The Comms Team

The John Innes Centre’s Communication and Engagement team deal with media enquiries, issue press releases and public information notices. They were also crucial to the projects completion, aiding in liaising, marketing and exhibition text.



Head of Communications and Engagement

Felicity’s family relocated to Aldburgh, Norfolk, in the late 1970’s from Essex, when her father began an agronomist job in Halesworth.

After Felicity was born her mother decided to re-train as a teacher via Open University. Felicity explains that she has fond memories of her dad looking after her at various campsites near the universities where her mum did her Open University residential courses, they still have a family joke about making jelly without a fridge “after a mishap without one in a campsite somewhere in Wales”.

At school Felicity refused to read any of the “silly grading books” leaving her teachers doubting whether she could read, when in reality, she chose to read science books for fun. She admits to being that “annoying kid who knew all the answers” and loving physics and environmental science at high school. Although she chose not to study Physics at A level, partly due to the fact it was a male dominant subject and therefore “not for girls”.

Having changed her undergraduate degree midcourse, Felicity went on to complete her PhD in Leeds. Having recently taken up her position at the John Innes Centre, Felicity has moved back to Norfolk, where she resides with her parents and her 95 year old Grandfather.

In her free time Felicity loves to play sport, particularly Ultimate Frisbee and hockey. Up until a few years ago she would regularly spend all her free time and spare money on travelling to play Ultimate Frisbee abroad. Unfortunately, a number of injuries prevent her from playing as much now.



Communications and engagement administrator

Recently married Ed took a somewhat inadvertent path to his role at the John Innes Centre, having originally studied in forensic science at university Ed went on to complete teacher training before commencing his current position.

Born and raised in Stratford on Avon, Ed enjoyed school and recalls having had a good group of friends. Having always enjoyed science at school he chose to continue his study of biology into A levels to further his “prospects of a career in forensic science”.

Outside of work Ed’s main hobbies include mountaineering, Scouts and climbing, during which he enjoys the opportunity to work with young people.



Communication Officer

Born into a large family and raised in Norwich, Olly spent his childhood growing up in a large Tudor farm house embellished with “wonky floorboards, low doorways, thick oak beams and a large garden”.

During his school years Olly admits to putting in as little effort as possible to get by, and was more often found up a tree in the garden than revising – “anything to avoid revision”. He reveals his favourite spot in the garden was his hammock, which was “30ft above the ground in a sycamore tree”.

Towards the end of his school years he developed a love of maths and biology, something he attributes to his time spent enjoying nature in the family garden. This led him to study biology further at university.

As a dedicated member of the Sea Scouts, Olly attended weekly for some 8 years. He states the yearly two week trips with the Scouts are among some of his most cherished childhood memories.

Olly is currently in two tennis leagues in Norwich and has a love of handicrafts mainly whittling, carpentry and metal work, although he declares he has little to no skill in any of them. He also considers himself a “coffee nerd” and finds pleasure in cooking and eating “good food”.




Digital Channel’s Specialist

A Norwich boy through and through Andy is a massive football fan, supporting his home team Norwich and a German second division side, St Pauli. He runs “AlongCameNorwich” which is a Norwich City fan site and has also written a book on the politics of football chanting titled “Who are ya? Who are ya? Who are we?”

Although Andy’s parents separated when he was 11 they managed to remain friends and successfully provide him with a “very solid and stable childhood”. Unlike many of his colleagues, Andy found no enjoyment in science at school and particularly disliked chemistry. Rather amusingly he describes his chemistry teacher as being akin to the Harry Potter character, Professor Snape.

Although he didn’t enjoy science at school, Andy claims he does have a “fascination with science and the creative problem solving within it”. Having completed an undergraduate degree in politics and media he decided against doing extra study to gain a PGCE, and so turned to a career in marketing.

However, he later realised he “hated marketing” but enjoyed web design and creating user friendly experiences. This led him to work on web design for the Norfolk County Council and later, for the John Innes Centre.

Andy lives with his wife Jo, who is currently training as a physician’s associate in the National Health Service, and their dog Arthur.



Outreach Curator and Science Historian

Sarah was born into a “West Country family” living in Bristol, but her family later relocated to Stevenage, an upheaval Sarah states she still hasn’t forgiven her parents for. Both Sarah’s parents studied science and were the first in their families to attend university.

Whilst attending the Stevenage Girls School Sarah loved her science lessons. She states that all of the teachers were “very good teachers” with the exception of her physics teacher, consequently she didn’t take her physics O level. She did however take chemistry at A level as a challenge but dropped biology as it was “dull”, “long essays on single cell protozoa spring to mind”.

Whilst studying for her undergraduate, and PhD, Sarah became hooked on the history of science. After a career in academia she joined the John Innes Centre as an outreach curator in 2007.

To counteract a week sitting behind a desk at work she enjoys gardening, bird watching and walking.


Another person we met along the way was Anne..



Research Assistant – Metabolic Biology

Anne attended a local school growing up and recalls being good at most subjects apart from physical education, although she was usually successful at finding the shorts cuts when undertaking the class cross country runs.

Owing to enthusiastic biology and chemistry teachers, Anne was always interested in science. “We did lots of dissections, my mother has never forgotten the time I left a rat in the fridge, and some quite unintentionally explosive experiments. Fortunately, there was little in the way of health and safety in those days and the only casualties were a few burnt ties and blazers”.

For the past 25 years Anne has dedicated every Sunday for 6 months of the year, to the conservation and management of a local ancient woodland. She states there is always something new for her to learn. She spends a lot of her time a midst nature, tracking barbastelle bats and going on woodland night walks. Where she has had the privilege to have witnessed “owls hunting for moths, foxes roaming, glowing insects and all sorts of nocturnal creatures that we are not normally privy to”.

Anne’s love of nature and the countryside formed during her childhood, having been raised “surrounded by hills and Roman remains” in Caerleon, South Wales. Her mother, a retired French teacher, occasionally still works at the local museum whilst her father still owns the original waiting room chair from his years of being a stationmaster.

A critical search for new antibiotics


Within the Molecular Microbiology department, and under the supervision of team-leader Barrie, a group of scientists at the John Innes Centre aim to discover and understand the pathways by which bacteria and fungus produce antibiotics.
As many life-threatening diseases are evolving faster than the drugs used to treat them, it is critically important to develop new antibiotics to continue to treat and prevent future infections.
Some of the team’s present work involves investigating the discovery of a new antibiotic produced by the bacteria found on a species of African ant, that could be used in the treatment of “superbugs” such as MRSA.

I had two weeks to finish my fourth drawing, and create two new ones (including this one) before they were photographed, glued down and framed for their first showing at the John Innes Centre (JIC) 50th celebrations OPEN DAY on September 16th. This was the last drawing of six and time was extremely tight. I went to ground for two solid weeks, only coming out of my studio to scrabble for food, drink and sleep. Luckily I already had a fairly good idea for this last image, having used this same subject to make a sample drawing as part of the initial project proposal.

Sample drawing for LIVES IN SCIENCE

‘Searching for new antibiotics’, Sample drawing,about 5ft x 8ft, double the size of the project drawings


rough for searching for anti biotics

rough sketch for the main drawing


I had already met and photographed Morgan, she is the central figure in the sample drawing, in my race against time I still needed to meet and photograph the others.

The JIC has its own internal house internet. It’s like a whole community all of its own and keeps the scientists connected with everything science and social, for the people who work there with talks, meetings, seminars, cakes, cake events, research updates, staff, group meetings, parties, yoga and Pilates amongst others.

On the events calendar I noticed a Daniel Heine was giving a seminar about his findings into leaf cutter ants and the search for new antibiotics. As usual, I didn’t expect to understand much of the talk, and on that aspect I was right. It was good to see David Hopwood had come in for the talk (he is retired now), and comforting to see a familiar face in a sea of scientists. Although he was coming to the end of his work at JIC to start a job in industry, I was keen to include Daniel in the drawing and thought it would be a nice souvenir for him to remember his time at JIC. Daniel is the last in line in a team searching for antibiotics, researching the chemistry of leaf cutter ants. I arranged to meet him in the chemistry lab. The room looked like something out of Dr Who with its extending fume tubes hanging down from the ceiling.

