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Brad Amos (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology)

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About this episode

#40 — Brad Amos, Emeritus Scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, joins Peter O’Toole in this episode of The Microscopists to discuss his varied career, from zoologist to confocal microscope designer to amateur artist. We’ll discover how Brad developed the confocal microscope taken up by Bio-Rad, as well as the Mesolens microscope, which he is using in his work as Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde. We’ll hear how Brad has never fully retired and how his artwork ended up on a stamp for the Ascension Islands. Brad also reveals how he has played Robin Hood, the Pope, and Boris Johnson is his legendary lab skits and where to put your hands when scuba diving with sharks!

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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:01):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:14):
Today on The Microscopists I’m joined by no other than Brad Amos, the Emeritus Scientist at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and visiting associate at the Strathclyde. And we discuss failing to retire

Brad Amos (00:00:30):
Like most scientists. I, I don’t really retire. It’s not a desk job. It’s a mind job. And your mind keeps, keeps you a a scientist.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:45):
His really varied career trajectory.

Brad Amos (00:00:48):
My career has been a kind of a vertiginous series of switchbacks

Peter O’Toole (00:00:56):
His legendary lab skits.

Brad Amos (00:00:59):
There were some very chaotic performance is, and

Peter O’Toole (00:01:02):
The importance of keeping your hands out of the way went scuba diving.

Brad Amos (00:01:07):
We sat Linda, Linda and I on a, a Sandy bank at the depth of about five meters. And he was waving these fish about in the, these, these reef sharks came around

Peter O’Toole (00:01:23):
All in this episode of The Microscopists. Hi, welcome to this episode of The Microscopists I’m Peter O’Toole from the University of York. And today I’m joined by Brad Amos from well Emeritus, MRC, Laboratory of Molecular Biology. And part-time at the University of Strathclyde, I would say retired, but definitely not retired are you

Brad Amos (00:01:53):
No, I, I I like most scientists. I, I don’t really retire. It’s not a desk job. It’s I mind job and your mind keeps, keeps you as a scientist. But I I’m unusually lucky because I I’ve got a house, which I’ve equipped over the years with three workshops for mechanical and optical work. And so I, I have the equipment to to carry on to some extent, except I can’t quite manufacture a wet lab, so I, I can’t really do as much staining and, and so on as I, as I used to.

Peter O’Toole (00:02:43):
Yeah. And actually supplying a wet lab, even the optic, it’s not, it’s not a cheap game.

Brad Amos (00:02:49):

Peter O’Toole (00:02:50):
So, yeah, I presume funding is more limited except your collaboration maybe with Gail McConnell and the funding. Yeah.

Brad Amos (00:02:58):
That’s the key thing. And that means I can stay in the swim. And that has been enormously valuable.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:12):
So I should have pointed out actually to those who are listening on, whether it be iTune, Spotify, Google, Amazon RSF, whichever platform it is that actually Brad has sent through some really entertaining pictures, as well as serious pictures. So actually it’s worth just skimming at least the iTube channel, but the first one will show, cause we just talked about Gail. So here you are with Gail, which I presume is Strathclyde itself. Is that correct?

Brad Amos (00:03:37):
That that’s right. And the the instrument on the right is the, is the Mesolens which has been built into a, a confocal microscope by Gail, which is a fairly ambitious and successful engineering operation. The original mesolens as we designed it had no eye pieces and was very difficult to, to change from confocal to camera mode. And so Gail has basically taken all of that on her colleague John Dempster a person who supplied software free to all the electrophysiologist in the world. And he’s, he’s made a software for the, the, the mesolens as well. And the lens designer Esmond Reid is, is one of the, the top lens designers in, in the UK. So he’s a key person as well, but he, he works with classical optics with dispersion of the ordinary type. And so Gail can get together with him and tell him about nonlinear optics and what you need for a, a multi photon system and so on. So it it’s it’s not only a, a comprehensive team, but it’s an extremely rare team that that, that I’ve been lucky enough to, to be associated with.

Peter O’Toole (00:05:24):
Now. I, I I’ve jumped in almost to, to today instead of getting from the past to today, but actually the, the mesolens is, is very famous in the microscopy world. And anyone who is listening that isn’t familiar with the mesolens you may have used your school microscopes or microscopes at university, and the lenses are typically thumb size, maybe, and, and broader they’re, they’re not significantly large, but the mesolens is gone Brad you’ll know the dimensions of a mesolens.

