Richard Unwin

Favourite Thing: I love it when a plan comes together. Takes a lot of work, but there are genuine Eureka moments when months of hard work pay off.



1987-92: Kingstone School, Barnsley. 1992-94: Barnsley College. 1994-98: Nottingham University. 1998-2002: The University of Leeds


8 GCSEs (5As, 3Bs), 4 A-levels (1A, 3Bs), BSc in Biology, MSc in Oncology, and a PhD

Work History:

The University of Manchester

Current Job:

Proteomics Lead, Centre for Advanced Discovery and Experimental Therapeutics (CADET), Central Manchester NHS Trust, and Honorary Lecturer, University of Manchester


Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Me and my work

Yorkshireman studying how diseases of old age develop.

In my research I use a method called mass spectrometry to study how diseased tissue differs from healthy. Mass spectrometry is a very powerful technique that can take all of the different parts of a cell or tissue, weigh and count them all, so we know what is in there, and how much (for a quick description of how mass spectrometry works, see my one-minute lecture here: By doing this for healthy tissue and diseased tissue, e.g. brain tissue from a healthy person and from a person with Alzheimer’s disease, we can compare the two and see what changes the disease causes, and what we can do about reversing those changes. We can then use these differences to help us to diagnose disease (sometimes even before a person feels unwell), predict how well a person might do, decide what is the best medicine for them and to find new medicines that target these differences. For example, we have used this to discover that people with diabetes get too much copper in their kidneys when they start to get kidney failure. We have used a medicine which removes that copper in experiments and shown that it can return the copper levels to normal and help the kidney to work properly again. All that remains is to try and see if the same idea works in people…

My Typical Day

Varied, meeting other scientists, planning experiments, fixing and running machines in the lab – all usually involving tea.

I tend to come in and go straight to the lab and check that the experiments that have been running overnight are OK. If not, I’ll probably spend a couple of hours checking what has happened, fixing any problems, making sure the equipment is running and restarting the experiment. I used to spend all day in the lab preparing samples for analysis and analysing results but now I run a small group and my colleagues tend to do most of the lab work so unless they need help, I’ll come up to the office where I’ll spend time analysing the results of experiments, trying to work out what they mean and what experiments we should do next. I also spend a lot of time reading about what other scientists are researching to see if their work can help us to design new and better experiments, talking to other scientists and doctors to push forward existing projects or to plan new ones, and writing up the results of our experiments to be published so that other researchers and the public can see what our experiments have shown.


What I'd do with the money

Provide access to science-based school trips for underprivileged schools

As a school governor, I know that school budgets are tight. In Manchester there are several great, free, science outreach projects, run by providers such as Manchester Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, but when I speak to schools in the area where I live on the outskirts of Manchester they don’t take part because the cost of coach hire is high, and parents in less well-off areas struggle to make ends meet as it is, and schools don’t want to burden them with the extra expense, or single those children out who can’t afford to go. I would therefore use the money for local schools to subsidise the costs of such trips, providing access to the amazing science learning facilities available in Manchester for children who would otherwise not be able to afford to visit them.


My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Patient. Focussed. Lethological.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

At the moment Ed Sheeran. Of all time probably R.E.M.

What's your favourite food?

Roast beef and Yorkshire pud – in a pub.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I once abseiled off the Humber Bridge – fun AND scary!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t know – I just kept doing what I enjoyed and ended up here….

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not really – although I once got detention for shouting out after someone had covered my pen in Tippex…

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology, Maths and History

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

Can I have a few? – we’ve identified a factor in blood that could tell pregnant women if they are at risk of developing pre-eclampsia before they get any symptoms. I’ve been to a conference at the British Embassy in Paris. Oh, and made hundreds of people Google the word ‘lethological’!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always wanted to know how things work, so being a scientist is the best way to find out.

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

I’m a big fan of sport, especially football and cricket, so in another life I’d fancy sports journalism.

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

Stay happy. Stay healthy. See my work develop into a medicine that really helps people to do the first two.

Tell us a joke.

Presumably a clean one? What noise do cats make on the motorway? Miiiaaaooooowwww.

Other stuff

Work photos:




My desk – where I spend most of my time analysing the results of experiments, reading, planning, and doing webchats with schools!




Going into the labs – because we have biological samples and some nasty chemicals, we need to be careful….



All of our samples are held in big freezers at -80 degrees. It’s so cold you need special gloves to get samples out otherwise you can get cold burns.



One of our mass spectrometry labs. We need big gas bottles (centre) to feed pure gases into the machines.



One of our mass spectrometers. The stack on the left is used to load, clean and separate different parts of each sample. These are then fed into the mass spectrometer on the right to be weighed and counted.