We work among extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; get to know some of them by reading these quick-fire interviews.
Name: Jasmine Nirody
Job title: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, All Souls College and Departments of Physics and Zoology
What are you currently working on?
I’m a biophysicist, and my research focuses on how biological systems, ranging from proteins to whole organisms, sense and respond to mechanical stresses in their environment. This has always fascinated me because natural systems are so much better at dealing with variability and uncertainty than synthetic ones: designing a robot capable of flexible behaviour in a complex environment is an exceedingly difficult task, but organisms as simple as bacteria are able to navigate through heterogenous, time-varying surroundings (our digestive tract, for instance!) with ease.
To this end, I’m most excited about learning from locomotor systems that have been able to thrive in a wide range of natural environments. Right now, I’m working on uncovering the physical principles underlying motility in two such systems: swimming in flagellated bacteria and walking in arthropods and their relatives – both of which are comprised of relatively simple control circuits that have proven successful in a huge diversity of complex, changing environments.
Describe a typical day
I’ve had the chance to work with a wide range of fascinating systems, from bacteria to tardigrades to geckos. While there are bigger scientific questions that unite the study of these very different organisms, the techniques involved in probing them are very different. Because my work combines theory and simulation with both laboratory and field work, my day-to-day activities can be quite varied (which I really enjoy!). In a typical work week, I always hope to spend as much time as possible in the wet lab, microscope room, or out at the field station in Whytham Woods. Of course, a huge portion of my time also goes into data analysis, coding, and writing -- which can be fun and exciting in their own right!
If you had an entire day at your disposal (not at work), what would be your ideal way to spend it?
This likely is clear from my choice of research topic, but I very much enjoy being out in nature. I went to school in New York City and the easy access to green space is one of my favourite aspects of living in Oxford. So for me the ideal rest day is one spent wandering and admiring both the architectural and natural beauty in Oxford (it’s amazing that one city can have so much of both!).
What is your favourite place in Oxford?
Other than the Physics department?! I’ve spent many lunch breaks poking into the Natural History Museum (luckily, it’s right across the way from Physics), and it never fails to inspire and excite me for the afternoon! It’s rare to have such a great collection in such an awe-inspiring building.
What discovery would you like to see in your lifetime?
I’m really excited about a lot of fast-moving fields: the development of brain-machine interfaces, automated vehicles, personalized medicine. These all could have some great implications for society. But it’s hard to think about anything more impactful and urgent than discoveries in sustainable energy -- and super importantly, their fast and widespread implementation.