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Bacteria. © Dez Pain, http://www.rgbstock.com/

What motivates a scientist to wrestle with difficult questions? Rhoda Hawkins is a lecturer in Physics at Sheffield University. She uses theoretical physics to tackle biological problems, and her main area of research is cell movement. I recently interviewed Rhoda about the role of wonder in both her research and her faith.

I find cell movement incredible. You’ve got a blob of squidgy material crawling across a surface or squeezing through a gap, and if it’s a white blood cell it might be doing something more complicated like chasing a bacterium. How is a relatively simple cell capable of doing such things? In my research group we try to model the cell and think about its physical properties. I collaborate with experimentalists – mainly biologists and other physicists, who test our predictions. I like hanging out in the lab every now and then to watch what the biologists are doing. If the experiment shows something different to what we predicted, then that might mean the model is wrong so we change the theory, and that informs new experiments. Maybe one day some of my work might be useful in medical applications: perhaps a better understanding of the immune system or the movement of metastatic cells in cancer. Continue reading