It is often said that Germans don’t have a sense of humour however, Daniel was very jolly and always looking at the funny side of what he does including, pretending to be an evil doctor death as he made audible crunching sounds  pulverizing the frozen, dead ants in a test tube. ‘We have to do this in order to break the hard shell on the ant to get the contents of their stomach which is where the antibiotics are produced’ . These ants are bred at the UEA by Matt Hutchings who works in collaboration with the team. The ants are weighed individually and recorded, each ant with its own identifying number. ‘ Aw I feel so bad, they are so cute’ Daniel states, ‘I don’t know what people will think that we use dead ants to research with’. He also told me that he was glad I was there, it helped him focus on the boring bit of this particular job.

after long study and a long PhD and some years of post doc experience it is necessary to do simple and stupid work’

The funny thing is you meet people of all nationalities here; being  your stereotypes then you realise they are not all the same.. We consider leaf cutter ants as something very special for their lifestyle. But in Panama in agriculture they cause huge loss of crops..They have impressive ants nests at UEA, they grow quickly if they have enough leaves.’

Barry's meeting

Barrie’s group meeting for Daniel’s last day


With the others who appear in the drawing, Barry, Eleni and Siobhan, the camera had to do its speedy work, there was no time! Eleni is Greek. She is fairly petit and full of energy and enthusiasm, she said she does everything really fast. She is also very enthusiastic about science communication and art too. I would call her ‘whizzy’, (such a shame I didn’t have more time to sketch and talk to her!) As with Eleni, it was a rush job with Siobhan. She had been away looking after her two young children during the summer holiday, and managed to get a friend to babysit so she could come in and do a little work in the lab, for me to have a little time with her. Siobhan came to work after a career break to raise her young children, she began work at the JIC as a Daphne Jackson Trust postdoctoral fellow. This allowed her to work part-time, while re-training in a new field. She is currently working as a part-time postdoctoral researcher. She has benefited from theJIC’s many family friendly work policies and is passionate about making it easier for women and men to continue their research careers after having children.

studio TWO SAB

Studio, start of the drawing


introducing colour


letter spacing

Searching for new antibiotics copy

just about finished

The Team


Project Leader – Molecular Microbiology

Barry's meeting

Barrie’s group meeting.

Born in Sheffield, Barrie spent much of his childhood fishing, a hobby he continues to enjoy. Barrie and his three siblings were raised by their father a painter and decorator, and their mother. Although he enjoyed science at school he didn’t find his passion for it until attending University, were he met an inspiring tutor, with whom he conducted his PhD.

Having spent 16 years in scientific industry, running the research and development of small companies he made the decision to work at the John Innes Centre to be able to choose the direction of his own research. He has also founded his own company that is based in Cambridge, which he advises scientifically from his position on the board.

Along with playing sports with his two young sons, Barrie enjoys coaching his youngest son’s football team as well as help coach at the local village cricket club. Barrie’s two brothers have followed in their father’s footsteps and become self-employed painters.

I was always interested in the natural world, and sports. I spent much of my childhood fishing, especially competitive matches and almost made the national youth squad.”



Postdoctoral Scientist

Morgan was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, USA and later attended university in Dallas. Both of her parents were teachers and she was a bit of a “swot” at school, spending little time socialising.

With a love of doing punnet squares at high school, a summer internship at university led her away from her intended major in English literature and into the realm of science.

In her spare time, Morgan enjoys a variety of arts and crafts, baking, writing and watching period and crime drama on T.V. She also enjoys listening numerous podcasts and visiting museums.

I did a summer internship my first year at university. It was a revelation seeing what science actually was like and seeing how all the pieces came together to form a




Postdoctoral Scientist

Daniel in the chemistry lab

Daniel in the chemistry lab

Born into a working-class family in eastern Germany, Daniel was the first in his family to obtain a university degree. Going to university wasn’t a popular choice at the time as most people were encouraged to belong to the working class.

As a student he was interested in various subjects including history and sports, but his love of natural sciences prevailed and drove him into his current career. Daniel states that he really loved to study models as they helped him to understand how the world and all living organisms work.

Fascinated by chemicals that are produced by living organisms, Daniel is happy to have found his position in Norwich. Having already heard of the “famous” John Innes Centre and the work of his now team leader, Barrie, he decided to take the chance to apply for an opportunity. He believes that “science is not a normal job, it’s a personal thing – you can choose the people you work with in each field”.

With a love of meeting new and interesting people, Daniel throws his backpack on and goes travelling whenever he has time for it.

“I have had the chance to move to the UK for a part of my life, to conduct my research, and make friends with wonderful people from all over the world.”


Research Fellow

Siobhan, the 2nd of five children, was born in Galway, Ireland. Her dad who is Indian-Malaysian, met her Irish mother during their first year at university in Galway. An encounter that was to be repeated by Siobhan herself, who also met her future husband at the same university in their first year of study.

Apart from living in Galway, a city that she dearly misses, Siobhan and her family relocated to Ottawa when she was 8. She states that in retrospect her mother must have been “mad to agree” to the move, having 5 young children to cope with in a foreign country.

Her family boasts an array of accomplished careers; from psychology to jewellery making. As Siobhan progressed through school she decided she wanted to become a fashion designer, something she finds hilarious now as her fashion sense can be described as “practical at best”.

She fell in love with biology at the age of 15, and gave no further thought to her career path but merely kept doing what she enjoyed. This lead to a degree in microbiology.

Having relocated a few times to forward her career, Siobhan, her husband and two young children are now settled in Norwich. She states she is fortunate enough to have an understanding boss who supports her part-time hours, allowing her to spend more time being a mum.

I love that science is essentially all about trying to make the world a better place – trying to learn more and improve and invent technologies.”


Postgraduate Student

Eleni & Daniel

Eleni with Daniel

For Eleni school was a magical time. She took part in plenty of extracurricular activities but still found the time to study and get excellent grades – something her present self is now envious of.

She grew up in Piraeus, Athens, Greece and is the first scientist in her extended family as well as the first to pursue a PhD. Having so many interests at school she struggled to decide what she wanted to do as a career. She decided to take a job orientation test, the results of which were journalist, actress and scientist. With the latter being the most intriguing to her she decided to study agricultural biotechnology at university.

In addition to having the opportunity to live and work abroad, namely Nairobi, Kenya, she states that she feels privileged to work within the scientific community among such a wide array of people. In her spare time Eleni enjoys cooking and baking recipes from all over the world and travelling.

I took a job orientation test, it gave me the three fields that match my personality: journalism, arts and science. The idea of science inspired me most.”

Cancer drugs from periwinkles & Producing vaccines in plants.

Two groups conducting ground breaking research within the John Innes Centre’s Biological Chemistry department are; Sarah O’Connor and George Lomonossoff’s teams.
Sarah’s team works towards harnessing the metabolic power of plants, creating opportunities to facilitate the production of plant molecules that have pharmaceutical value. This includes the study of the production of vinblastine, a cancer fighting drug, naturally produced by the Madagascan periwinkle (Catharanthus Roseus).
George’s team are at the forefront of scientific research into the production of novel vaccines, including the cultivation of virus like particles by plants.
These particles are non-infectious as they don’t contain the nucleic acid of an active virus particle, but can be used as a powerful immune stimulator and therefore as vaccines. This new system offers a quicker and cheaper way to culture vaccines for human viruses, such as polio and zika.
For this drawing I chose to integrate these two areas of research, in order to include both in my list of six. Cancer fighting research in particular is close to my heart, as it is too many people outside of science, because I have a son who as a child, had several treatments for cancer.

I first met Sarah O’Connor’s team in June, when I met Lorenzo and Scott as they worked in the lab. Both were really pleasant, helpful and wiling to be part of the project. Lorenzo told me that the special thing about their team was that they were musical, Scott even keeps a guitar in his office. On other occasions when meeting members of the team they have all confessed to having a musical skill.

Both Sarah and George, like many of the team leaders, spend much of their time reading and writing papers and applying for grants –not very exciting as far as drawings of world-leading scientists are concerned, but these people are key to their teams. Many of Sarah’s team had the ambition to work with her specifically and had travelled from all over the world to Norwich and to the John Innes Centre to do so.

Sarah at work

Sarah working in her office, surrounded by papers


When I first met George I was greeted by a round, jolly man in his 60’s, wearing a short sleeved striped rugby top and braces, to hold his trousers up. He was unlike any of the other scientists I’d met; boyish, jolly, extremely easy to chat to and very bright. We discovered we had a connection with Cecilia Scurfield, who I drew for my project ‘I’m not Dead Yet’ in 2013.

George’s story is a particularly interesting one:

Given my British accent, it often surprises people to learn that I was actually born in Montreal, Canada and am the son of a Canadian mother and a Russian (naturalised British) father.
When my father died (before I was born), my mother brought the family to the UK, where we first lived in London before moving to Cambridge where my Russian Grandmother (Raisa) lived. When we moved there we lived in a house, (9 Adam’s Rd) owned by Dr Alice Roughton (Cecilia Scurfield’s Auntie, Cecelia grew up next to George) who was a noted social reformer.
Prior to WWII Dr Roughton had opened her house to refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and continued this tradition after the war, with many of the refugees then being from Eastern Europe. Thus, I got to mix with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and interests and one of my main memories of my childhood there was the constant discussions of politics and science – often quite vehement and in a variety of accents.’