Brad Amos (00:05:55):
Well, the largest elements are about 64 millimeters in, in diameter. The total, the total length of the, the mesolens is, is about 50 centimeters. So it’s as long as an arm. And I do have a photo which I should have sent you is the complete mesolens dwarfing an entire 1890 brass microscope. So it, it it’s huge and it, it has to be huge to achieve the, the, the optical effect that, that we want, which is a very large field, six millimeters in diameter, and also very high resolution. Obviously you can look at a large field just with an ordinary stereo microscope, but you can’t have resolution so high that you can’t see it in the eye pieces. And that’s, that’s what we were aiming at because all the objectives that people have used at school and, and in universities and, and other places have been basically the same for a hundred years in that they have been designed to suit the human eye, but there’s no reason to stay with that restriction now that we have cameras that have an angular acu acuity greater than the human eye looking into an eye piece. So the idea of the mesolens is you can get in one shot. What would ordinarily have to be put together by tiling and stitching the, the area with normal objectives of, of similar numerical aperture to the mesolens, but it, the, the problem with it is that none of the microscope manufacturers are interested in manufacturing this because it doesn’t connect to any of their existing equipment one major company, which shall remain nameless told me that they are watching. And if Gail and I are successful in getting sales of mesolens, they will simply make their own, they won’t they won’t pay royalties or, or, and the reason given was that their engineers are too proud that someone has exceeded them in, in their to admit that someone exceeded them in their, their own special technology. And, and, and so we know where we stand. If we succeed, we fail but the converse is not true.

Peter O’Toole (00:09:00):
But if you succeed, there’ll be other companies that would like access. And this does actually the field, the type of biological questions that this can address would also be, would be wide and varied. There’s lots of other companies non-specialty to optical companies that would very much like to get into this type of field as well, especially with the Spatial Omics technologies that are coming out now that need that high, that, that large field of view for area selections. So there is potential. And for anyone who’s scared about the size of the lens, I think Brad said it was a size of the arm. Think about a telescope. You know, if you are as a bird watcher, a telescope, it’s no different to that, really. So it, it’s, it’s kind of just different, not wrong. And I think that’s a, a key take home, but is it’s been good fun to watch it. And I really look forward to seeing the next developments of it. And I think Gail here has to a guest here with us at some point on the microscopy cause she’s very sharp. Yes. And also very

Brad Amos (00:10:03):
Yes, and, and she has now many projects, which have some are independent, but of the mesolens, but others have arisen. And, and she’s lots of, of things that, that we, we didn’t know before. So for example her group of found that bacterial in, in colonies, growing on agar actually create Nutrative channels and suck in nutrients. So in other words, you can have a Prokaryotic cell. And yet it can have organs by, by co-operation. It can develop a vascular system and it needed the Mesolens to actually see these rather subtle channels. And so another big project is to combine the Mesolens with light sheet principle so that we can have the high resolution, the, the, the, the, the one shot acquisition of a huge amount of data. But we can have the speed of a camera, so we we’d have the massive parallelism of a camera, but then the thing is that the camera has to all, has to be an, a very, very special one. Yeah. Cause we really need something like 150 megapixels to capture everything in the mesolens image.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:48):
I, I want one of those on my camera, but they, they, they haven’t done one yet. It probably be bigger than that actually, as a chip, the chip size would probably be larger than the, the whole camera.

Brad Amos (00:11:59):
Yes. Yes. Well, the ones that scale has found and uses at the moment have a, a fairly standard size chip, but it has a piezo driver, which moves the chip around to 10 different positions. Oh, sorry. Nine different positions. And so you get nine images and you can work out the equivalent of having nine times as many pixels in the final result, but that slows the, the thing down and that’s, that’s exactly what we don’t want to do.

Peter O’Toole (00:12:40):
Yeah. So actually just, just so interesting, you said actually about Gail’s study and what she’s found with bacteria on agar Gail is, if I’m not wrong, a physicist by trading and a pioneer in she, she was one of the first professors, I think of physics, certainly at Strathclyde, I believe. So trail blazing there, but you yourself are not a lot. Well, I, I don’t think, but weren’t you a zoologist to start with?

