Fossil fuels are running out, which means we need to find new sources of energy! But what has this got to do with algae? Algae use the sun’s energy for photosynthesis and growth. We can exploit this process, and use algae to produce electricity. But this is not all: algae can also make hydrocarbons - similar molecules to those found in fossil fuels - which can be used directly as a source of biofuel.

Scientists today

PhD Student
Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge


Katherine HelliwellCareer path and qualifications

I studied Maths, Biology and Chemistry at A-level, then went on to do a BSc course in Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol. After graduating I moved to the University of Cambridge to carry on my scientific studies with a PhD in Plant Sciences.


My project

In my PhD I'm looking at how vitamin B12 dependence has evolved in algae. Algae have an important role to play in helping the environment. They fix 50% of the world's carbon dioxide, taking it out of the atmosphere, and they can also be used as biofuels. Therefore it is important to understand what factors affect their physiology and ecology, such as their use of vitamins. Most of my time is spent in the lab doing hands-on experiments and I use methods from areas including molecular biology and genetics.


What else do you like about your job?

It's not all lab work and I am involved in a major international project that has given me the opportunity to attend meetings in the US where I've met and worked with a wide range of experts. I also enjoy attending conferences, which is another great opportunity to travel, meet people and learn a lot about my specialist area.


The future

I have thoroughly enjoyed my PhD and I would like to continue in a career in university research.


Outside the lab

I enjoy playing tennis, running, travelling and socialising with friends.