Luke Clifton
24 Jun 2019
- Laura Shafi



I deliver a science programme in the area of bio-membranes undertaking scattering measurements to examine structure.




​What is your working habitat? (in the lab, in the office – multiple?)

I move between the biology laboratories, the instruments in the experimental hall and my office – so its good exercise!

2.       What are you working on at the moment?

My work is broken up into many individual projects and each of these are interesting and slightly different.

I help users design the experiments, make samples and run experiments on the beamlines. I take the scattering results from the experiments and help recover the structure.

We produce an in-vitro model of biology and then we measure that model using neutron scattering techniques. We try to make sure the models we use are as accurate representation of the real biology as possible.

For example, I look at how an antibiotic interacts with a model membrane bacterial surfaces, or how a protein sits on or within a membrane or how biological membrane structures change under certain conditions.

3.       What does ISIS neutron and muon source and Physics bring to your life science work?

Biology is complex - for example, membranes are made up of lipids, proteins and complex sugars.

With neutron scattering techniques, you can pick out the individual components in that complex structure and determine relative distribution of these components.

The facility runs about 190 days a year, we have 5 reflectometers and there's always a biological experiment going on.

4.       What's your favourite thing about working on life science?

I did a degree in chemistry originally and I decided it organic chemistry wasn't for me so I did a biophysical chemistry PhD and I got interested in the complexity of the systems.

I always liked making models as a child and during my PhD I built models of how plant proteins interacted with membranes.

I really enjoy the idea that I'm making and analysing models of a real complex process or material - it's quite a nice challenge.

6.       What inspires you to be a scientist?

You're an investigator for a job, you do scientific investigation – it's sort of like being a detective! The main core of your job is discovering and inventing, you are creating new stuff and knowledge!

7.       What are you most proud of about yourself or your work?

One of the things I feel I've brought to the facility since I started working here 11 years ago is pushing the boundaries of what science we deliver. I feel the technique has moved forward in terms of the accuracy and complexity of the bio-science in the last ten years and I'm very proud that I was part of that with my colleagues at the facility and the user groups.

8.       Who is your science role model?

Linus Pauling – he did everything! ​

9.       What global challenges worry you?

Antibiotic resistance - we do a lot of work on testing drugs using model bacterial membranes that we develop with the user community. 

10.   Are there any misconceptions about your job? What stereotypes do you want to address?

I think the perceptions of scientists are changing.  When I got into science – nobody said you had to be really good at writing but to be a scientist you do have to have quite good written skills. 

11.   What do you like about working at ISIS?

I like working in a high tech environment where there's always stuff going on. You focus on research mainly but there's options to do different things such as teaching, engineering and project management if you want.

12.   Describe your job in 3 words.

Complex biological structures.