Brad Amos (00:13:10):
Yes, yes, that’s correct. I, I, I’ve done a lots to different things and my career has been a kind of a vertiginous series of switchbacks in, in which I’ve I, I venturing into zoology was perhaps rather a mistake. But I made many mistakes and each time I changed, I morphed into something different and, and I, I was always interested in optics. And I, I had to learn optics extremely quickly. And I had two, two advantages. One was that when I started doing research in zoology, the professor of zoology at the time had just been appointed brought to Cambridge a collection of very, very fancy microscopes from Copenhagen. And we quickly had a, a rapport and I was the only person who was allowed to use this Aladdin’s cave of microscopes. So I, I, I learned about fancy interference, microscopes and, and so on. And then when I managed to team up with John White, which happened during one of the, the worst dips in my, in my switchback career I, I worked with his system and brought a more reasonable microscope anatomy to it. But when we were already in negotiations with a manufacturer and when the world was beginning to become very curious about what we were doing and when we had a paper in J cell biology which was creating a stir I started to look at double stained preparations and I found it, it didn’t work. The two images taken with the stains of different colors actually had different magnifications. So the two images didn’t superimpose, and the problem was that in the, in the optical system that we’d built using improvised lenses and not really knowing much about optics we had grammatic aberration and I had to act quickly. Um and I, I had a, a, a Eureka moment, which is, is very rare in, in, in science. I, I happen to have some concave mirrors and I I dunno what it tells you about my psychology, but I have the habit of idly looking at my own eye with a concave mirror. Cause the Iris is a very intricate and interesting structure. So I was looking, and then I tilted the mirror and I was pleased to see that the resolution in the visible image was good, even when the angle was so great that I was to see my eyebrow. If I went further and tried to look at my forehead, it was hopeless. The, the stigmatism and other aberrations began to, to, to kick in. So without any knowledge of optics or any modeling in a software I suddenly realized that I had the basis of a high angle scanner, which is what we needed because we were making what John might called the shoebox. We were making a box, which would fit onto any microscope, would look through the, the resident eye piece and would scan. But that meant the scanner had to do plus minus 20 degrees, 40 degrees, total scan, at least. And that is quite exacting so far as optical quality is concerned. So I put together this scanner and you see at the bottom, there is the eye piece. And then the two vibrating galvo mirrors are between two concave, which are the, the, the discs at the bottom of the diagram. And that worked extremely well. I didn’t really model it. I, I just I happened to have acquired mainly outta bloody mindedness because I, I I was at one of the dips in my career, a, a small lathe and milling machine. And I, I made a, a rig to hold concave mirrors and two plain mirrors to represent the, the galvo mirrors. And I made it totally adjustable and I rushed into the lab with it. And John White and Mike Fordham who was the head of the workshops in the LMB at, at the time just grabbed it outta my hands and began to work with it. And within a couple of hours, they discovered that if they adjusted the two mirrors, they could get linear scan lines from a laser. And this was, this was a, in retrospect, it didn’t seem so surprising, but later on, I discovered that this was a known proposal for which was in prior art in the literature for scanning system. But the, in the words of the, the patent to turn the author had taught away from this saying that such a scanner was useless because it gave curved scan lines. So, you know, between that’s the, the three of us that had, had solved that problem. But we, I, I took out a a about five optical patents, which were granted and a few more that didn’t get granted. And that particular one for the scanner didn’t give us any protection because when the big microscope companies started making confocal microscopes, they didn’t have to use their own IPS cause they could substitute a lens of long focal length that had the right chromatic correction and so on to suit their objectives. We that’s secret information. We couldn’t do that. Yeah. But they did it and it meant they could have a scanner of a much simpler type which was just basically two galvo’s close together and a long focal lens instead of the I piece, which had a focal length only about 30 millimeters usually. So I, I was in optics by necessity and I had to learn very quickly what to do.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:24):
So this to, I love that with this is branching off in all sort directions, cuz you mentioned a low point and one of the, one of, one of the questions I always like to ask is what was the lowest time? What was the most difficult period that you had? But before we go there, obviously you are pioneering in your optics with John White to get to there spun out to become the Bio-Rad confocal microscopes of which one of the la last generation was the Bio-Rad radiance systems which actually was my first confocal. So I have very fun memories of my radiance. I love my radiance right,

Brad Amos (00:22:02):
Right, right. I, well, I, I, towards the end of the, the, the period with, with Bio-Rad, I, I, I decided the radiance was a good design, but that if we were clever, we could, we could reduce the build cost enormously and the, the, the, the sales price could be about a third of a, a confocal microscope even cheaper than the radiance. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:38):
I remember.

Brad Amos (00:22:41):

Peter O’Toole (00:22:42):
Was it the cell map?

