Matt Bilton

Woohoo! Thanks for all the votes and to the other scientists. Time to get baking!

Favourite Thing: Planning new ways to try and discover something about the immune system!



Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood (2003-2007); Magdalen College, Oxford (2008-2012); Wolfson College, Oxford (2012-)


11 GCSEs; 3 A levels (Maths, Chemistry and Art); MBiochem (Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry)

Work History:

Topman (2005-6); The Sun Online (2007-9); NHS Healthcare Assistant (2010)

Current Job:

DPhil (PhD) student in Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford and Imperial College, London


Jefferiss Research Trust

Me and my work

By zapping cells with lasers, infecting them with bacteria and peering at them down powerful microscopes, I study how the immune system battles tuberculosis — the white plague!

I’m a third year DPhil student in Clinical Medicine. I split my time between working at Oxford University and Imperial College in London. They’re both excellent places to do research, so I’m lucky!

My DPhil project is investigating the immune system in tuberculosis infection. Lots of people in the world are infected with TB bacteria – about 2.5 billion people! But it can be hard for doctors to guess who will get sick and who will stay healthy. Plus whilst TB is pretty contagious, there are lots of us who can avoid catching tuberculosis even after spending plenty of time with someone who is sick with TB. We know that this is partly down to the immune system BUT there’s a lot we don’t know about how the immune system does it.

My own research focuses on an exciting group of white blood cells. These cells make up a really interesting part of the immune system, but one we’re still learning about. We think these cells help protect people against all sorts of bacteria, like those that cause tuberculosis, and there are scientists around the world trying to prove it. When I’ve finished my DPhil, I hope someone will build on the work that I’m doing with other researchers in Oxford and London to invent some new ways of treating people who are sick with TB. For now though, we’re just looking at the immune system a bit like a puzzle, trying to find out what all the pieces are.

My Typical Day

Read an article, jump on the microscope and take some pictures, then look after my cell lines. Coffee regularly!

No day is the same! But there are some things I do quite regularly. We do research using blood from donors, but we need to get the white blood cells out! This can take an hour or two. First we take blood, and then we spin it really fast for ages to separate the red blood cells from the white blood cells. After that, we use a pipette to pick out the white blood cells. It looks a bit like this!:


A lot of my experiments also involve infecting cells with bacteria – like the really nasty ones that cause tuberculosis. Breathing in tuberculosis bacteria can be deadly without treatment, so we have to be careful. All the experiments we do with tuberculosis bacteria are done in a special Biosafety Level 3 laboratory. This keeps us safe by making sure that there is always some air to push bacteria away from us whilst we work.

Once I’ve left my cells to battle the bugs in a petri dish I normally investigate the outcome by using a few of my favourite techniques! These are microscopy, flow cytometry or simply by counting colonies of bacteria.

Here’s an example of what I see when I look down a microscope! I have picked two proteins inside of a cell to look at – one I’ve coloured red, and one I’ve coloured green.


Sometimes I get a chance to try a new technology in the lab, or to use a different type of bacteria (some made to glow green!). Here’s a plate of Salmonella bacteria, which have been genetically modified to make green fluorescent protein. Normally you would see spots where colonies of bacteria are growing, but this is what happens when you prepare the bacteria on Halloween…


As well as infection experiments, I get lots of tissue samples from the lungs of TB patients to analyse, so I spend some of my mornings at St Mary’s Hospital in London watching the doctor very carefully steer a long tube with a camera attached deep inside someones chest!

On top of the practical work that makes up most of my time as a DPhil student, there are lots of other things to do that are quite important. I will try and read science articles when I can, and go to plenty of interesting talks. There’s also lots of online shopping involved! If we would like to do an interesting experiment, we have to search for the right tools and find the best price!

What I'd do with the money

Get some friends to help me make a ginormous science cake – then bring you a slice!

One of my friends, Jacqui, recently won a national award for the communication of science through cake. It’s awesome, check it out!: myimage1

If I won the prize money, I would buy all the ingredients needed for Jacqui and some other scientists in my lab to try and make the biggest and best science cake ever made! We’re not sure exactly what the cake will be yet…but that just means there’s time to give us some ideas! Once we’ve finished baking, we’ll bring you a slice and come and have a chat about science in person.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Really bad at counting.

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

Steak and chips.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I wrote headlines and picture captions for The Sun website when I was 18!

What did you want to be after you left school?

To be honest – no idea! Maybe a pilot though, or astronomer.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Yes! Nothing too naughty though – a bit silly in class sometimes.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Fine art – I loved to draw and paint, still do!

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

Presenting research and talking to other scientists at an international conference.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

The idea that with the right tools, a bit of hard work, loads of curiosity and a bit of patience, ANYONE can fill in gaps in how we understand the way the world works.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Portrait artist! Or maybe war-correspondent!

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

I would wish for… all of my experiments to work first time! To visit EVERY country in the world. And to always learn from my mistakes!

Tell us a joke.

What do you call cheese that isn’t yours?? …nacho cheese!! :D

Other stuff

Work photos:

I spend a lot of my time working in the lab. Scientists use pipettes to accurately measure small amounts of liquids. Here’s a picture of my lab bench in Oxford. Note the speakers nearby so I can listen to Spotify whilst I work!


Flow cytometry is a way of studying the behaviour of cells. It’s pretty clever – you take some cells, and then, depending on whether they’re active or asleep, you stick antibodies to them! The antibodies have been made so that they glow a certain colour, that way when you shine a laser at a cell you can tell if it has an antibody stuck to it. If you use lots of antibodies and lots of cells you can learn loads! Whether the cell is active, or if it’s resting – or even what chemicals the cells are busy making when they sense a cell that’s infected and in need of help!

This work relies on flow cytometers. This is what one looks like:


Once the cells are run, the results have to be checked and turned into graphs! I do this at my desk: