Amy Monaghan

It's been great guys! Good luck Anita and Daryl tomorrow :)

Favourite Thing: Freezing my cells in liquid nitrogen. It makes me feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie. Making jellybabies scream is pretty cool too!



Glossopdale Community College & Sixth Form 2002-2009. I then moved to the University of Edinburgh (2009-2012) and I’m now even further north doing my PhD at the University of Aberdeen.


10 GCSEs and 4 A levels (Chemistry, Biology, Maths, English Literature). BSc (Hons) Pharmacology.

Work History:

At school I worked at a mail order book shop, as a horse riding instructor and a music teacher. In my summer holidays at university I worked as a Clinical Biochemist at NHS Lothian, and as a Database Biocurator at Edinburgh University.

Current Job:

Full time PhD student


University of Aberdeen

Me and my work

I look for cures for hormone disease including cancer and heart disease, using “light up” cells

Everybody has chemicals known as hormones in their body and these help us to function properly.  I am interested in steroid hormones and sex hormones which are important for the changes our bodies go through in puberty, and in pregnancy in women.  Testosterone also has other functions such as building muscle.

Unfortunately as people get older some produce too many hormones, or the switches in your body that the hormones activate may become faulty.  This can lead to problems, from baldness and alopecia, to cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.

I have cloned the gene from a firefly which makes them glow in the dark, and have used this to genetically modify my human kidney cells.  I can then add in the switches (or receptors) which are activated in our body by hormones, and use the cells to examine the effects of new drugs on these switches.  This is a way of screening new chemicals to find cures for disease:


My Typical Day

Check my cells are happy, and then do some experiments looking at how their DNA and protein are affected by different drugs. After work I usually go for a run and ride my horses.

In the morning I will check my cells are healthy and growing using the microscope, then I’ll set up some experiments with them.  At the moment I am using human kidney cells and prostate cancer cells.  Both sets of cells are immortal which means if I look after them properly they should keep dividing and live forever.


These are my cells! (Safe inside their flasks) The cells must stay in the hood or the incubator where it is sterile so that they don’t get infected with bacteria or viruses – they can get ill just like you and I.


Checking cells under the microscope


These are human kidney cells!

In the afternoon I usually do some cloning and PCR (short for polymerase chain reaction) experiments to make new genes that I can put into my cells, and examine their response to different drugs.  I’ll also look at the effect different drugs and hormones have on the proteins in my cells.  I also have to spend some time writing up experiments and papers in the office.

After work I’ll go for a run, listen to music and ride my ponies Chico and Papi.  Chico is the brown one and Papi is the little grey one.



What I'd do with the money

Make “real life” science experiments for use in schools like yours, including lots of explosions and cloning!

I love going into primary and secondary schools to run workshops and science clubs that give the students a chance to have a go at some of the science that we do in the lab. It’s much more fun than sitting and reading out of textbooks and writing essays. In the past I have made DNA and rockets, and looked at stem cells using microscopes and chemical experiments. I have lots of explosive experiments that I would love to be able share, and I would also like to create more experiments that allow you guys to have a go at “real life” science.  I hope I can share these experiments so that other “STEM ambassadors” like myself might be able to come and do them in schools like yours in areas of the country that I can’t easily travel to.


Part of my “Giant Microbes” collection of bacteria that I bring to schools

I would also like to develop some activities that I can take into classes where the children might have special educational needs, such as autism, and help them develop a passion for science.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Short, excitable and stubborn

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Arctic Monkeys – although I loved the song 5 seconds of Summer did with Scott Mills on Radio 1

What's your favourite food?

Cheese – I even eat it before bed so that I can have weird dreams

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Jumped out of a plane (to raise money for charity)!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t know! I thought about being a journalist or a vet though

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I wasn’t very good at remembering to do my homework. We also once locked the Miss Smith out of the classroom and sang Spongebob Squarepants until she went away. I’m not sure why but we got detention for a week!

What was your favourite subject at school?


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

In the lab it was exciting when I made my first set of clones! I felt like a mad scientist.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My younger brother has Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism) and Crohn’s disease. I became a scientist because I wanted to find ways to help him overcome these conditions

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Lead guitarist in a band playing festivals and gigs all over the world OR a formula 1 racing driver

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

To find a cure for Crohn’s disease, to marry Hugh Jackman (WOLVERINE!) and to own my own riding stables

Tell us a joke.

Sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium Batman!

Other stuff

Work photos:

myimage2 myimage8 myimage3

This is the lab I work in and my bench of chemicals for different experiments.


This is the Institute of Medical sciences where I work in Aberdeen