Brad Amos (00:22:43):
The cell map. Yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:22:44):
I remember it,

Brad Amos (00:22:46):
But that unfortunately, even though people had started buy it they never got it because we were taken over and the the UK confocal business was closed and and so on. So that, that was one of the lowest points actually, but it, it was not the only one. And the, the one that I I’m talking about I mentioned earlier was actually when I had abandoned my early research topic, which was a different form of contractility from muscle, which occurs in a protozoa, such as VOR, which is a little pond organism. I, I had to abandon that because the project became very difficult and also my patron in a sense Weis Fogh the Danish professor at the microscopes died. And it was a very traumatic period because his wife was killed in a road accident and he progressively deteriorated and became very difficult man, and then he committed suicide. So that led to my having a, a, a difficult time. I was looking for a job cuz I’d lost my patron, which is gross carelessness in a system with a lot of patronage. And I decided that what I’d done wrong was I had worked on something which was not of not mainline it wasn’t mainline cell biology. Yeah. So I flung myself into a monoclonal antibody project which I could start by sneaking into the MRC lab, which in those days was never locked. You could just walk in and my wife worked there so I could get in and out easily. And she gave me some of her bench space to, to, to work on. And I, I, I had a, a project where I was helped by John Gilmartin who was a, a brilliant erm biochemist and also by Bob Johnson back in, in zoology who was an expert in cell fusion and by Yair Argon who taught me how to make monoclonals, how to fuse the cells the myeloma cells with the, the spleen. I took the spleens out of the mice. I had prepared the antigen. I selected the monoclonals. I prepared screens for the monoclonals by immunofluorescence using synchronized Hela cells, which involved staying up most of the night compressing cultures in nitrous oxide, according to a very strict time schedule. In fact, I was trying to do what would normally be done by a large research group, all on my own. And I succeeded, I actually got some monoclonals which had interesting immunofluorescent distributions in the mitotic Hela cells. They looked as if, well, there were some that were restricted to the condensed chromatin. Others were on the microtus and not all of them turned out to be anti tubulin maintaining them. I found that they were slowly dancing away. They stopped producing the, the, the, the tetter of antibody went down and down from the cultures and the, and the gurus in the LMB who were the leaders in the world. Yeah. At that time said, oh, bad luck. It sometimes happens. These hybrids, they just lose chromosomes. So that’s tough. But for me, that was a very low time. I mean, I, I, I, with John Gilmartin’s help, I, I got a two year grant from the MRC that was over. So I had no salary and I have no antibodies and no result from two years of very, very hard work. So that was why discovering that John White was a tremendous polymath and works on, on the nematode brain and is also able to command the very latest in digital and also good old analog electronics. He, he had realized the importance of beam scanning set up a, a confocal microscope using the time base of an older CellaScope to, to drive the drive the scan. Um and he was, he was getting results. And so he agreed with Allity to my proposition to modernize the microscope and, and, you know, equip it with things like transmitted light, which it didn’t have. And, and we were both very excited. So we, he, he used to come towards the end of the day and say should, should we carry on with this tonight? And I used to go in and we’d work until midnight night after night doing all kinds of crazy things. I, I, I, I needed a finder slide that were in fluorescence. So I got some microfilm which was still being produced in those days. And I made a contact copy of a finder slide were on microfilm because the blue stuff in the microfilm is actually fluorescent. So I could use those to get before and after images. So that was essential for the J cell biology paper that, that made us famous. It was essential to have the, the very same cell or the same group of cells with the best you could achieve with conventional optics and the confocal results side by side. And we, we did all of that. And I, I used my, my Hela synchronized cell as specimens. And I also got my biological cronies to bring many different things because otherwise we would’ve only had Hela and nematodes. So we, we but I, at that time, I thought that I would just be finding specimens and and, and finding microscopes and attaching them to the confocal in different ways. And I, I was really delighted to make this contribution of the, the scanning system, because that that, that did actually save our bacon, we, we would not have been successful with something that couldn’t handle double staining.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:09):
Yeah. Which we’ve all benefited from. And, and now not just double staining for 3, 4, 5, 6, yes. Staining. Yes,

Brad Amos (00:31:17):

Peter O’Toole (00:31:18):
LMB sounds like a, sounds like everyone works hard, it’s it is an amazing environment. You’ve got that sort of hotbed of innovation.

Brad Amos (00:31:28):

Peter O’Toole (00:31:29):
Working to midnight, but it’s not all, and this is where the pictures get really entertaining. Cause I believe this is you as Robin hood.