I was looking for an opportunity to draw George in action, hopefully being able to show his character rather than just being sat in front of his computer. I heard that he was going to do a talk as part of the Pint of Science events (

I went along with my project intern Sami. The event was at the York Tavern, I had no idea what to expect apart from a pint of beer and talk about science. It was so much more, even for me, with zero understanding or particular interest in science, it was wonderfully entertaining and relaxed.

With the feel of a pub quiz; the seating was arranged to face a projection screen and questionnaires were handed out. With the addition of a science element and the added entertainment of some very jolly real life scientists telling you what they do. There was also some comedy thrown in.

During the event, we had to make molecules out of pipe cleaners and do a science sketch on a beer mat – I of course did one of George. There were prizes for winners too, this was a wonderful way for a novice like me to learn, with a pint in hand, and surrounded by enthusiastic young people I learnt that some of the first victims of Polio were visitors to Norwich’s Earlham Park.

What really strikes me about the scientific community is the sense of shared excitement about learning and discovery. It’s a bit like life…much of the day to day stuff i.e. shopping and cleaning, lab work can be a bit repetitive and a bit of a chore at times, but then something happens, the birth of a child, a marriage, the discovery of a new vaccine, molecule, antibiotic, something new and exciting that brings change and the day to day stuff is all worth it.

One of the best things about the Pint of Science event was Roger Castells-Graells. I never realised that scientists were funny. Shame on me! Roger’s talk could have been a show at the Edinburgh festival. After seeing him perform I thought I must include him in the drawing. I arranged to meet him at the John Innes Centre, he arrived with a big smile and a box full of colourful plastic 3D models of molecules and virus structures.

Roger said he was very busy, ‘tonight I am going to infiltrate 30 plants’ – which sounds to me like something James Bond might say. Here is Roger talking about the production of virus-like particles in plants:

Roger studied in his home town of Barcelona and told me that since he was a child he loved plants;

The first house we lived in had an interior garden with glass. My mother said when I was leaning to walk I was sticking my head inside the glass.I liked watching plants and, as with all my family like plants and gardening. I did my undergraduate in bio technology and then did an internship in plant resistance to pathogens at Munich age 21.

I went to Cambridge on a three day symposium, the speaker was a man called David Balcom, a few days before the event I had written him an email, telling him – I was interested in talking to him. I had thought I would go traveling after I had graduated, perhaps working in different labs. I had a glimpse of what David Balcom was doing working with RNA in plants. I talked with David about the PhD rotation program and thought that was a cool idea, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do but I wanted to work with plants. I applied and got it.

During the first weeks of the PhD Rotation you get exposed to different labs and departments. One of mine was with George Lomonossoff, he was so nice and friendly I had a good feeling. I felt enthusiastic and I fell in love with viruses.

George had lots of ideas and l learnt something new every day. George is super smart and super relaxed, that’s why he does so many nice things……When they explained to me about infiltrating the leaf of a plant to make a vaccine, I couldn’t believe such a thing was possible’.

I ask Roger where he sees himself in 10 years’ time, he replied ‘either up in space, or on the earth’, he is interested in going up into space and discovering what is up there. He is only 23 so he has plenty of time to train to be an astronaut.

Meeting George’s team I note that it is a very international group, with Russian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Thai, British and French members.

George's group meeting

George’s meeting, first a presentation, then….

George's meeting 2

homemade cakes, sweets,chocolate and coffee,

George's meeting 3

and analysis and postmortem on the research findings and the next steps


The table is full of homemade cakes (a feature at the John Innes Centre), chocolate and sweets, contributions from all. George is like the groups best grandad.

Daniel also appears in my drawing, but he had to be speedily photographed as time was running out for me on the last two drawings; this one and the Search for Anti biotics.

Daniel loves to play American football and was sporting a leg brace from a complicated fracture, in action on the field.

Drugs:vaccines Rough drawing

rough for the drawing, all are happy with it!

mapping out the drawing

lots of elements to squeeze in; mapping out the drawing.

drugs&vaccs studio 2

George is looking good, I am enjoying the colour!

drugs:vacs studio 3

still trying to work out placement of visuals from these research areas, I want to keep colours restricted

Vaccines_drugs from plants_2 copy 4

after much re-drawing of George’s face and Sarah’s hands the drawing is finally finished




Project Leader – Biological Chemistry

Sarah at work

Sarah working in her office, surrounded by papers

Born in New York, Sarah was a good student and went to university in Chicago. Her father was a chemistry lecturer and her mother, a retired nurse.

Although influenced by her father being a chemistry lecturer, Sarah always had an interest in science. She is now a project leader of a research group in plant biochemistry.

For as long as I can remember I loved science. There are several chemists in my family and they inspired me”





Project Leader – Biological Chemistry

George was born in Montreal, Canada, to a Canadian mother and Russian father. Following the death of his father, his mother moved the family to England, initially London and then to Cambridge where his Russian grandmother lived.

It was there that he lived in the house of a noted social reformer, who had opened her house to refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. During this time, he recalls mixing with a wide variety of people from an array different backgrounds and being privy to many political and scientific discussions.

With his family having an engineering background, he was exposed to science early on, with his first scientific interest being in astronomy. George attended the Cambridge High School for boys, previously attended by Syd Barret and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. As the institution that formed the model for the school in Pink Floyds album “The Wall”, George humorously states that he can identify the teacher that was told to “leave them kids alone”. George didn’t take school too seriously until sixth form and describes his memories of school being more akin to those described in “Baggy Trousers” by Madness.

Outside of his work in science, he has an interest in history, particularly from the 19th century onwards.

“For a time we lived in a house full of refugees fleeing Nazi or communist persecution. One of my main memories was the constant discussions of politics and science – often quite vehement and in a variety of accents!”



Postdoctoral Scientist

Scott in the lab

Scott in the lab

Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, Scott always had an interest in science. He and his family were fortunate enough to enjoy many vacations to their holiday cottage, where his parents maximised his exposure to nature.

Both his parents were teachers and Scott claims he probably drove his own teachers crazy as he was “bored and impatient for the majority” of his school years. His parents introduced him to science at a young age; there were always science texts in the house and they frequently explored nature together.

Scott states he has always been interested in the larger scope questions – “are we alone in the universe” and “how did it all start”.

Aside from science Scott’s passions include sports, nature, music, art, psychology and human performance.

My parents introduced me to science at a young age, there were always science texts at home. We frequently explored nature”



Postdoctoral Scientist

Initially born in Reutlingen Germany, Daniel and his family later moved to the Island of Usedom, Germany. Both his brothers went on to follow his parents into the health sector, working as nurses.

Daniel refers to himself as a somewhat mediocre student at high school, although he had a good rapport with his teachers he paid little attention to subjects he found boring. He claims that maths, chemistry and physics were his least favourite subjects. He later came to particularly enjoy biology as it was the most “practical” and “made sense” to him, unlike chemistry.

One Christmas, Daniel’s uncle who was a scientist, gifted him a light microscope. Using this he tried to investigate everything. After studying agriculture his interest was sparked by agro-biotechnology and since then he has been driven towards a career in science.

Aside from science Daniel has long enjoyed American football, both playing and strategy researching.

My uncle gave me a light microscope for Christmas … I literally tried to microscope everything which was too slow to escape.”



Research Assistant

Lorenzo in the lab

Lorenzo in the lab

Lorenzo grew up in small village on the mountains of Abruzzo, in central Italy. His father had a small building company, whilst his mother worked as a seamstress. Both were born during the Second World War and grew up in poor families, receiving little education. They hoped that Lorenzo and his sister could have a better start and a better education.

Fascinated by science as a child, he and his friends would build “laboratories” in their friend’s garage and conduct science experiments using things they had collected from the local junkyard. Such experiments included making a Volta’s battery, microphones from headphones and alcohol propelled rockets.

He started his academic life as an “average” student, receiving good grades but being more interested in having fun. Lorenzo went on to gain an honours degree in biology after discovering a real interest and enjoyment in studying it at university.

Lorenzo has a love for music and has played the saxophone and clarinet since the age of ten. He also has a music degree. Fishing in mountain streams and lakes is also a passion of his.

We started a “lab” in one of my friend’s garage. We made many interesting (and sometimes very dangerous) experiments……microphones from headphones and alcohol propelled rockets.”



Research Student


Currently a PhD student at the John Innes Centre, Roger grew up near Barcelona, Spain. His parents both studied computer science at university and brought their son a microscope when he was young, with which he “discovered the microscopic world”.

