Featured Day in the Life of: Noelle, PhD student in Biochemical Engineering

HI, I’m Noelle! I’m 24 and I’m entering the third year of my PhD in Biochemical Engineering at University College London (UCL). I originally from Akron, OH in the U.S. I went to MIT for undergrad and I have degrees in Chemical Engineering and Theatre Arts. Right now, I do research on a novel manufacturing method for vaccines and personalized medicines called cell-free protein synthesis. You can follow me on Instagram @nacofalltrades!


I wake up at 6:00am every day. I usually do some sort of physical activity to start my day – running if it’s not cold and rainy outside, yoga if we’re having typical London weather. Then, I have breakfast and a cup of tea!


I take the bus to campus each day – my total journey is about 40 minutes and it’s much cheaper than taking the tube.


I like to get to campus a little earlier. The labs tend to be a bit emptier and I can play music while I work. Also, today is going to be a long lab day and I want to get started early so that I won’t be in the lab after hours.


Today, I’m preparing cell-free extract. I start by thawing out some frozen E. coli cells that I harvested earlier in the week.


Next, I homogenize the cells to break them open and release all the cellular machinery I’ll need for protein production. When I turned on the homogenizer, the cooling system wasn’t working so I had to run and get the equipment manager to help me figure out what was going wrong. We were able to get the cooling to work well enough for my run, but the machine will need to be serviced soon.


Following homogenization, I centrifuge the homogenate at a high speed to separate out the large cell debris from the smaller soluble cellular machinery that I want. This clarified extract will be what I use in my cell-free protein synthesis reactions.


In order to preserve the activity of the extract, I freeze it in liquid nitrogen for long term storage.


The batch of extract that I made today has been aliquoted and added to my stocks of other extracts. When I run the reactions later today, I’ll have more options!


I’m having a bit of a late lunch today because I had a meeting at noon with some other student representatives and postgraduate student society members. Together, we’re planning out events for the postgraduate students in the Engineering Faculty. Normally, I eat lunch with a few other students in my department. I like to meal prep so that I don’t have to worry about making anything in the morning and I can just grab a tupperware and go.


I have a lot of reactions running this afternoon so I’m labelling all of the tubes that I’ll need.


Today I’m using the tiny pH probe to prepare a solution for my reactions. I only need a little bit of this solution and some its components are pretty pricey so I don’t need to make very much of it.


I’m a supervisor for the UCL iGEM team and I’m so excited about the progress they’re making on their project! They need some GFP for one of their experiments and I happen to have made quite a bit a few months ago, so I’m giving it to them. Fingers crossed it all works out okay.


I’m attending a seminar for the London Synthetic Biology Network. They meet once a month. This month’s seminar had a speaker who discussed his research on yeast cell interactions during mating and a speaker from an industry sponsor.


I’m just checking on my reactions before I leave campus for the day. The reactions will run overnight. I’ll process them in the morning.


I’m joining a few of the London SynBio Network seminar attendees at a pub. We’re chatting about the next event, our research, and the shows and concerts we want to see in London.


I’m taking the tube home because it’s no longer peak hours (so the ticket is cheaper). Also, I’m exhausted and I want to get home as soon as possible.


I normally cook my own dinner, but tonight I’m eating store bought sushi. I also don’t have much food in the fridge at the moment because I’m travelling tomorrow.


I’ve packed up my bags for tomorrow journey. I’m headed to Swansea for a fellow PhD student’s wedding!


After answering a few emails and checking social media, it’s time for bed!

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