Professor Nicola Stanley-Wall holding her sixth-year studies biology project report which she wrote in her final year of secondary school.

I’ve always been interested in biology. I was that child who got the frog spawn out of the pond and watched the tadpoles develop into frogs; and I was the child who worked at the local country park looking at how trees broke down through the action of fungi. I went to the University of East Anglia thinking that I wanted to study Ecology, but during my time there I realised that I preferred the more intricate details of how biology worked; I ended up becoming a specialist in the field of microbiology.

Professor Nicola Stanley-Wall

My work involves studying bacteria. Bacteria are everywhere, but you often need a microscope to see them. Bacteria are typically single cells which form social communities called biofilms. When they are living in a biofilm, they make a sticky matrix and it is this that allows the cells to live together and gives protection from the outside world. Sometimes biofilms can be detrimental: the plaque that builds up on your teeth is an example of a biofilm that can cause harm, and the reason we need to brush our teeth regularly. Some biofilms though are beneficial, such as those that help break down the sewage in processing plants, or that form on plant roots and help growth.

My lab looks at how bacteria make the sticky biofilm matrix. We want to understand how we might be able to stabilise the matrix in situations where the bacteria could be helpful or how to destroy the powerful matrix where the bacteria are not wanted.

Nicola is holding her sixth-year studies biology project report which she wrote in her final year of secondary school.

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