New Blogger: Ben Libberton on Infection, Information and Incredible Sweets

photo Ben LibbertonHello blogland. I’m Ben and I’m a new writer on the KI Researcher and Careers blog. I’m English, originally from a very small town in Lancashire called Oswaldtwistle. You’ve probably heard of it, it’s home to the biggest Pear Drop in the world (google it!). I’m a supporter of a once great, now terrible football team called Blackburn Rovers. I love Sweden especially the whole fika thing, however there are a some home comforts that I miss, namely good teabags, crumpets and mince pies (they’re not what you think). Now, I’m a postdoc at the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center located in the Department of Neuroscience on the Solna campus at KI. You would be forgiven for thinking that I’m a neuroscientist but actually, I’m not.

I’m a microbiologist and I work on infections. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of things that interest me are disgusting to most people.

It’s not disgusting though, it’s cool.

Did you know that for every human cell in our body, we also have a bacterial cell? On average, this is equivalent to 2kgs of bacteria per person. Did you know that microbes are responsible for some incredible foodstuffs, such as yoghurt, honey, chocolate, suströmming (yuck!) and most importantly, beer? Did you also know that the bacteria that live on your body and go everywhere with you have many dramatic effects on your health and even your mental state?

It is cool, right?

I think it’s amazing and I’m very happy to be researching a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus. It’s important because about 50% of people carry this microbe in their nose and it causes no harm. However, under certain conditions, it can cause a whole array of opportunistic infections. This is not good, but the situation gets worse when you think that they can become resistant to treatment. I want to understand exactly why this is and how we can stop it.

However, there is another part of my job which is bit less disgusting. I’m also the Public Information Officer for the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center. This means that I’m responsible for promoting our research to the public. That means I design an individual promotion strategy for every paper that comes out of our center which is a very interesting side to science that I’d never really considered before. As a lonely postdoc trying to sell science to places like the BBC and the Washington Post, there are certain challenges and limitations, such as not having a budget. However, to my surprise, I found that there are also lots of advantages. It’s easier to be agile and creative when you are not part of a big team with a lot of constraints. This has lead me to develop some guerrilla tactics for science promotion that I will share on the blog. For a small taster, an example of one of my first outreach projects can be found here.

What can you expect from me? A little bit of everything. I like to write about my disgusting bacteria and I also like to write about non-traditional approaches to an academic career and science communication. See you soon!

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