Leisha Nolen

Favourite Thing: Read about a new discovery in science that is something I never dreamed could be true.



I attended a high school in New York State and graduated in 1994. I then went to university at Cornell where I studied general biology. Upon finishing my degree there, I went to the University of Pennsylvania where I did a combined program in which I did both a medical degree and a PhD.


Medical Doctor in Pediatrics and PhD in Genetics

Work History:

I worked as a pediatrician in the Childrens Hospital Boston for 4 years where I saw sick kids with all different types of illnesses. During this time I also did genetics research at Harvard. In 2010, I moved to Edinburgh where I work at teh Medical Research Council.

Current Job:

Postdoctoral Researcher


Medical Research Council, Edinburgh, UK

Me and my work

How to fit 3 meters of DNA into a .000003 meter nucleus?

I am trying to figure out how our cells pack the DNA they need into their tiny nucleus. Somehow the cell takes 3 meters of DNA and shoves it into a nucleus that is only .000003 of a meter! Ever see someone try to fit way too many things into a suitcase, well, the cell must be very good at packing!

To figure out what makes cells such good packers I want to create a machine that will paint DNA. When this machine is put into a cell it will paint only the part of the DNA right near it. I can then look through a microscope and see what part of the DNA is painted. Doing this many times will let me create a map of the DNA by looking at where the machine painted. Lucky for me, bacteria cells have a machine that can already paint DNA! This machine, or what we call a protein, acts as a DNA paintbrush. I have taken this paintbrush from bacteria and have put it into human cells (luckily no longer in a human!) and am now making the map of the DNA.

My Typical Day

I spend most of my time growing cells, looking through microscopes and analyzing DNA sequences.

The human cells I work with are very demanding. Every day I have to feed them and wash them. Luckily they are very small, so I can have many of them growing in a tea cup sized flask. Also, in my opinion, they do not have very good taste. Instead of demanding sticky toffee pudding or chips, as I might, they do best when fed all their food in a liquid form. So just have to pour some food on them everyday.

Some of my day is spent looking at cells in a microscope. I am looking to see if my DNA paint has worked and then I am taking pictures of them to make a map. This map will help me understand how all that DNA is packed into such a tiny nucleus.


What I'd do with the money

If I won I would use the money to buy material to make a model of a cell to take to schools

Most people do not understand how cells are organized. There are many different sections in a cell, much like rooms in a school. It is easier to understand this if you can see it yourself and hold it. I would like to make a model of a cell out of different materials that will allow students to hold and take apart the cell. I will use this when I visit neighborhood schools for special teaching days.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

energetic, quirky, inquisitive

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Went scuba diving next to a shark

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To enjoy life, to be respected, to love

What did you want to be after you left school?

A scientist

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

not really, i was too good a kid!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Argued with a senior scientist and won!

Tell us a joke.

Why did the chicken cross the playground? A: To get to the other slide.

Other stuff

Work photos: