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Spotlight on Dr Gemma Bale

23 April 2018

Dr Gemma Bale

This week the spotlight is on Dr Gemma Bale, Research Associate, Biomedical Optics Research Laboratory, Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, UCL.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a postdoctoral researcher in Biomedical Optics in the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering. I’m normally doing one of two things – either running experiments or analysing the results from them. As a medical physicist, I design optical medical devices, test them in the lab and ultimately in the hospital. The first device I built is now being used in the neonatal intensive care unit at UCLH to study baby brain injury, so my current focus is to analyse the data to see if we can assess the level of brain injury using the device.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL for 7 years. After finishing my undergraduate degree in physics at Imperial College London, I was interested in optics so I joined a doctoral training programme in Electrical and Electronic Engineering called Photonic Systems Development. I became really interested in using light for medical applications so I completed my PhD in Biomedical Optics (Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering), where I still am today.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

My proudest moment was seeing my device used in the hospital for the first time which was nerve-wracking but so exciting when it worked! On a different note, recently I have been developing a public engagement platform (www.metabolight.org) to share our research. Our team recently went to the Big Bang Fair and used our devices to scan over 400 people’s brains - it was really fun to meet lots of young people and talk to them about medical physics and biomedical engineering.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

Last year I was working on a collaborative project in Canada – based in (the confusingly named) London in Ontario. We were testing a device we built here at UCL, which uses light to monitor metabolism in the brain, against lots of different measurements of metabolism, including MRI and PET. Now I’m working on analysing that data to see how the different methods align. It’s a challenge because we had 8 different monitoring systems running at the same time!

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

My favourite album is officially The Wall by Pink Floyd, but secretly The Best Damn Thing – Avril Lavigne’s triumphant third album. My favourite film is Moulin Rouge. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is my favourite novel.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Gemma Bale photographed in front of moose antlers

I love a good pun and have done a bit of science stand-up comedy. My best joke was when I ‘accidently’ showed a picture of me with antlers on and said “Oh sorry, that’s the day I put too much moose in my hair!”

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Mindy Kaling, Justin Trudeau, Avril Lavinge, Nikola Tesla and Douglas Adams.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry about what other people think, and remember that you’re comparing your insides with other people’s outsides.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I was a goal keeper for the Imperial Devils ice hockey team. I was possibly the worst skater the team has seen, but I wasn’t afraid of getting hit by the puck!

What is your favourite place?

I love Canada and once travelled across it on the Greyhound bus. I think my favourite place is Tofino on Vancouver Island – I saw a black bear, a sea otter and a golden eagle in an afternoon there!