Sam Bedford is currently studying a BTEC National Diploma in Medical Science and an AS in Human Biology at Halesowen College in the West Midlands. Last summer, he got involved with the Nuffield Research Placements scheme through his college, and took part in a project called 'FGF-2 and its Implications in Muscle Atrophy' in the School of Biosciences at Birmingham University. Sam was recently awarded the Royal Society International Expedition Prize at the Big Bang Fair - a unique and one-off prize that put him on a trip to Borneo.
What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?
My project was based around the behaviour of muscle stem cells and how they may contribute to the onset of muscle atrophy though the alteration of FGF-2 expression. We aimed to determine if FGF-2 expression (growth factor) altered with age and set out to investigate this using muscle from mice and methodologies including Western Blotting and immunoblotting. I had to compromise the techniques several times but luckily I got the best and clearest result on the last day! I'm very excited to hear that my data may be published in a larger study!
What was the most valuable thing you learnt?
The most valuable experience was the independence I was given, which really boosted my motivation for self learning, and the research skills I learnt. I interacted with more experienced scientists and presented a 30min powerpoint to them all at the end of my project and this really improved my confidence. The experience also cemented my ambitions to become a scientist.
How have you shared your placement experience?
After completing my project, my college asked for a copy of my poster to display, and I've also been talking to another student who is hopefully going to participate in the scheme this summer. I've also been excited to have had two articles about my project in the local paper following the Big Bang Fair.
Has the project influenced your future plans at all?
The fantastic experience I had whilst undertaking my project has definitely influenced my ambitions. The fun and excitement with the research - especially when I got a result that matched all my theory - was phenomenal. I would love a career in this area for these reasons, especially if my research is contributing towards helping the population and improving their wellbeing and health. My next step will be studying Biomedical Science at Sheffield University.
How does it feel to have been awarded the Royal Society International Expedition Prize at the Big Bang Fair?
It feels fantastic to have won the award, I really didn't expect it - the girl sitting next to me at the ceremony had to tell me I had won, it didn't register! The prize was a bonus, I enjoyed presenting my work to the judges and guests (including Prince Andrew!) and meeting lots of new people with similar interests as myself. I am still in disbelief about my prize but am very very excited about it!!
Sam has recently returned from his trip to Borneo, and got in touch to let us know how he got on. He says:
Before I went to Danum, I had the image of the stereotypical scientist wearing the lab coat performing experiments in a lab or analyzing some forms of data. Observing scientists getting covered in mud and trekking through very difficult terrains in the rainforest has changed my perspective on what a scientist can do and how different aspects of science are conducted. I also envisaged field work in the natural sciences to be on your hands and knees collecting samples from soil, not being out in the middle of the rainforest experiencing nature first hand! Seeing the animals in their natural habitats has provided me with an appreciation of how life functions without human interruption and I have gained a lot of informal knowledge about another culture in the world.
At first, I really didn’t know what to expect when the plane landed or what the rainforest would be like. The first day at Danum Valley was an unforgettable experience, we went trekking into the rainforest and unfortunately for us, witnessed our first (and by no means the last) leech. During the following days we began to go off with some of the scientists working in Danum to see their field work in action- this included rainforest surveying, meteorological and geographical studies.
The experience has certainly made me appreciate what actually goes on inside a rainforest and the importance of conservation work in areas like this that are undergoing deforestation and the implications of this. Also, I have firsthand experience of how rainforest surveying is conducted and have an understanding of the ecological processes that occur. I also found it humbling to observe animals and animal behaviour in their natural habitat without disruption from humans.