As a young child, Roger enjoyed gardening and going mushroom foraging in the mountains, both skills he learnt from his grandparents. His love of plants was apparent from an early age, with his mum recalling him putting his head into the conservatory garden to watch the plants grow as soon as he could walk. He also enjoyed the study of insects and kept an aquarium, turtles and a water dragon.

Roger enjoyed school and at the age of sixteen he attended a summer science camp, where he developed his love of science research among like-minded people and decided he wanted to become a scientist. Having been inspired at a symposium, Roger applied for a PhD position, it was during this time that he came across George and his team. He refers to George as being ‘nice and friendly’, he immediately had a good feeling and fell in love with viruses.

“Since I was a kid I liked to study insects and I had an aquarium, turtles and a water dragon.”



Postdoctoral Scientist

Born and raised in a small town in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. He and his brother were brought up by their father, a civil engineer, and mother, who was a teacher.

At school Trinh-Don admits to having been one of the better students academically but was too shy to par take in physical education or sports. Given his native countries cultural values, including the reliance upon herbal medicine and the myths surrounding the outside world, Trinh-Don wanted to understand what it was in the plants that “made people healthy or ill” and “figure out facts scientifically” instead of learning government dictated facts.

Alongside this aspiration he wanted to earn a good living, and so both he decided to pursue a career in science. Initially completing his undergraduate degree of biotechnology in Ho Chi Minh and then his PhD in biochemistry at the University of Calgary, Canada.

Trinh-Don and his wife share a young daughter and both work at the John Innes Centre. Apart from science he states that he has an interest in politics, history and religion.



Postdoctoral Scientist

With her roots originating in Moscow, Yulia is a self-confessed “city girl”. Both her parents are engineers. Being the “best in the class” at school Yulia recalls how she always wanted to study biology and enjoyed visiting science museums with her father.

Aside from her work she appreciates art, literature and visiting big cities.


The Coen Lab part 2

I left this story with the first rough for the drawing not being received too well by the team. The consensus of opinion was that it was rather static and that it should represent more of the element of team work, as with other drawings. I remember the day at JIC when it came to a head. I went up to the department, and joined several of the team for their 11am tea break in their social area. Set up in a corridor with the feel of a cosy bed sit area with sofa’s, a small kitchen sink with a few shelves with mugs, a central large coffee table with tins/packets of biscuits. The staff at JIC do seem to love their cakes and biscuits but surprisingly they all look pretty healthy.

During their break time I talked to Lucy Copsey about the issues raised concerning my failed rough. She was really helpful, she took me to the benches where the snap dragons live. She described to me what the Coen lab is all about. Although a large proportion of the detail goes over my head, I did start to make a real connection with what drives the research for this team. On this day, I was also fortunate enough to bump into Rico Coen; we had a constructive discussion about the subject and what I should be searching to portray in the drawing.

Following this day, something shifted. I felt inspired to create an image that would hopefully give a sense of the way something grows, and why it grows that way. That appealed to me; I am always inspired to convey movement and put that sense of movement from a three-dimensional subject with the restrictions and challenges of a two-dimensional art form. The drawing would be bursting with colour and luminosity to represent the computer imagery which is such a feature of this research area.

Coen lab rough 2

2nd rough

Coen Lab rough 3

3rd rough

After making several rough plans I took my sketch book in to show whoever was about, at the same time having arranged  to meet up with Chris Whitewoods. I had a slot waiting for him in my planned drawing . Now I was running on a tight schedule, so once again, I had to rely on taking lots of snap shots with my little camera, before whizzing back to the studio. The roughs were enthusiastically received, and one in particular. What a relief; I was grateful to Lucy who really helped me absorb the information, I needed to reach this point, even though I did think my head was going to explode with so much talk about ‘snap dragons’ and why they are the colour they are with each different species.

Coen Lab studio 1

the main drawing begins starting with white pigment and chalk on painted paper


Coen Lab studio 2

introduction of colour, always scarey and exciting

Coen Lab studio 3

colour clash, oranges and pinks not quite working


Coen Lab studio 4

more blue and red, less orange and pink

Coen Lab studio 5

thinking about the lettering and colour balance

The coen lab copy 2

the finished drawing

This is the most colourful piece of work I have ever done, ever! It reminds me of a science fiction poster.

The Team


Research Scientist

The daughter of a primary school teacher and a chartered electrical engineer, Karen was born and raised in Colney, London.

After the sudden loss of her father during her school O-level exams, Karen struggled to get the grades needed to be able to take her place at the Laboratory of the Government Chemist in London. She didn’t do well as expected, but with the encouragement of her biology teacher, she went on to retake her exams at college to follow a career in science.

After reapplying to the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, Karen became an assistant scientific officer and studied for a BTEC National Certificate in Sciences whilst working. Later, having completed a degree in biological sciences at the University of East Anglia, she started working at the John Innes Centre where she has now been for 28 years.

Outside of work, Karen spends time bringing up her daughter, who has also pursued a career in science, and enjoys photography, reading, and travelling.

“As a teenager, I always had my nose in a science fiction book and was fascinated with space and science”



Research Scientist

Lucy grew up with two older sisters and her cousin, in Deal, Kent. Her father was in the Royal Marines and later became a carpenter. Her mother, a stay at home mum whilst Lucy and her sisters were growing up, later went on to get her “dream job” working at a plant nursery.

At school, Lucy was a dependable, shy and loyal individual, often defending those she felt were being oppressed by the more popular and domineering students. Although she enjoyed science subjects at school, her study of physics was somewhat hindered by her sister’s antics. When she misbehaved, she was sent to the physics teacher where she would annoy Lucy during her lessons.

As a young child, Lucy’s parents nurtured her interest in nature, rock formation and physical geography, which undoubtedly influenced her to study biology at university. Although she states that if her maths teaching at secondary school had not been so poor, she probably would have pursued a career in it.

Her father had a keen interest in astronomy while her mother enjoyed painting and gardening. Lucy recalls her mother growing Antirrhinums when she was a child and she could spell Antirrhinum by the time she was 7 years old.

With a quirky style, Lucy, like her mother, enjoys sewing, knitting and patchwork making.

“I do a lot of craft. I have a quirky style and am drawn towards asymmetry and detail”



Postdoctoral Scientist

Originally born in Stoke, Chris grew up in Darlington with his brother and parents. His father is a chemical sales engineer and his mother is a records clerk at a hospital, having been a stay at home mum.

With the encouragement of his parents he achieved good grades at a school which he describes as “not being great”. He admits to “talking back a lot”, but he enjoyed most subjects, especially science.

After a particularly boring summer job operating rides at a theme park, Chris decided he never wanted a “proper” job again, which led him to apply for a summer research project in a lab the following summer and he has “been doing research ever since”.

With a passion for learning new things and problem solving, Chris has taken on many a DIY task over the past year in the house he and his wife have bought together, leaving him with little time to enjoy his other hobbies such as reading, gardening and archery.

“I love trying to understand how plants can build such beautiful shapes”



Research Scientist

Having experienced a loving and supportive upbringing, Samantha was encouraged as one of the first in her family to attend university and higher education. Looking back on it now, she remarks that the world of university was relatively unknown to her family but that they all looked up to her uncle, who had gone on to become a scientist.

Samantha attended what she refers to as a “pretty terrible” school, although this did have its bonuses. Being one of the brighter students she stuck out, which helped her confidence. Now working at the John Innes Centre, Samantha enjoys the “level playing field” that having a career in science provides her with, “we are all here to do science and that is that”.

“I am passionate about inspiring encouraging young people, particularly girls to enjoy science”


Research Scientist

Man was born and raised in Changsha city, Hunan province, China, the only child of a pharmaceutical company salesman and his tailor wife. From learning traditional Chinese painting at young age, she went on to graduate from the Hunan Agricultural University and later become a research assistant at the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai.

In 2010 Man relocated to the UK with her husband. Once here, not only did she become a research assistant at the John Innes Centre but also earnt a Master’s degree in medical statistics at the University of East Anglia.

While Man has always had an interest in the world of science, upon learning that her father had a serious disease she decided to focus on molecular biology in the hope that a cure for his disease could be found.


I come from Hunan Province, I learnt traditional Chinese painting when I was very young”


The Seed Collectors

The Germplasm Resources Unit (GRU) which is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), holds a comprehensive collection of both historic and current seeds, from agricultural crops including the largest UK small grain cereal germplasm, The Watkins Collection and JIC pea collection.

The aim of the collection is to provide access to adaptive variation within crop species, potentially producing species with improved resistance to drought and disease, higher grain yield or improved nutritional value; thus contributing to food security.

The collections are kept within a purpose built facility on the JIC site and are available to researchers, commercial companies and interested growers. The small team looking after the GRU resources was led until his retirement in August 2017, by Mike Ambrose.When I first met Mike ( I like to refer to him as The Seed Wizard), I had a good feeling about drawing him and GRU.

