Sandhya Narayanan

Sandhya Narayanan completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2016 at Keele University. She went on to present her work at The Big Bang Fair.

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I applied for a Nuffield placement because I really wanted some hands-on work in a lab environment. In the future, I am considering a career in research and therefore I really wanted a chance to see what it was like to do some independent research in a university environment. I was really interested in finding out more about cutting edge research which could be used to help people in the future. The Nuffield Research Placement was an amazing scheme that allowed me to do just that.

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before you started the placement?

Before I started my project I didn’t know anything about my project area. I went to Keele University to meet my supervisor before my placement started, so that I could discuss what I wanted to do. My supervisor spoke to me about some unfinished research that I could possibly help with and explained what I would need to do. It all sounded very interesting and I was keen to help with a piece of current research.

For my project, I examined cells known as fibrocytes. These are present in the cochlea - the inner part of the ear with which you hear. As people get older, these fibrocyte cells begin to degenerate and die. Fibrocyte degeneration is thought to be a cause of age-related hearing loss, as fibrocytes are involved in maintaining constant conditions in the ear. The ultimate aim of the project was to investigate if we could grow cells in the lab which could then replace these degenerating cells in the ear and therefore help to restore hearing. I compared native fibrocyte cells from the cochlea of mice, to fibrocyte cells grown in the lab using a Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). I took images on the TEM and was able to compare the ultrastructural characteristics between the two different types of cells.

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

My supervisor was Professor David Furness at Keele University and he was so supportive throughout the whole process. He helped me by guiding my project in the right direction and used his wealth of expertise in the area to teach me what I needed to look out for in my work. His experience in this area of research allowed me to fully understand what exactly I was looking at in my images and therefore allowed me to have enough understanding to conduct my research independently.

Did you gain any new skills, both scientific and general work skills, from undertaking your placement?

I gained an invaluable amount of experience by doing my Nuffield Research Placement. I spent the first two weeks learning how to take ultrathin sections from a block of resin and how to stain them to view under the TEM. This was probably the most challenging part of the process as this is a very hard skill to master. The remaining two weeks I spent taking images on the TEM, of both cultured and native fibrocytes cells, examining the different cell types and noting the similarities and differences. I also learnt valuable time management skills and got some great report writing practise.

Completing a Gold CREST Award and competing in the Big Bang Fair gave me vital communication skills – as I was able to learn how to share my projects with others too.

What was it like presenting your work at The Big Bang Competition?

Presenting my work at the Big Bang Fair was an absolutely amazing experience. I got a chance to meet so many different people from all around the UK and it was amazing to find so many like-minded people who enjoyed science as much as I did. I also got a chance to talk about my project to some judges as well as many of the visitors at the fair. It was such a great experience and I enjoyed my time at the Fair so much.

I would tell anyone who does a Nuffield Research Placement to put their work into the Big Bang Competition. It was so much fun to be able to be a part of such a big event and it really is an amazing once in a lifetime experience.