2009 – 2014 University of Oxford; 2006 – 2007 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; 1999 – 2004 University of Zambia; 1993 – 1997 Roma Girls Secondary School; 1985 – 1992 St Mary’s Girls Primary School
BSc, MSc, and DPhil
University of Zambia
Post-doctoral research on malaria transmission-blocking studies
University of Oxford and KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme
Favourite thing to do in my job: Opening up mosquitoes to see if they are infected with malaria – mosquitoes also get infected with malaria. And that is how they are able to spread the infection from one person to another.
I am very passionate about science and what I do. And this has landed me in Kilifi where I am part of a team trying to determine who in the population is responsible for malaria transmission so that we can identify the target group(s) for malaria control interventions.
My work involves going into the population, in Kilifi, and sampling individuals (who have volunteered to participate in the study) from all age groups for their ability to infect mosquitoes. We are able to test this by using an artificial mosquito feeding system called a mosquito membrane feeding system. . After 7days of feeding the mosquitoes on the volunteers blood, we can then look to see if the mosquitoes have become infected with malaria. We determine whether a mosquito is infected or not by opening up the stomach of the mosquito and looking on the surface of the stomach, under a microscope. We use a special stain that helps us visualise the infections on the mosquito stomach wall. This stain helps us a lot and we can also confirm the infection by using a molecular-based method that also detects infection by PCR.
My work involves growing mosquitoes in the insectary to use for these studies, we use a local strain from Kilifi that has recently been adapted to grow in the lab. I also culture and grow malaria parasites up to a stage that they can infect mosquitoes. I then use these mosquito-infecting stages to infect the mosquitoes so that we can also characterise and identify which malaria parasites are capable of infecting mosquitoes.
My Typical Day
I am an early riser and my day typically begins at 5am in the morning and ends after 10pm.
When I wake up, I check my emails on my mobile and prioritise which need immediate response and then get ready for the day. I don’t usually fuss about what to where as I have a system where Monday and Tuesday are trousers days, Wednesday skirts, Thursday dress day and Friday jeans day. This helps me a lot as I do not have to worry and think too much about what I should wear. I try to be micro-organised that way. After I get ready usually by 5:30am, I wake up my daughter and get her ready for school. We are out of the house by 6:25am in time for her to catch her bus for school between 06:30 and 06:40. I am at work between 06:45 and 06:50am and there the fun science begins.
My first stop when I get to work is the insectary, where I set up the membrane feeding system and ensure the mosquitoes are happy and ready for the experiment. I then head to the office where I respond to emails and wait for participants to come in. I get a call that they have arrived and I dash out to the out-patient clinic where I meet with them and register their particulars. Once they have been sampled, it’s a sprint race back to the insectary where the mosquitoes are immediately fed. This is usually between 10:30am and 11:30am. By 12:00pm, I have processed the samples and stored what needs to be stored in the freezer. I then head back to my desk where I update the register and organise for the next set of participants.
Depending on what day it is, I usually have meetings in the afternoon. I also use most of the afternoons to go to the lab and either grow some parasites, run some PCRs or process more samples for parasite detection. If it is a day for opening up mosquitoes, the whole day is spent doing this. I also use some of the afternoons to catch up with the team on the progress on the insectary.
I am usually done for the day at work by 7pm. I then spend this time going through my daughters homework, if she has any, and eat dinner with her before her bedtime at 8pm. Once she is tucked away and asleep, I either catch up on world news, watch a soap, watch football if it is on (I am an avid Man United supporter) and then head off to bed and fall asleep with a book in hand. By then it is after 10pm and the alarm is set for the next day at 5am to begin yet another day in the life of a woman, single mother and passionate scientist.
What I'd do with the money
Empower a school in the study area I work in and promote science.
I would use the money to work on two science projects with two students for the science expo. I would also buy some science textbooks and work with the science teacher to equip a small science lab. Because the money is entirely not enough to achieve all these things, I would fundraise to match the prize money and get 100,000 that can go to improving science in the school by these activities.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, Dependable and Dynamic – all round 3D person
What was your favourite subject at school?
Chemistry especially organic chemistry
What did you want to be after you left school?
General Medical Practioner
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Definitely (probably more than once) – I forged my dads signature in my homework book and for my reading book at primary school for a whole week until I was found out. I was called the headmistresses office and punished. The punishment was writing I will never do it again over 200times.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Chef/farmer – inventing dishes with otherwise unheard of combinations and running a kitchen with produce from the farm.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Ummmmh! Tough choice but singer definitely R. Kelly tops most
What's your favourite food?
Another tough choice – nyama choma, goat curry and rice and peas (beans)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Walk over the Victoria falls
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To make a difference; To be an inspiration (especially to my daughter); and To be a president.
Tell us a joke.
Why did the banana go to see the doctor? Because he wasn’t peeling well….