Mike heads a small team (although, he has just retired), the space they work in is very different to other work spaces at the JIC. On the left as you go into the building is a large, high central desk, with brown packets of seeds at one end, and high stools around it. There is a large poster on the wall about wheat, and an old display of wheat varieties on the floor against a display board.

The front office, has the feel of one of those 1950’s Elstree film studios private detective offices, the desks are surrounded by heaps of what I can only describe as papers, files, books, jackets, boots and stuff – there is barely enough room to fit in any people or computers, but there is a familiarity and friendly feel about it.

The seed library itself, is a cold store room crammed full of metal shelves, packed to the rafters with layers of brown labelled envelopes, each holding its own unique seed variety.

Everyone at the JIC knows who Mike Ambrose is and the important role of the GRU. I think his face is full of character, it is the sort I like to draw. There is also a sense of calm about him. When working at the JIC there is often a telltale sign that he is close by, his beautifully sculpted silver electric upright scooter can be seen in many corridors, with his well-worn hat and stick hanging on the handle bars. Mike was born with deformed hips and had many operations in his early life to correct the problems to aid his mobility. He says the JIC has been massively supportive in helping him solve the problem of getting about on site by providing him with this beautiful scooter. A great solution to the problem. This is the third one he has worn out over the years.

I arrange to draw him at the pea enclosure where he is in his element it is his favorite place at work. Its a hot sunny day, very bright; I can now see why he wears his hat! After rushing back to the office to grab my hat and sunglasses, I get to work shadowing him as he makes his way along the rows of bright green pea plants with his clip board. He is recording each characteristic of pea species against earlier records to check details are consistent and fill in any gaps in the database. Although I am really hot and the sun is trying to break our stride, I am so happy to have this opportunity to draw Mike who strikes a similar pose as we move along the rows. I have about an hour just to watch him and do a few scribbles.

Liz Sayers is one of the first scientists I met when I started my research. She showed me the green houses of wheat and barley, next to the GRU building ‘I can watch them grow out of the office window’, she tells me as she gives me the low down on what they do and why they do it. I asked when would be a good time to catch her in her most typical work practice and she said ‘in August, surrounded by wheat in the JIC field at Bawburgh Farm‘. Sure enough and luckily for me, slightly earlier in August when I was at the farm with Simon Orford watching him launch the drone, I saw Liz across the field surrounded as promised, by wheat.

Bent over with cutters in hand, like an image from bygone days, even Liz’s clothes fitted the image of a peasant working the land in the 19th century, with her faded blue cotton jacket, baggy old green trousers, black boots, and untamed long curly hair. I had dreams and plans of standing for hours drawing scientists at work, unfortunately as has been the case in this project, there is no time to stand around and draw her; the camera must be my tool, (as with many artists before me).

I want to have Mike as the key figure in the drawing, I always like to give a sense of movement to my figures and I see an opportunity in this drawing to do so. I send my preliminary rough to the team.

Ist Rough for The seed collection GRU

Ist Rough for The seed collection GRU


I now have two of my three scientists for the drawing, so studio work begins…

GRU studio 1

drawing begins


As with Liz, there is no time for sketching on site, so I will take some snap shots of Simon Orford, he is hard to pin down. This is a very busy time of year for him, timing on the crop trials is critical. He says it makes him worry terribly and quite often gives him sleepless nights.

Simon is new to the team, but not the JIC. He is known primarily for his work on the new Watkins Collection. As part of crop genetics, his work in this field will be a valuable addition to the unit. I sense a youthful energy about him, he says that ‘every day I have to pinch myself to remind me how lucky I am to have this job, and be doing what I am doing after coming from such humble beginnings’.

Simon takes me and two visiting work experience students up to the Bawburgh farm site to watch him undertake his weekly task of flying the drone, which records the growth and development, of the trial crops week by week. I am glad to have the opportunity of including the drone in the drawing; drones play a crucial role in crop research and saving many man hours of recording by hand.

GRU studio 2

I have Simon now


GRU studio 3.JPG

GRU studio 4.JPG

the drawing is complete.

The seed collectors copy 2.jpg

The Team


Senior Scientist – Crop Genetics

Mike sketch 2

Mike in the Pea enclosure

Having experienced a somewhat disrupted childhood, due to ill health and his family relocating numerous times, Mike states that his school years were “not the best of times”.

After one particular stay in hospital, Mike reflects on how breath-taking the sight of spring was. After seeing the sky for his 3 month stay in the ward, he found the change in the trees and shrubs amazing.

He went on to develop a love of the natural world and was glued to all the black and white animal documentaries on TV. Although his initial interest was in biology, particularly animals, a Saturday gardening job sparked his interest in botany and he hasn’t looked back.

All of Mike’s hobbies show an aspect of creativity and involvement, including gardening, visual arts and contemporary music.

I had a Saturday gardening job in my first year of A levels; and that sparked my interest in botany and have never looked back”



Research Assistant

Having grown up in Cambridge, Liz is the daughter of parents with a “make do and mend” attitude. With a countryside background, she spent her childhood stealing apples from her uncle’s orchard and driving tractors.

After taking science at O-level she went on to study biology and plant biology at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technologies, alongside working at the Plant Breeding Institute.

Since starting at the John Innes Centre in 1990, Liz has been involved in many research areas including sugar beet breeding and research into orange wheat blossom midge, before becoming part of the Germplasm Resources Unit team.

I steered my first tractor sitting on my cousin’s knee when I was 7, almost ended up in the “dyke” (ditch)”.



Research Assistant

Born and raised in Norfolk, Simon enjoyed a carefree childhood on the family’s small holding near Diss. Here, his family would pick potato and beans by hand, and hand hoe sugar beet.

Football was Simon’s main interest at school and subsequently he did as little as possible to get by academically. This caused no alarm to his parents, they let him find his own way.

Despite having an interest in science, he didn’t see himself developing a career in it. It wasn’t until he attended agricultural college and had “an amazing stroke of good fortune”, that he found an opportunity to have a career in science.

Endearingly Simon’s main hobbies include “amusing” his family, his wife Rebecca and young children, Molly and Samuel. Coming from an agricultural upbringing he feels fortunate to have found a career in plant science, “to be at the leading edge of research but still be connected to the land is a great place to be”.

‘From the age of 12 when I was expected to drive tractors, pluck turkeys, bag potatoes and be prepared to work long days’

A Friendly, Yet Elusive Group

The focal point of the work of senior crop geneticist Dr Chris Ridout and his team is crop improvement and development, with particular attention given to barley and brassicas. One fascinating area of their current research includes disease resistance and immunity among the brassica species (uncovering the genetics behind what makes some varieties more resistant to diseases than others). Their work stands to be beneficial to industry, academia and research institutes alike.
In my practice as an artist, I like to work on at least two pieces at a time; one drawing quite often feeds the development of another. When work begins it is like nervously dipping your toe in the water; but once you are in, you feel differently and as the work progresses a better understanding and approach develop for the works that follow. Compared with my first drawing ‘Microscopy’, I am feeling a little more at ease when approaching this second one.

The first two people I draw are; Adam Casey, an MSc Student practicing laboratory work while completing a research project and, Post-doctoral Research Assistant and general ‘King Pin’, Dr Henk-Jan Schoonbeek (I could not have done a drawing of this team without including Henk). He is Dutch and has a noticeable presence in the lab,this is partly due to the fact he mentors the post graduate students, but also because of his typically Dutch man stature; very tall and slim. While drawing Henk and Adam working together at the fume chamber, he would stand up from his stool to get something and tap one of the light pulleys which hang from the ceiling, with his head as a comical gesture. I also sketched them cutting out small discs of leaf, approximately 2mm in diameter, from various Brassica napus (rapeseed) specimens. There was something about this activity that reminded me of inventing imaginative things to do with my children in the holidays when they were young. In basic terms, these leaf discs would then be submerged in solutions of bacteria, in order to see how the plant responds. After spending short yet valuable time with Henk and Adam, ideas for the drawing begin to form in my head.

For this piece I intend to include Dr Chris Ridout as team leader. His involvement in growing heritage barley, brewing beer at his own brewery company and his part in brewing the beer for JIC 50th anniversary celebrations, are interesting additions to his research (nothing to do with the fact that I like a pint!). However trying to catch Chris was a whole new challenge in itself although to be fair, he has been extremely helpful in the research of his department. Chris suggests ‘Breeders Day’; he and Rachel Wells (another scientist I am trying to pin down for the drawing) will be amongst some of the scientists on site and out in the fields, talking to invited delegates. Breeders Day is an annual event much enjoyed by its visitors, amongst the invited guests are people from several Indian institutions, universities, seed companies and farmers. It provides an opportunity to hear first-hand from scientists about their latest research on crop genetics and the development of new varieties, which are grown with the aim of benefiting both farmers and consumers. The delegates are split into several groups and guided around the various research sites across both the JIC and the Bawburgh farm. They are greeted by a scientist with a display board who gives them a brief explanation of their particular research. The day is a great success, not only because of the interesting science and seeing the people involved in this world, but it also has the added bonus of a lunchtime hog roast in a big empty barn.

