Contact us

International Year of Light - Hannah Niland

Hannah Niland

Tell us about your PhD project

The research in my group centres on the application and development of fluorescence spectroscopic techniques such as epifluorescence, FRET, fluorescence sum frequency generation and the utilisation of photonic crystal fibres. Most of the research centres on the use of fluorescence in the characterisation of biological systems such as DNA-protein interactions.

The focus of my project is the application and development of the epifluorescence surface scanner (EFSCAN) which measures the amount of proteinaceous residue remaining on cleaned surgical instruments by detecting protein labelled with the fluorophore fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC). The motivation behind the EFSCAN project has come from mounting evidence that biological debris remains on surgical instruments which have been through Sterile Services Departments (SSDs).

This raises the concern that infections could be transmitted via contaminated instruments. It is therefore crucial that a method of quality control is developed for use in SSDs.

The main aims of the project are to commercially develop the EFSCAN in conjunction with Edinburgh Biosciences and to remove the need for a fluorescent label by detecting the intrinsic fluorescence of proteins.

EFSCAN instrument

Why is light important to your research?

Fluorescence is the process by which certain molecules absorb light and emit light of a longer wavelength so without light my research would be impossible!

Describe your average day of PhD work here in the School of Chemistry

There isn???t really a typical day but most of my time is spent in our lab/office either measuring surgical instruments or analysing data. I occasionally use the COSMIC facility to take fluorescence lifetime and confocal measurements as well. As the project is being carried out in conjunction with Edinburgh Biosciences I regularly visit their offices in Livingston.

Collaboration and sharing information is important within the school and the PhysChem Committee organise biweekly meetings in the form of seminars, interactive demonstrations, lab tours, journal clubs or just general discussions in which we update each other on current research over a coffee. I attend these sessions as often as I can.  

I???m also part of the LEAPS program which aims to encourage high school students from all backgrounds to pursue higher education as a post-school option. This requires me to travel to schools in Lothian and deliver workshops informing the students of different aspects of University life.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not in the lab?

I recently joined the Fresh Meat programme for the Auld Reekie Roller Girls so a lot of my time out of the lab is spent skating, thinking about skating or training so I can skate better! I also snowboard and go mountain biking in the summer.

Christmas decorations using Tollens' TestWhat's your favourite chemical reaction?

It???s a pretty obvious one but I can???t get enough of Tollens' Test or the ???silver mirror test???. Tollens' reagent is used to test for the presence of aldehydes and the result of a positive reaction is the production of silver which coats the inside of glassware. This reaction has allowed me to make some fetching Christmas decorations.

As well as that, I like to put things under the UV lamp in the lab to see if they fluoresce!