Another First for Thornton Science Park

The first person to begin and complete a PhD at the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park is graduating this week.

Amy Morgan, who is 27 and from Oswestry, liked Thornton so much, that she stayed and is now working within the University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering!

Amy has spent nearly 10 years as a student at the University, having fallen in love with the Parkgate Road Campus back in 2010 when she visited as an A level pupil. She studied her degree (BSc Biomedical Science) and Master’s (Applied Science) at Parkgate Road, in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Amy explains what led her to Thornton: “Whilst undertaking my MRes, my supervisor at the time made a comment that I should consider doing a PhD next. Initially I was reluctant, however eventually, I decided that this was the right move for me, as I had enjoyed the research project elements of these programmes.

“I looked at PhDs across several institutions, but when I saw one advertised at Thornton Science Park I jumped at the chance. Despite Chemical Engineering being a very different subject to what I was educated in, I had enjoyed my time on the main campus so much, that I applied on the off-chance something would come from it. Thornton Science Park itself was also very appealing, as it was advertised as a centre for excellence in the science and engineering fields, and provided state of the art equipment - all within driving distance of my home town.”

Amy then studied for a PhD in Chemical Engineering, which focused on using maths and computer modelling, in addition to laboratory techniques, to analyse biological aspects of the ageing process. The PhD was entitled ‘Using Mathematical Modelling and Electrochemical Analysis to Investigate Age-Associated Disease’. It was in two parts, firstly she mathematically modelled cholesterol metabolism (which is the balance between ingesting, synthesising, excreting and converting cholesterol in the body), and secondly she used electrochemistry to detect DNA methylation as a sensor for cancer. DNA methylation regulates gene expression and can be influenced by factors such as ageing, diet, smoking, and obesity. When the patterns of DNA methylation deviate from what they should be, gene expression is altered, and this can play a key role in the development of diseases such as cancer.

Whilst conducting her PhD at Thornton Science Park, Amy learnt numerous scientific skills and techniques, which broadened her understanding of scientific practices, and enabled her to produce publishable research in fields in which she was previously unknowledgeable.

Amy said: “I was encouraged to present my mathematical modelling work at the Nutrition Society conference at University College Dublin in 2016. That resulted in me having the opportunity to represent the UK at the International Nutrition Society Conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, where I presented my electrochemical sensor work. In both instances, I published a review in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society Journal following the conference. In addition to publishing other articles whilst undertaking my PhD, I also acted as an exam invigilator, demonstrator and visiting lecturer across faculties within the University. I also took the opportunity to complete a teaching qualification, which has given me FHEA (Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy) status.”

Amy says all of the opportunities she received as a University of Chester student have culminated in her gaining a PhD and a post at Thornton:

“I am now a Research Support Technical Officer for Biotechnology, within the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Thornton Science Park, a job which I love. I act as laboratory custodian for the biotechnology and the category two microbiology laboratories, and support staff and students in these areas. In addition I am also able to conduct and publish research and occasionally teach.

“I hope to continue this as it is something I really enjoy. The University staff here have been amazing; providing me with invaluable support since 2010. Additionally, I hope to further develop the sensor for cancer that I worked on during the PhD, with Dr Mark Mc Auley.”

Amy’s PhD supervisor, Dr Mark Mc Auley added: “The focus of my research is the ageing process. In her PhD Amy investigated how certain biological changes that take place in our bodies during ageing can impact our health. The work Amy conducted using computer models and laboratory experiments revealed how diet can help maintain our health as we get older. As a result of her findings Amy was invited on two occasions to present her work at prestigious international conferences, and was duly recognised for her talents when she was awarded the best postgraduate student researcher at the 2016 Nutrition Society conference.”

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