Craig Marshall : I Feel Pretty


“What gets you excited about your work?” I ask Craig, and his face immediately lights up in his cosy Biochemistry office. He swivels his chair to face the computer screen and replies, “this is pretty geeky, but check this out”.

A series of plots bursts into life on the screen which graphs the correlations between zinc and cadmium and diatom growth in the Southern Ocean. “This little graph tells me so many things : what we thought we knew, something about what we didn’t know, something different to what we already knew, or maybe something completely different that we hadn’t considered”. A well used (and well loved) espresso cup and machine sit nearby, on standby to accompany such wonder-filled moments.

Right from his early days as a keen observer of patterns in nature, he was destined for the fascinating world of science. But of course Craig discovered that nature doesn’t act and comply in such a uniformly patterned way, and now refers to this fascinating world as working with ‘shades of grey’. As much as he loves solving puzzles, it turns out the shapes of puzzle pieces are not entirely clear to begin with, and then there is the further challenge of how these fit into the bigger picture of even more unfamiliar shapes. Even when assembled, the puzzle pieces have a habit of changing shape and that makes things even more interesting.

Craig has been part of Biochemistry department since 1994, and much of his subsequent work has had an Antarctica focus. His current research includes understanding the distribution and relationships within the Notothenioid group of fish (which includes Toothfish), and how knowledge of climate change in the past might contribute to understanding the climate change we see happening now. He is also working on building up a catalogue of antifreeze protein structures from organisms that survive in frozen environments. Knowledge of these biological systems and traits can have biotechnological applications, such as the creation of a biodegradable product for the de-icing of cool stores or aircraft.

Caffeine, graphs, lunchtime swims and shedding light on a never ending supply of oddly shaped puzzles, are all parts of his full life. But the chilly world of Antarctica and the intriguing creatures that live there hold a particular fascination. Like the marine isopod saying I feel pretty on his tee shirt, which Craig wears because “it resembles the giant Antarctic isopod Glyptonotus antarcticus that I rather like.”

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