As with the previous drawing, I send two initial roughs to the team members for their feedback. It is essential that the drawings make sense to the scientists I am drawing, it is for them to tell me if the story works, so their feedback is extremely helpful and constructive.

ist rough Science for Industry

First rough

2nd rough, Science for Industry

Second rough

The second rough wins the day, drawing begins.

Drawing begins Science for Industry1

Drawing in the studio begins

an idea for a bottle of rape seed oil?

an idea for a bottle of rape seed oil?

I need one more lab member for the drawing; there is a gap waiting for him on the left. I think Sujit Tha Shrestha is perfect for this, he is a visiting scientist originally from Nepal. Sujit has a very interesting background story; I will talk more about him later under ‘Scientist’s Stories’. He was born in a small town called Bode in Nepal, his family used to run a yoghurt making business. When I met Sujit, I showed him some of the work I was doing; he beamed with enthusiasm and said he could not draw but really wanted to draw an image to express how he feels about his life in science.

‘I always want to draw a gradually growing tree (branches and leaves) in which a bird (me) made a nest (my family in the UK), to express my feelings to my boss (DAN NYE at CN Seeds ltd.) that the more that tree grows with lots of branches covered full of leaves (i.e. growth of the company) it will make me feel the nest I have made is safer from rain, hail stone and even storms (i.e. myself and my family are safe in the UK regardless of whatever ups and downs life throws to me). Hence, only thing that motivate me to work hard is growth of the company.’

Sujit and colour appear

Sujit and colour appear


Lives in Science, almost finished

almost finished

The Team


Senior Scientist – Crop Genetics

As a hardworking single mum, Rachel has been working for the John Innes Centre for 15 years. Born and raised in the suburbs of Norwich and brought up by her dad, a carpet fitter and her mother, a care assistant and childminder.

Racheal regards herself as having been a conscientious student, she “was tidy, on time and always got good grades”, until she got a “shock to the system” after receiving an F for her A level maths exam.

She had hoped to become a vet but with her grades not allowing it, she instead went on to a degree in molecular biology and genetics. It was whilst doing her degree that she partook in a plant science module and her interest was sparked. From then on she was hooked, plants were the only way to go and she became determined to work at the John Innes Centre.

To “help turn off” her brain Rachel enjoys climbing, surfing and African tribal style belly dance, although she has little time for these in her busy schedule. Racheal states that being a fulltime scientist and mother is hard but rewarding, her young daughter now also aspires to be “a scientist and a mum” just like her.

I was a good student at school, tidy, on time, conscientious, always got good grades…..until I got an F in an A level math exam, that was a shock to the system



Senior Scientist – Crop Genetics

Chris, born and raised in Cheshire, attended a choir and grammar school, and always had an interest in science. His interest in finding out how things work led him to enjoy reading science books, investigating rock pools, and playing with chemistry sets.

His father worked for customs and excise whilst his mother was a stay at home mum. Although money was tight for the family they enjoyed holidays in the UK, usually somewhere with spectacular scenery and quite often at the coast.

Chris’ father often took him to microbreweries and taught him how to use a hydrometer, an interest he has carried on later in life as he now brews his own beer. His wife also has a background in science, she is now a company director working on barley for the craft brewing industry.

I got a chemistry set when I was a boy, I was interested in finding things out, looking in rock pools”



Research Scientist

Henk and Adam cutting leaf circles

Henk-jan with Adam.

Originally born in Leiden, west Netherlands, Henk-jan grew up in Breda and found the road to his career in science was an “automatic” course. One pair of his grandparents had a farm, the other a bakery.

Throughout his education Henk-jan always had an interest in science subjects as well as history and geography, with the desire “to know how things work and why they happen, as they happen”. He was a quiet student and often felt guilty when having read ahead of the class.

Outside of work Henk-jan enjoys “good honest food”, describing a good cook’s work as involving the use of biochemistry and an understanding of anatomy when combining ingredients and preparing meat.

I had to look at EVERYTHING in a museum. Got nearly locked in several times…..”



Visiting Worker

Born into a middle-class family and raised in the Kathmandu valley in Nepal, Sujit grew up looking after buffalos for his family’s yoghurt business. A family business that due to Sujit continuing his career in science, will have to discontinue.

Having come from a family with little education, Sujit struggled in his early years of education. However, he was later inspired by a botany teacher’s lecture to enhance his education through self-study. Sujit initially aspired to become a doctor but didn’t manage to get the grades needed to get into medical college and so became a motorbike sales assistant, a way of making easy money at the time.

After a year Sujit realised this was not what he wanted to do long term and so he enrolled at Kathmandu to study plant biotechnology. It was whilst he was studying that he decided he wanted to become a plant breeder to contribute to the world’s fight against a future food crisis. He states that he is interested in the aspect of science which is evident in daily life and that you can see the impact of.

I am originally from Nepal.  Instead of toys I had 12 buffalo to look after since I was 7 years old”



Research Student

Adam in the lab

Adam in the lab.

Having always possessed an interest in science subjects, particularly in biology, Adam’s main goal was to reach university level of academia which he has now achieved. He is currently a Master’s student completing a research project at the John Innes Centre.

At school he maintained a small group of friends he got along with, and talked to everyone, taking the opportunity to talk to teachers about topics outside of academic subjects.

Adam is the first of his immediate family to attend university, three generations of his mother’s family all worked at the same factory. Outside of his education and career, Adam enjoys attending music concerts and discovering new bands and music from the punk, rock and metal genres.

“Three generations of my family worked at the same factory. I am the first of my immediate family to attend University”



Senior Scientist – Crop Genetics

Raised in Penrith Cumbria, Judith found the Lake District a “magical place to grow up”. During her school years she was involved in many activities, her favourite being dance. Academically she was torn between following her interest in history or science.

Having passed her physics O level she decided to follow the path to a career in science. Judith’s love of the outdoors is evident in her favourite pastime, observing wildlife, particularly in the Scottish Highlands. She still has a keen interest in history principally the Tudor era and the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland.

Judith’s current work focus is to “help combat the issues of our increasingly variable climate in relation to brassica vegetables and arable crop production”.

The Coen Lab: A Full Palate of Colours and Shapes

The Coen Lab is home to a team of around fifteen scientists and students who are researching all aspects of the growth, evolution and the behaviour of plants, often using highly advanced microscopic and computing methods. The nature of their practice is slightly different as they are not under the same commercial pressures that might influence other departments.
The members here work independently on some projects, as well as collectively on others. Leaf development is a current focus for them, specifically studying Arabidopsis Thaliana – commonly called ‘rockcress’. To most people it is a weed but it is invaluable in plant research because it is easy to grow and has a simple DNA structure. The evolution of flower colour is also studied in the Coen Lab, using snapdragon flowers (Antirrhinum species), which grow wild in the Pyrenees.

To find out more about this research:
Project Leader Professor Enrico Coen heads the team, and it turns out we have one or two things in common; our daughters were friends at school and he is also an artist. Many of his portraits of colleagues and associates adorn the walls of the John Innes Centre.
‘I have been doing portraits of seminar speakers for 17 years now. I also do lab members, usually just before they leave, and give them the portrait as a leaving gift.’

Professor Coen is one of the high-profile scientists at JIC but sadly he opted out of appearing in my drawing – perhaps, like me, he would rather be painting than being painted!
Samantha Fox, is a research scientist who specialises in the complex subject of leaf growth, ‘This science is all about innovation, it’s wonderfully visual’.  She is also the co-founder of the Youth STEMM Awards (YSA),
‘… science is a really enjoyable career. Through my outreach work I hope to inspire and encourage more young people to follow their interest in STEMM subjects [Science-Technology-Engineering-Maths-Medicine] as a route to many interesting and achievable careers.’

