• Question: What is your greatest discovery?

    Asked by robertlow to Alan, Caspar, Diana, Murray, Sarah on 21 Mar 2011 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 18 Mar 2011:

      I don’t have a big discovery to brag about just yet… At the moment, each positive result is taking me closer and closer to my main goal – it’s so exciting!

      The one thing I did ‘discover’, is a compound called 2,2,5,5,-tetramethylpyrrolinoxyl hydrazide (TMPO). It has never been reported before which means that most likely nobody has ever tried to make it. I made it in the lab a few months ago and I almost couldn’t believe it. I repeated the experiment 3 times just to make sure!! So I’m going to publish my results quite soon, it will be nice to know that I will always be known as the first person to make it!

      By the way, TMPO is going to be used as a label that will help use investigate how cancer grows. Hopefully it will have a big impact on cancer research and may even lead to drug discovery!

    • Photo: Alan Winfield

      Alan Winfield answered on 20 Mar 2011:

      I haven’t made any great discoveries Robert. That’s partly because I’m primarily an engineer, and engineers invent things rather than discover them. I answered another question about things I’ve designed here http://ias.im/35.1799. But the other reason is that scientists hardly ever make great discoveries, mostly what we do is (hopefully) add a little bit to human understanding. Most of what we understand about the world is as a result of a very large number of small discoveries which all build up to give the big picture. I wrote about that in another answer here http://ias.im/35.313.

    • Photo: Murray Collins

      Murray Collins answered on 21 Mar 2011:


      I think the most important piece of work I did was in Gabon. The data I collected on the carbon in trees there was presented by the President of Gabon to the United Nations meeting on climate change. It showed how forests were storing and absorbing carbon dioxide as the amount in the atmosphere increases due to human activity. It really highlighted the importance of African rainforest.


    • Photo: Caspar Addyman

      Caspar Addyman answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      Great question, Robert. I hope that my greatest discoveries are still to come but I am quite pleased with a new theory of time that i am currently working on.

      How do you perceive the passage of time? It seems so obvious that no one really thinks about it. And in the past the answers that people have come up with haven’t been very convincing. Lots of scientists think that you tell how time passes because of little clock circuits in your head but then you’d need one of each an everything that you could keep track of the time of. That’s simply not true. You can tell approximately how long ago you clicked onto this page but i’ll bet your brain didn’t start a little stopwatch

      Instead (thanks to our work with babies) we’ve come up with a theory that your brain tells the time by how blurry your memories become over time. The longer ago something was the more blurry your memory of it. And so you could potentially use that as a measure of time.

      Deciding that the blurriness of memories could potentially tell you how long ago they happened was a definite ‘eureka’ moment for me. Of course it was still just a theory at that stage so we had to build a computer model to test our idea. and that seems to work so next we have to use our theory to make some predictions about how babies and adults perceive time. then run some experiments to see if we are right.

      it’s all very well to have a cool theory but the most important thing is whether it actually fits the facts!

    • Photo: Diana Drennan

      Diana Drennan answered on 21 Mar 2011:

      we’ve been working on a target for anti-aging for about 8 years, and recently got some preliminary clinical results of a compound I suggested. It does some really cool things to the skin, including thickening the epidermis and organizing the basal layer. In older people, the skin changes a lot. Some of the changes are that the epidermis gets thinner (have you ever looked at the skin of a really old person ? it’s like paper.) and the basal layer (where all the cells get made) gets all disorganized (so it can’t replace cells as efficiently). So, this compound can make old skin act more like young skin. That’s pretty exciting to me, so I hope that we can commercialize it. It’s got about 5 years before it can hit the market tho, due to all the safety tests and everything. It’s also one of my first patents.