University of Southern Denmark 1980-1987, BSc & MSc; University of Copenhagen 1987-1991, PhD
MSc in plant biochemistry, PhD in plant breeding & phytochemistry
1992-2003 Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences. 2004- Newcastle University
Senior Lecturer, teaching and research on Food & Human Nutrition
Favourite thing to do in my job: Figure out how to test if something is true or false – and then find the answer!
Loving science and my family and my plants, trying to make the World a better place for the granchildren and everyone else
I live in Newcastle upon Tyne with my husband. Between us we have 5 children, 5 grandchildren and a dog. I’m Danish, my husband is English and other family members are Norwegian, Kenyan and Vietnamese.
I’ve got a garden and 45 pot plants, mostly orchids, and my husband has a boat in Denmark that we live on when visiting family. Fortunately orchids can survive long periods without water!
The best part is to find out why eating vegetables is good for us – and use the results to make vegetables even better!
For my research, my research students and I investigate the constituents of vegetables which are responsible for making us healthier when we eat veggies. Many other scientists have looked for this, but they struggled to find the right compounds. Nutrients are vitamins and minerals that we know are necessary for our health, we will get ill if we don’t get enough of each nutrient every week. Vegetables contain a lot of certain nutrients, but the vegetable nutrients are so common in other foods as well, that we don’t really need to eat vegetables to get all the nutrients that we need. This shows that nutrients from vegetables cannot be the cause of the benefits of eating veggies! I am now investigating something else in vegetables, bioactive compounds, to find out if they are what makes us healthier. Bioactive compounds are not nutrients, they are more like drugs: We can be healthy even if we don’t eat any of them, and if we eat too much of them they can be toxic. Bioactive compounds usually give a bitter taste, which is very useful, since this keeps us from eating too much of them! An example of a bioactive compound from plants is caffeine, which occurs in the plants that are used to make tea, coffee and cola.
My hypothesis is that eating these ‘almost-toxic’ compounds helps keep our cells fit and active, so the cells will be stronger if affected by a disease. Like exercise, which also is not required to stay alive, and makes us tired and aching when we do it, but afterwards our bodies become stronger and able to achieve more than without the exercise.
I also teach and supervise undergraduate and post graduate students in nutrition and food science at the University, and work with companies to test if their products have beneficial properties.
My Typical Day
Lecturing, meetings, student pracicals, reading and writing, cycling if it doesn’t rain
Most work days during term time I have one or more lectures or practicals, so much of my time is spent preparing for teaching or marking reports or exam scripts. Often I meet with students or colleagues or clients to discuss research etc., and when there is time, I also write publications based on the results of the research.
What I'd do with the prize money
Donate it to ‘School for Life’, a programme helping out-of-school children in Ghana to achieve functional literacy
School for Life (http://en.ghanavenskabsgrupperne.dk/program/school-for-life/) aims at giving out-of-school children beyond school starting age an opportunity to attain basic literacy and numeracy in their mother tongue. In Ghana many children are not able to attend school, since their families cannot afford transport, school uniform and managing without the child’s labour. School for Life has developed a model where older children are taught part-time in their village after completing the day’s chores.
They learn basic literacy and numeracy (reading, writing and maths) for 9 months, delivered in their own language, which enables them to get a job or to join the regular School at year 4 level. Since 1995 more than 170000 children have completed this programme. Many of the students from the first years are now trained as teachers themselves, to provide education to the next generation of children.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Seeking what works
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Found the compounds in carrots that make them improve our health
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I don’t remember, it is many years ago. But reading ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins while I studied at the university inspired me to realise how reseach could be done more efficiently than a lot of the other books and articles that we read, so this had a large influence on the type of scientist I became.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes, several times. And my mom found out every time, she was one of the teachers…
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Probably a teacher
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Don’t have any
What's your favourite food?
Kefir – I have it almost every day
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Don’t remember, there are many
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Lots of research funding, lots of time to do research, lots of talented young scientists to help with it while they learn how to do research themselves
Tell us a joke.
Question: How many scientists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: Five: One to write the grant proposal, one to do the mathematical modelling, one to type the research paper, one to submit the paper for publishing, and one to hire a student to do the work. From: https://jcdverha.home.xs4all.nl/scijokes/8.html#lightbulb_16