My impression is that Samantha approaches this aspect of her work with enthusiasm and commitment. In our meeting she says she believes it is possible to be involved in science in many different ways – that it is not just for those who have a so-called ‘passion’ for it (as this project aims to illustrate). I am then treated to a feast of vibrant, colourful, greatly-magnified plant images on the screen – all very inspiring for my next drawing. However, this could be a tricky one: trying to communicate what I need from the scientists can be difficult at times, perhaps as a result of ‘artist’s brain’ meeting with ‘scientist’s brain’. When I ask the team to explain what their daily activities are, they are a bit vague. Chris Woods tells me with a big smile, ‘I spend most of my time in a dark room!’ and they all laugh in agreement. I come away from this encounter wondering how I will represent this team and their work in my drawing. I still feel I know too little about what a day’s work in the Coen Lab actually involves, apart from plenty of sitting in front of microscopes and computers. Colour, flowers, and diagrams with arrows all seem to be dominant.

Coen Lab Rough ONE

I decide to do a few rough drawings depicting the multicoloured, glowing images that are the signature of the Coen Lab’s work. My first rough is a small A5 painting, showing four lab members chatting happily below the outlined cells of a giant Arabidopsis leaf. Each ‘cell’ will contain one of their microscope images, e.g. a tiny developing Utricularia bladder – very graphic, intricate and colourful!
Research Scientist, Karen Lee is the first to send me feedback. She has suggested that I put the scientists in their working environment in the image, which hopefully will mean I get more details from them on what their daily work entails…

Coen Lab Rough TWO.JPG

More work on this idea will follow; this is not resolved!

Stepping Into The Unknown: Research Begins

Over the last three months, as artist in residence at the John Innes Centre, I have been familiarising myself with the scientific community and its many practices. I’ve been collecting as much information as possible in order to gain an insight and understanding into the life and work of a chosen group of scientists and then create a series of images and stories for Lives In Science.

My first challenge is to find my way around the labyrinth of departments, corridors, scientists, laboratories, buildings, greenhouses and poly tunnels. I need to introduce myself to various people here and find out what they do and how they came to do it, and how their past or formative experiences have impacted on their lives now as scientists. This alien environment of study and research holds a million cells, microbes, chemicals and people on journeys of discovery that touch all our lives in some way.

After talking to research scientists in different departments, I now have a list of six subject areas. These are as follows:


1. The shape of plants

Understanding how genes influence plant shape formation, in particular within Utricularia gibba (floating bladderwort) and Nepenthes tropical pitcher plants. Key Scientists: The Coen Lab and Karen Lee

2. Science through the Microscope: Microscopy (science technology)

Light and electron microscopes, covering all subjects and supporting all fields of research. Key Scientists: Kim Findlay, Elaine Barclay, Grant Calder and Eva Wegel

3. The Seed Collections: Genetic Resources Unit

GRU resources are vital to current and future research, as well as supporting key BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council) strategic objectives. Key Scientists: Mike Ambrose, Liz Sayers, Simon Orford

4. Science for industry: crop improvement & development

Heritage barley and brassicas. Key scientists: Dr Chris Ridout, Dr Rachel Wells, Dr Henk-Jan Schoonbeek and Adam Casey.

5. Making vaccines from plants/periwinkles: cancer drugs and chemistry

Using plant molecules and enzymes to develop treatment for polio and Zika virus. Key Scientists: Prof George Lomonossoff and Prof Sarah O’Connor

6. The search for new antibiotics

Key scientists: Dr Morgan Freeney and Prof Barry Wilkinson

Looking back over the first few weeks of this project I find myself quite surprised by the amount that I have learned and, more importantly, understood about science – it is more than I ever thought I was capable of.

My first big encounter with a group of researchers was when Dr Chris Ridout invited me to join a team meeting. These meetings are a vital time to present and share the results of their work and discuss progress.Chris is not only a scientist but also runs his own brewery, Stumptail. He has been growing ‘Chevallier’ 50-year-old heritage barley from which he is producing the beer the for the John Innes 50 Years celebrations (

Sitting in the board room with this group I am struck by how relaxed and chirpy they are with each other – they have such a good rapport. Two scientists are going to give a presentation of recent work on the ‘MAQBAT’ project (Mechanistic Analysis of Quantitative disease resistance in Brassicas by Associative Transcriptomics). (

Henk-Jan, is a research assistant in crop genetics and a key support figure on the team. Henk is Dutch, very tall and slim (a bit like a young John Cleese), with a twinkle in his eye and a remarkable energy and focus in his role as senior researcher. He brings great support, experience, and a huge knowledge and energy to the team. Rachel Wells has brought chocolate eggs to the meeting for all. She is a Norwich girl who went to Sprowston High School. What strikes me about Rachel are her bright eyes and her smiling face. She oozes energy, enthusiasm and demonstrates impressive communication skills: ‘I sit at the hub of several studies in Brassicas as I have been at the JIC working on the crop for 15 years, so have quite a lot of experience’.

I had originally intended to stay for ten minutes, just to introduce myself and get a flavour of proceedings. However, on several occasions throughout the presentation, the discussion became directed at me as they tried to explain their terminology, research and the meaning of some strange diagrams that popped up on the screen in front of us. For two-and-a-half hours I tried to understand this scientific world, sometimes I did almost grasp tiny bits, but remember, I am never going to be a scientist: my heart belongs to art.

Science, like art, with all its highs and lows, is certainly suited to the curious and inquisitive and anyone interested in our world. Rachel and Chris both tell me how helpful and interesting it is to have a ‘non-science’ person in the meeting, and that it makes them aware of how they use their vocabulary, particularly when communicating with the public. Fundamentally I have learnt an integral part of any scientific post is to have the ability not only to communicate with your peers, but also with those outside the scientific community.

Scientists and PhD students are required to promote their research by producing dynamic, eye-catching posters to depict their projects and recent findings.

poster_ILS2 copy



A Team Under The Microscope

We exist to support the scientists with all their microscopy needs. We look after all the microscopes and associated sample preparation kit [we have a wide range of over 20 light and electron microscopes plus about 20 other major equipment items], we make sure they are well maintained and calibrated, we teach scientists how to use them [theory and practical operation], we provide sample preparation services, we will also do the imaging and analysis for them, we help write papers, we develop new protocols and techniques using microscopy, we assess new microscopes and write cases to justify funding of new equipment in Bio-imaging, provide advice and technical support’.

~ Kim Findlay

I first draw Kim, who is the head of Bio-Imaging at JIC. I find she has a friendly, open manner and speaks with both confidence and assurance. Kim was born and raised in Norfolk – her parents were unskilled and they separated when she was just nine years old.

‘We lived in a council house which had a huge garden and we explored “the good life” for 8 or 9 years, trying to be almost self-sufficient. We grew all our veg and fruit, had goat’s for milk, bred rabbits for meat, hens and ducks for eggs and meat too. I learned a great deal about animal husbandry, gardening and agriculture. Of course I was expected to help with everything, consequently I can skin and gut a rabbit, milk goats, pluck and prepare poultry, dress a crab and many other such things that city folk would not have a clue about.’

I carefully climb behind the scanning electron microscope (SEM), past all the delicate wires and tubes. If I knock anything I could cause big trouble with the SEM, which works under carefully monitored pressures. Drawing scientists in their working environment is far more challenging than I had anticipated. The trouble is that they are constantly moving from one place to another, often concentrating intently on delicate, skilled work under the pressure of time and funding limits.

Kim teaching Beartrice 2

Kim teaching Dr Beatriz Acevedo Munoz, a Senior Research Associate in Engineering, at the UEA. The samples were graphene oxide films and graphene oxide – polymer films. The samples were mounted on a glass slide and gold coated.


My second subject is Elaine Barclay, a softly-spoken, unassuming woman in her early fifties. I stand behind the microscope sketching her while she works with the SEM, looking at images of the surface of a leaf. Greatly magnified, the leaf looks something like a pocket-sprung mattress or a fancy quilt but amazingly beautiful.

We talk, but she concentrates on her work, as do I, making the most of a rare opportunity when a scientist stands reasonably still. Elaine is good fun, she is one of the ‘old school’ at JIC. ‘There are not many of us left,’ she says, ‘We like to stick together.’ She takes life outside the workplace very seriously too, being the organiser of a mixed football team at the UEA (University of East Anglia).

Next is Eva. She is originally from Germany, loves art, and paints in her spare time. She tells me that microscopy is the perfect job for her because it reveals a feast of colour and is highly visual. This afternoon she is going to be jumping from one microscope to another, while she troubleshoots the Zeiss Elyra PS2, the most valuable and highest-resolution light microscope in the building.

‘I was looking at objective point spread functions, which show whether a microscope objective is defective or not. We have a defective objective and that causes poor imaging results in structured illumination imaging. The old point spread functions that were taken when the objective was new looked alright while the new point spread functions taken recently were bad. Apologies if this sounds too technical.’

