(Dr Anna Peacock)
I am a Reader in the School of Chemistry, at the University of Birmingham, and have an active research group that develops new molecules with new and attractive properties that can be applied to a whole range of situations, including medicine and industrial manufacturing. We attempt to combine the best of biology with the best of chemistry in an effort to develop new biosensors, imaging agents, therapeutics or catalysts for future application in industry. So for example, biosensors can be used to read the genetic information stored in the sequence of DNA, while imaging agents can be used to tell doctors whether a growth is cancerous or not.
Our group is interested in the design of peptide sequences which fold into well-defined structures capable of both selective DNA recognition and binding. This is achieved by utilising the α-helix as the DNA major groove recognition domain. We are interested in the design of metal sites which are able to preorganise the α-helices so as to enhance DNA binding, and which are capable of providing a measurable output with potential sensor applications. We also design, synthesise and evaluate gadolinium coiled coil complexes as potentially novel MRI contrast agents. By correlating peptide design, solution studies and computational modelling with MR data, we aim to understand the mechanism by which we produce contrast and develop a new class of gadolinium complexes with enhanced relaxivity.
If you would like to read more about some of my research, take a look at the article written in the conversation about the artifical proteins that I develop.
My main passion is for my research, and a large proportion of my time involves planning experimental work and managing and supervising PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who carry out the experiments. I then help them analyse and interpret results, which inevitably leads to further experiments. I present research findings at national and international conferences and meetings and produce academic papers that are published in scientific journals for dissemination within the scientific community. I also lecture to chemistry undergraduates. We combine different styles of teaching including traditional lectures, workshops, small group tutorials and practical sessions in the laboratories to ensure our students have the best learning experience.
My father was a scientist working for the European Space Agency in the Netherlands and I am sure that this in some way influenced my decision to pursue a career in science. However, clearly my passion for the subject has always been a major driving force, and remains so – since there is nothing better than the high that accompanies an exciting scientific result or breakthrough, which I feel is the biggest perk of the job.
The universities in which I’ve chosen to study and work are all fantastic, with each having a strong research base. I got my first taste of bioinorganic chemistry as part of my final year MChem research project at the University of York. I then moved to the University of Edinburgh and Michigan respectively as I wanted to work with some of the top scientists in this field.
People often think of research as a solitary experience but our work is extremely collaborative and international. We often need to work with researchers from other disciplines such as biology or physics, and I personally believe that many of the breakthroughs of the future will be made at the interface of these different disciplines. My work takes me overseas a couple of times a year, including trips to Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, USA, Greece and Italy. I was recently invited to take part in a Royal Society of Chemistry ‘roadshow’ that took place in India, where I got the opportunity to meet many interesting people. A recent conference in Granada in Spain also gave me the chance to visit the wonderful Alhambra palace.
Much of the joy of my research is in obtaining new scientific results working alongside talented PhD students. I especially find it rewarding seeing them develop, both personally and as independent scientists, and I know they will be able to do the same with the next generation of researchers.
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