• Question: You say you are very hands on and enjoy the practical side of science and experiments, but what about theory, is this as important to do as the practical?

    Asked by flipper to Sarah on 14 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 14 Jun 2011:

      Yeah I do think that the theory is really important. It’s where you get your ideas from and then you have to put your ideas into reality when you do your experiments.

      For example, I have come up with a really brilliant idea for how I can make a diagnostic blood test for cancer. When a patient has a tumour inside them, the tumour releases chemicals into the patient’s bloodstream that we call tumour biomarkers. I am making a special dye and then it comes into contact with the tumour biomarkers, it becomes fluorescent. So all the doctor would need to do is take a little bit of the patient’s blood, add my dye and if to fluoresces then the patient has tested positive for cancer. In theory this idea makes a lot of sense and it sounds like it will work doesn’t it?

      Now I have to do lots of experiments to check that it does work. There are lots of complications, like for example, blood is naturally fluorescent (that’s how they detect it at crime scenes) so I have to dilute the blood samples down. Also I can make the dye so it is fluorescent at a different wavelength than blood and that will be a good way to make sure there is no background fluorescence.

      So yeah my favourite part of the job is the practical side of things but in the back of your mind you are always working on new theories and ideas. I guess theory is more important but you have to do the practicals to prove that it works.

      Hope that kind of makes sense! 🙂