Matthew Tomlinson

Woo! Thank you to all the students who voted for me and for all of you for some great questions! And thanks to all the other scientists, I've had a blast!

Favourite Thing: I love thinking about new ways stem cells can be used to heal broken bones and the experiments we need to do to prove those ideas.



University of Nottingham 2000-2003, University of Nottingham 2004-2007, University of Leeds 2012-2013


BSc (Hons) Biochemistry and Genetics, Postgraduate Certificate in Innovation Management, PhD in Tissue Engineering

Work History:

Loads of places, McDonalds, Boots, the University of East Anglia, Nottinghamshire Police, the University of Nottingham, Miltenyi Biotec (as a sales rep) and the University of Leeds.

Current Job:

Postdoctotal researcher


University of Leeds

Me and my work

I take stem cells from teeth and turn them into bone

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds School of Dentistry and I work in the areas of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.  I work mostly with stem cells from wisdom teeth, these cells come from the soft part in the middle of the tooth called the dental pulp (this is the part that gets taken out by a dentist during a root canal operation) and sometimes with stem cells from bone marrow (the soft part in the middle of some bones).  We get these cells by putting them in plastic flasks and after a couple of weeks the cells we want have stuck to the plastic and started to grow.

Once we have enough cells we can then do experiments with them.  Most of my experiments look at proteins on the surface of the cells and how they change over time.  We do this using antibodies, which are small proteins which stick to the proteins on cells.  These antibodies also have fluorescent chemicals attached to them which glow when we shine a laser at them, so by shining a laser at the cells we can tell what each cell is and how it is changing.  We can then use this information to sort out the cells which are the best at making bone and use these cells in experiments to make bone in the lab.


My Typical Day

In the lab taking care of cells, using lasers to find out how the cells work and writing up my research.

I don’t think I ever have a typical day as no two days are ever the same!  However, if I was to have a typical day it would probably be something like this:  I get to work at about 9:45-10 after dropping off my children at school and nursery.  After a quick coffee while I read and answer my emails I head into the lab to check on my cells and start some experiments.  For the rest of the morning I’m the lab either running experiments, keeping my cells alive and happy or getting new cells from teeth.  I also spend some time writing up my lab book so I can keep a record of my experiments.

After lunch I’ll spend some time at my desk doing paperwork, which at the moment is mostly writing up my experiments so that I can send them to be published in scientific journals.  This takes a lot of time because I have to do a lot of reading about my subject and compare my results with what other people have already found.  Reading is a really important part of my job because I need to keep up to date with what other people have done, and believe it or not Twitter is a really handy tool to keep up with the most current research!  Another thing I have to do is help write grant applications, these are long forms where we say what research we want to do and how much money we need to do it, we then apply for the money and hopefully get it (although this doesn’t always happen).  I also spend time writing presentations which I give at meetings either in the university or at conferences (which are meetings held so scientists can show what they have found out).  After that I head back into the lab for a little while to set things up for the next day or to make sure the lab is well stocked with the things we need before heading home at around 6pm.



What I'd do with the money

I’d donate the money to my local primary school so they can run interactive science-based workshops.

My local primary school does a fantastic job at making school fun for the children by running special themed days throughout the year, like Spanish day and ‘100 things to do before you leave primary school’.  These days are funded by a small charity that raises funds for the school and I would like to donate the money to them.  This would enable them to add a bit more hands-on science to these special days and allow them to buy some new teaching aids, like a life-size model of a skeleton and some microscopes for example.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Inquisitive, indecisive, laid-back

Who is your favourite singer or band?

It changes from day to day, but probably The Smiths

What's your favourite food?

I’m a big fan of Italian food

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Watching 3 gigs in 3 nights in 3 countries

What did you want to be after you left school?

I remember thinking about a career in medicine but the idea of blood really put me off!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Occasionally, mostly in French, but nothing too serious!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Science, predictably

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

Shown that some of my ideas were wrong and found out some much more interesting science as a result, oh and passing my PhD was pretty good

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

A combination of good teachers, interesting stories in the news and wanting to find out new things

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

I like the idea of being a writer

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

A permanent job, more time with my children and to be 4 inches taller

Tell us a joke.

What’s a pirate’s favourite amino acid? Arrrrrginine

Other stuff

Work photos:


My cell culture lab, where the magic happens, though not literally magic


A wisdom tooth and dental pulp, where I get my stem cells from


What is left of a dental pulp after I get rid of everything except the cells (it’s the tiny black/brown lump at the bottom of the tube)


The incubator where I grow my cells


My untidy desk.  As Einstein said “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk the sign of?”