Ruth Elderfield

Evicted...hmmm time for coffee

Favourite Thing: Rescuing viruses, which means I make viruses from bits of DNA.



New Swannington Primary School, Castle Rock High School, King Edward VII community College, Lancaster University, Reading University and Imperial College London


GCSE, A – levels (Biology, Chemistry, History, English and AS-Politics), Degree in Biology and PhD in Influenza

Work History:

Forensics, genetics research company, at an airport, and in Africa.

Current Job:

Influenza scientist


Imperial College London

Me and my work

I try and figure out how viruses work

I work with influenza viruses.

A drawing of a flu virus:


These are really tiny, but they can make you feel very ill. The flu virus doesn’t just give you a runny nose and sore throat, but can make you feel so ill and aching that you can’t even get out of bed, chances are if you can get up to play a game or watch your favourite TV, you probably haven’t got flu.

I look at how the virus works in the body, how the virus changes over time and at how it is able to travel through the air and infect new people.

I also spend a lot of time training and helping students doing their first degrees or the ones to become scientific doctors.

My Typical Day

I squirt liquid containing millions of virus particles into different tubes. Then I do a lot of cleaning.

My day starts with an early morning dog walk with my very enthusiastic spaniel, who gets spoiled by my Mum whilst I’m at work. I then catch a train into London with lots of sleepy commuters in very smart suits. I like to read the difficult science papers on the journey in because my brain works best in the morning. The lab where I work is just next to Paddington station, so I get to wave to the bear  on platform one before a quick stroll into work.

The first thing I do is to check my cells are happy. I work with influenza virus, it can’t grow on its own, it has to grow inside another living thing. In the past scientists collected cells from cancer tumours and found if they gave them liquid food and space to grow, they would keep multiplying and multiplying. Lots of science is done with these cells, especially work with viruses. So I have to keep my cells fed and make sure they have room to grow in special very clean flasks. Usually I share the clean safety cabinet, where I look after my cells, with the other early bird in our lab, who is taking care of her cells too. We usually have the radio on in the background and tend to gossip about weekend adventures.

This is an incubator full of cells


The cells are being fed and a bigger flask to grow in


There are many different types of experiments I run, but often they start and end with me needing to know the amount of virus I have. So I spend a lot of time measuring viruses using a method called a plaque assay, the end result is counting hundreds of white holes in a layer of cells dyed purple.


When I have the results, sometimes it is obvious what I want to do next, sometimes it isn’t. When I’m not sure, I go and have a meeting with my boss, Prof. Wendy Barclay, this usually involves lots of coffee and drawings on whiteboards or the back of bits of paper, sometimes the other members of the team get involved too, throwing in ideas based on things they’ve tried or have read about in other scientist’s research.

Once we’ve come up with a plan, I’ll sketch it out in my lab book and do a list of everything I’ll need and check that I’ve got it all. Usually I will need lots of cells, so I will prepare them so they will grow enough to be ready the next day of later in the week (biology takes a lot of planning).

Then it is time for lunch, on busy days I eat at my desk whilst checking emails or new bits of research that have been published, on quieter days I make it to the tea room or even better, outside by the canal on sunny days.

In the afternoon, I’m often helping students with their research projects, looking at the data I’ve produced in my experiments or setting up the next set of virus infections. Then the day frequently ends with a talk where we learn about other scientist’s work, these researchers can come from all around the world and we get to ask them questions and even suggest ideas they might not have thought of.

Finally it is time to catch a train home (sometimes I read a book, listen to podcasts or play a game on my ipad). Once home I relax by walking or running with my dog, cooking a tasty supper and then sleep ready for the next day’s very early start.

What I'd do with the money

Cartoon Viruses, Bacteria and Protozoa

I was able to go to Sierra Leone to try and help in the lab during the Ebola outbreak.

There was a lot of distrust of doctors and foreigners, some people did not think the virus was real. This made it harder to stop the disease spreading.

This wasn’t helped by the schools being closed to stop the virus spreading, so the children could lot learn about the cause of the disease.

I’d like to make cartoon strips, printed on washable card for school packs. They would be clear, simple character cartoons of viruses, bacteria and other parasites and explain how they work, how they spread and how to stop them (when possible). I’d need lots of really good pictures and not too many words. I may need some help from you drawing some of those pictures, what do you think a virus (that causes ebola and measles), a bacteria (that causes TB) or a protozoa (that causes malaria) might look like?

I’d check with you and your teachers if you thought they made then send them out with the next group of scientists heading out to Sierra Leone to give to the local schools. Hopefully their teachers will let us know what they think and if they work.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, careful and excitable

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I wasn’t sure, so I checked my phone, I have more Linkin Park albums than any other, surprised me too.

What's your favourite food?

Sunday Roast…with brussels sprouts

What is the most fun thing you've done?

A jungle trek to see Lemurs in Madagascar

What did you want to be after you left school?

A scientist

Were you ever in trouble at school?

No, I was just too shy.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology, but history was a close second

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

I worked in a Ebola diagnostic lab in Sierra Leone over Christmas

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I read a book about a scientist who hunted viruses in a jungle, sounded fun.

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

Maybe a baker, I enjoy baking cakes.

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

To understand every language; to be able to see really small things without a microscope and to hunt viruses in a jungle

Tell us a joke.

Q: What’s the difference between a dog and a marine biologist? A: One wags a tail and the other tags a whale. (Told to me by my friend Holly :-)

Other stuff

Work photos: