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I’m a scientist!

Posted on 26 March 2021

Chemistry PhD student, Amelia Gilio, took part in a major national event to engage with school students and was voted the winner.

I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here’ is an online, student-led STEM enrichment activity that connects school students with scientists through energetic real-time text based chats. Across a whole month, researchers help students stay connected with science, their teachers and classmates by chatting with students and teachers using a text only platform through which they answer students’ questions about working in science. Over the course of the month, as well as answering students’ questions, the scientists compete for votes to win £500. In February 2021, Amelia Gilio took part alongside 23 other scientists, engaging with almost 1000 students across the UK. Amelia was voted the overall winner.

Amelia carries out her PhD research under the supervision of Professor Gideon Grogan in YSBL. In her research, which is part-funded by Pfizer, she investigates imine reductase enzymes that enable the synthesis of chiral amines, an important functional group found in many active molecules. Amelia uses protein engineering and crystallography with the goal of optimising these enzymes for use in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, making the process more environmentally friendly. 

During her month-long involvement with ‘I’m a Scientist’, Amelia was asked a wide variety of questions, on topics ranging from career advice to her own research. Amelia explains:

“The older students were more career focussed and wanted to find out about my route into science or how they can become scientists. I think it is really important to heighten awareness that anyone can become a scientist no matter what their background. There are many first generation university students and scientists out there, just like myself.”

Screenshot of some of Amelia’s engagements with the students

Screenshot of some of Amelia’s engagements with the students

Amelia goes on to say:

“I also particularly enjoyed speaking to the younger students as they were very inquisitive about the research that we do and asked surprisingly thoughtful and insightful questions. Many students asked me how I grew crystals and then how I used them to help make medicines? I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with simplified explanations and examples from my own work.”

The ‘I’m a Scientist’ charity works worldwide. In the UK, it focuses its activities on schools with large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, or which are a long way from a research intensive university. It aims to provide school students with ‘science capital’ and help them to see that scientists are people just like them who come from all sorts of different backgrounds with everyday interests and hobbies, but a passion for answering big questions about the world.

Amelia plans to use her prize money to develop outreach activities based around her work with protein engineering for use at future in-person outreach events with her research group.

To find out more, or get involved, follow @ImaScientist on Twitter, check out the hashtag #IASUK, or visit the website.