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Practical science: the lab technician

Pat Edwards is a Research Support Technician in the Structural Studies Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. She spoke to The Long+Short about her job.

Pat Edwards

Pat Edwards (Image copyright: Chris Tate)

I suppose I am an archetypal technician. We have a lot of new people just trying to work out what’s going on, so I’m a knowledge base for a lot of the things, the methods and technologies, which go on in the lab.

We do structural biology of membrane proteins, which has huge implications for medicine. I do anything from expressing those proteins, to purification and crystallisation. I work with my boss and a postdoc on a project that will change depending on who that is. My work is acknowledged and I am always on the papers that result from it.

My background is an applied biology degree. I was interested in doing science, but not in doing a PhD – I’m not very good at studying, but I’m a very practical person. My first job was actually here in the LMB, and I guess I really learnt the trade, if you could call it that, in the lab – which is really the more practical side of science. Read more

Behind the picture: New microscope tech that’s as good as gold

Christmas decoration? Modern art? Anything to do with science at all? Of course it is. As well as being pretty to look at, this little grid full of holes could have a big impact on microscopy. Dr Chris Russo, a researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) and the person who took the photo, explains more.

A close-up of a gold grid, showing a cross-hatched pattern with internal squares of dots or holes

It might look like something you should hang on your wall, but this picture is actually a close-up of a tiny gold device that could allow researchers to unravel the details of how the complex biological machines inside cells work.

Working with Dr Lori Passmore, I have used this ‘grid’, which costs just a few pounds to make, to almost double the image quality of a multi-million pound electron microscope.

We then used it to determine the structure of a protein called ferritin, a small protein cage which stores the iron that cells need to function, and a particularly tough structure to determine. Read more

Parliament from the inside

Every year scientists and policymakers pair up and shadow each other as part of the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme. Two MRC researchers have recently completed a Week in Westminster. Here Dr Angela Attwood, a research fellow at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, found that its the librarians, clerks and advisors who are the key contacts in Westminster. In a separate post, Dr Helen Chappell finds that Parliament is crying out for research findings.

Andrew Miller MP addresses pairing scheme participants

Andrew Miller MP addresses pairing scheme participants (Image copyright: The Royal Society)


In recent years, the UK government has been strongly advocating evidence-based policy making informed by cutting edge scientific research.

As a psychologist I can identify how my findings may inform policy, but identifying ways to get my findings to policy-makers is much more challenging. This was one of the main reasons why I chose to take part in the pairing scheme.

Every scientist who takes part in the scheme is paired with an MP or civil servant, and half of the week spent in Westminster allows time for shadowing. I was paired with liberal democrat MP Stephen Williams, who is also the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and a fellow (adopted) Bristolian. Read more