I do have to make the most of every opportunity I get to ‘catch a scientist in my net’. Following on from one particularly frustrating, fruitless morning at JIC, Eva warns me she will be busy, but I decide to stick around. As luck would have it she sits fairly still and when I point this out she replies ‘I understand life drawing – I used to do it’. An hour later Eva has a visitor, her PhD student Jenny, who is working on root nodules. They chat before starting work and Jenny tells her that she has decided to join the Royal Navy.

The last member of the team is Grant, I have been waiting for him to get back from his holidays. He tells me he used to work in laser cell biology, which was ‘pretty hi-tech … Basically, you pressurise cells to make them explode … I had the best two years.’ He then moved into the more ‘lo-tech’ area of cell bio mechanics which is ‘a lot less mess!’. The microscope he is working on today is another light microscope – it looks like something out of Dr Who. Grant is analysing images of nano beads which are synthetic and have a predictable structure making them useful to assess a microscope’s performance. He has three daughters, one of whom works at JIC in another department. He grew up in Glasgow and is the second Scottish representative in the microscopy department, Elaine being the other. He tells me he was always interested in how machines worked and how he loved to dismantle things in his youth, but says that he was not a particularly hard worker at school.

As soon as I had gathered a good chunk of research material I rushed to get started in my studio. It’s a pretty tight deadline and I would like to have all seven drawings ready to show for the John Innes Centre’s 50th Anniversary Open Day.

After completing a couple of ‘roughs’ for the final image, I send them over to the microscopy team. They choose the second of my ideas, in which it looks like the image is seen through a lens.

Microscopy sketch 1 JPG

Microscopy Rough 1

Microscopy sketch 2

Microscopy Rough 2

The final drawing is not complete yet, as I still have some tweaking to do. This includes adding text from quotes given by the team and giving the piece a title. Throughout the project their feedback is very important to me – it will enable me to create images that show a more honest and fair interpretation of what their work entails.

Thanks to Kim, Eva, Elaine and Grant for their cooperation and contribution so far!

Microscopy Studio 1

studio work begins

Microscopy studio 2

Microscopy studio 3

introduction of colour

Microscopy studio 4

work in progress now for adding, title, text and general tweeking and reworking as the project continues

selfie studio

The drawings are charcoal and pastel. Many pastels are used for a drawing of this size, which means a whole lot of dust. Inhaling fine dust in large quantities can be dangerous, hence the hat and filtered mask.

The Team


Senior Scientist – Cell and Developmental

Kim teaching Beartrice 2

Kim teaching Dr Beatriz Acevedo Munoz.

Kim, a self-described “poor girl from rural Norfolk”, was brought up by her “unskilled” parents and later, her mother and stepfather. As a shy tomboy; she “loved climbing trees and hated dolls” Kim attended a grammar school in North Walsham for girls, and states that because of this, she experienced no “put downs” when expressing a want to pursue an education in maths and physics.

After her parents separated, Kim’s mother soon remarried a “brickie’s labourer” and they explored “the good life” whilst trying to be self-sufficient. During this time Kim claims she learnt a lot about animal husbandry, gardening and agriculture. Consequently she “can skin and gut a rabbit, milk goats, pluck and prepare poultry, dress a crab and many other such things that city folk would not have a clue about”.

Watching the moon landing at the age of four helped fuel Kim’s love of science. She recalls how excited and fascinated she was by it and as a result she wished to be an astronaut! Although her original desire to join the RAF and have them fund her degree didn’t pan out – she told them to “stuff it” when finding out the disadvantages of being a female in the force, she later went on to secure funding and completed a joint degree at Kings College London.

Having returned home from her studies, she soon after began her employment at the John Innes Centre as a research assistant. She currently leads a small team of “motivated, talented and loyal” individuals within the Bioimaging facility.

Coming from a family of keen gardeners, she is also enamoured by wildlife, animals, and plants alike. Her current home, which she has lovingly renovated with her husband Bob, provides an enchanting setting to indulge in these passions. Kim leads a vibrant life; going on many active and enthralling trips abroad, whilst partaking in outreach work which has earned her the recognition of a lifetime achievements award, from the University of East Anglia.

She has also recently been awarded the Royal Microscopical Societies Vice Presidents award for microscopy research and support staff.

I remember watching the landing on the moon, I was only four. I wanted to be an astronaut”



Support Specialist

Grant was born and raised in south Glasgow in a working-class family with five children.

Grant 2

Grant analysing images of nano beads

His father was an electrical engineer and his mother a nurse. He is now the happy father to three daughters, one of which is also currently working at the John Innes Centre.

Grant grew up in a cramped Victorian tenement flat, he was a shy and introverted student with a desire to understand how things work. This curiosity led him to prefer science subjects at school and later to study biology at the University of Glasgow.

Grant currently works as a support specialist within the bioimaging department at the John Innes Centre. Grant enjoys partaking in sports such as badminton and football, as well as strategic games such as bridge.

I was shy and introverted at school and not great at exams (dyslexic) so not a A* pupil”



Research Assistant

Born and raised in Kilmarnock, Scotland, Elaine is the daughter of a painter decorator and a housewife mother.



Being an enthusiastic student Elaine initially showed an interest in the study of languages, but after being disappointed with her A level results, she decided to pursue a degree in Chemistry instead. This led her into the world of science, where she started out as a research assistant at the University of Sussex.

Rather than feeling driven to become a scientist, Elaine found that her enjoyment of studying chemistry at university led her to the position she has today. Having mainly been a chemistry-based research assistant, the transition into her current job in bioimaging brought new challenges and the opportunity to learn new techniques. Although she will openly admit that her current role isn’t one that she pictured herself in, due to her aversion to blood and the need to work with razor blades.

I have an aversion to blood and my eyesight is not great and yet now I work with razor blades and wee things!”



Research Assistant



Eva and her sister experienced a loving and protected childhood growing up in Germany, bestowed upon them by her engineer father and housewife mother. Like many other families, Eva’s family experienced hardship because of the Second World War; her paternal grandfather died during the war whilst her maternal grandmother, great grandparents and mother were all forced to become refugees.

Growing up, Eva proved to be a curious and gifted student. Despite demonstrating early on an interest in art, which her mother was very supportive of, her curious mind led her to study biology at University. Eva recalls that she “painted a lot from early childhood onwards, loved reading novels and was interested in the metaphysical. I [she] was not interested in plants and gardening in the slightest”.

Eva’s sister later went on to become a gynaecologist while Eva was able to express her love of art through her present position using microscopy, to produce beautiful images. Alongside her job and echoing her artistic flare, Eva enjoys painting and gardening in her spare time.

As a child I loved art. Specialising in light microscopy was a logical choice as it can produce beautiful images”

Lives in Science: An Introduction

The aim of the Lives In Science project is to inspire an interest and appreciation of science and scientists in practice. I will be presenting the subject through a series of large narrative images and the personal stories behind them. The images will stand out for their educational content and for the stories they tell, and still remain as art works in their own right. Ultimately I want to encourage aspirations in young people of all backgrounds to be inquisitive, to embrace the unknown and feel that they are connected to art, science and learning.

Lives in Science will include a research period at the John Innes Centre alongside work in the studio. The series of images produced will depict various aspects of  scientific practice and each image will have its own colour base depending on its theme. The accompanying text for the images will be a vital part of the project, and will include quotes from the chosen subjects. The series of images will tell the story of why the subjects became scientists while illustrating their social and cultural diversity.

When I was at school I couldn’t really understand or relate to science. It wasn’t until recently that this changed when I met Joyce and Sir David Hopwood. Sir David is Emeritus Professor at the John Innes Centre and a pioneer in the research of the antibiotic-producing bacteria Streptomyces. He sat for a portrait for the I’m Not Dead Yet project when he talked with great zeal and clarity about his work. The language of science can be baffling to anyone unfamiliar with it, but Sir David’s passion for his field enabled me to gain a valuable insight into this world.

In 2014, the seeds of this project were sown when I was introduced to Darren Heavens (Senior Research Scientist at the John Innes Centre) who talked excitedly about a small piece of machinery in his laboratory. Once again I was inspired by how passionately he spoke about his work. He later revealed that this passion began as a boy when he had grown Fuchsia plants with his father, pollinating the flowers with paint brushes..


The John Innes Centre is an independent centre of excellence in microbiology and plant science. Originally a training school in advanced horticulture, the John Innes Horticultural Institution was founded in 1910 in South London,under the directorship of William Bateson. Following advances in genetics, a shift occurred in the institute’s focus and, in 1967, the renamed John Innes Centre moved to its present site on the outskirts of Norwich. Since then its cutting edge research has directly addressed many objectives of the BBSRC (British Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) in food security, human health and industrial biotechnology.

In order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the world renowned scientific institution, that is the John Innes Centre, an exhibition of Lives in Science will be held as part of the Norwich Science Festival 2017.

sciencefestivalNew-NCC-logos-3 colour (1)