, History and A in Textiles. A-levels A grade in Chemistry, Maths, Biology, English. 2:1 in Chemistry Masters degree.

Work History:

I have worked at a garage, a hotel, a famous pharmaceutical company, and my dad’s antiques shop. But I have spent most of my life studying!

Current Job:

PhD student at Bristol


University of Bristol

Me and my work

Tracking the entry of really tiny particles (“nanoparticles”) into human cells with a laser, to deliver cancer drugs.

Typical cancer treatments, called “chemotherapy” use poisonous drugs to kill the cancer. Unfortunately, the drugs are also poisonous to the rest of the body, not just the cancer. This can mean we can’t use enough drug to kill the cancer as effectively, and the patient experiences nasty side effects like hair loss. If we instead put the drug in a nanoparticle, and programme it to only go to the cancer cells not the healthy cells, we can poison the cancer without affecting the rest of the body. My work is to find out exactly where the particle goes when it is in the cell and how it releases the drug, to try and make this cancer treatment work even better. I do this by following the nanoparticle with a laser, a bit like an alien tractor beam.

My Typical Day

At the moment, aligning the laser.

The laser has to be aligned precisely so we know where it is and therefore where the particle is. This is a very long task, especially because we cannot see the laser! We have to use cameras and a special optical card to see the laser, and of course wear goggles to protect our eyes in case the laser is reflected into them. So my typical day involves coming in, getting a coffee, and taking up this task from where I left of the previous day. I also make nanoparticles in the chemistry lab, and culture cells in specially designed sterile labs.


Optical card used to view the laser.

What I'd do with the money

Going into schools to do nanoscience outreach activities.

My friends and I have been doing a lot travelling into schools and running fun activities all about how nanoscience works and why it is important. We feel it is a very important field of science which is going to solve a lot of the world’s problems, so it is a very good idea to tell everyone about it. So I would use the money for travelling to these schools, because we have most of the equipment for our activities already, think how many schools we can get to with £500!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

enthusiastic, logical, determined

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Freddie Mercury and Queen!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I love theme parks

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

To get my experiment working, to win a nobel prize for it, to cure cancer.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A medical researcher! (I never knew I would end up being a laser Physicist as well!)

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I was a goody two-shoes, I never handed in my homework late, I never had a detention, but in year 11 I had a one day internal suspension for fighting, even though I didn’t actually fight anyone (you work out the logic there!)

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

The first time I saw a really detailed image of a cell on my computer screen, it took my breath away.

Tell us a joke.

Two atoms were walking down the street when one said “I think I’ve lost an electron”, the other said “Are you sure?”, to which the first one replied “Yes, I’m positive!”

Other stuff

Work photos:


My office with my lovely colleagues Dave and Deepak waving. My desk is the one on the left (not very tidy!).

myimage4 The laser lab where I spend most of my time.

myimage2 The chemistry lab where I make my nanoparticles.

myimage3 The cell culture lab where I grow the cancer cells.


A cell with nanoparticles inside it, taken using our very powerful microscope.