Brad Amos (00:31:40):
Yes. yes. Well, my, as soon as I started on the the confocal thing, I, I changed my, my penurious state. I got a salary from BioRad incidentally. So they paid me as if I was an MRC employee. So I was like voltaire, who lived on the boundary between two countries and could always skip across into one when the other proved to disapprove. And this meant that I could have these quite satirical skits and that particular one concern the history of the lab and the, the succession one director by another and the on the screen, it has a, a, a, a slightly altered Beatles theme. And the, the theme was always about the problems, the real problems of being a researcher and a, I, I was always amazed that there was so much talent suppressed in the lab. So I, I used to think of a, a theme. Sometimes it was pantomime once it was the the, the temptation of Faust based on Marlow’s version. And, and there was lots of other things. We had one thing based on the Full Monty and the number of volunteers was amazing and their abilities were just, you would never believe it. There was a Dutch girl who came forward and said that she had been trained in stage sword, sword fighting. So we had a version of Robin hood, which I managed to twist around. So we had some stage sword fighting and the, we, we had two, two women fighting with they were supposed to be kind of ninja warriors. And I, I made swords for them. I was all too close to these swishing blades, and I was rather relieved when one of them dropped down as if killed. And the Dutch girl then picked up her head and held it up. And it was a head that I had made to resemble the, the actress out of papier-mâché. And the whole audience went kind of, it was a, could a tear and, and very, the whole thing was, was, was just terrific. Can I, I, I enjoyed it immensely because it, it always involved going into the lab on a cold winter night and suddenly outta the darkness, you went into a lighted area with all the, these young people excited and, and ready to to go on, on stage. And of course the people I lampooned or attacked didn’t dare cause they knew they had to keep, even if they resented it. So, so it became so popular that I became fireproof and financially I was as well. So so I love it. It was great.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:40):
More places should do it,

Brad Amos (00:35:42):
People, very senior people. I won’t give names except for César Millstein. Otherwise you would suspect me of doing a typical bit of Cambridge name dropping, but they were willing to act César was willing to play one of the cleaners in the lab. And I had him come on stage with a bottle of the cleaning spray and say oh, they tell me to clean the floor. I don’t even how I clean it floor. I, I just spray it with varnish cuz we had all these dirty Lino floors, which had never been clean, but we grew Glossier and Glossier, but César proof to be totally outta control. And he kept coming on stage and spraying the feet of the people on stage. So there, there were, there were some very chaotic performances.

Peter O’Toole (00:36:40):
So you write these skits yourself each there’s a couple more pictures. So this I presume is you, is the pope

Brad Amos (00:36:46):
That, that was from Faust. And I was I was the Pope which had a had the Spanish element in the lab a bit embarrassed because they, they were good Catholics. And this was long ago, not so far from the, the Franco era. When you, you didn’t say anything about church or government and they actually changed after that performance and they became more and more excited to play satirical parts in the skits. At first it was the Spanish women who wanted to take part, but then the men would go and lean on them and say, if, if you do this, no man would look at me, look at you. And, and, and they bring you bring shame on your family and so on. But I remember one Spanish girl I, I, I made a song for her, which was about how people who joined César’s lab invariably became pregnant soon after. And the, it was in Spanish and the remedy La sudion was cinturón de castidad, a Chasity belt for all newcomers to the lab. And she, I thought was going to chicken out at the last minute. So I grabbed her arm and we went on stage together and we both sang in Spanish about this and for a year after that people in the elevator or wherever would start talking to me in Spanish because they, they thought that my vocabulary was enough, but it, it didn’t extend beyond cinturón de castidad, which is not terribly useful for walking off the, a brightly coz in, in, in, in Spanish. And,

Peter O’Toole (00:38:59):
And from the next feature, I presume you are still doing these skis cause this looks rather current.

Brad Amos (00:39:05):
Yeah. So, well, I was brought back out of retirement to play Boris.

Peter O’Toole (00:39:11):
That’s Boris Johnston for those international,

Brad Amos (00:39:14):
I didn’t, this was, this was not a skit that I’d written. This was one that, that that they, the students have written themselves. And the issue was that Boris comes on on stage to inquire into who are foreign in, in the lab and to, to get rid of them get, get rid of the, the foreign academics. And there’s a lot of stuff about well, the, the English student who is not foreign was actually played by a Polish guy whose English was implacable. And he’s the one who gets sent off. Because he, he says he doesn’t actually watch bake off. And so Boris then said, oh no, bakeoff Johnny Forer and, and has him off stage. And

Peter O’Toole (00:40:16):
He’s the one wearing the England football top. Those that are listening. That’s that’s, I just love the humor and there’s a place for humor. And I, back at Essex, we used to have a, an annual play similar by the student, by the post-graduate students that ripped all the academics offer any, any faux par they’d made you in the year would come back and haunt them each.

Brad Amos (00:40:38):

Peter O’Toole (00:40:38):
It was the team spirit. It was good from around. It was good for breaking down barriers. Yes.

Brad Amos (00:40:45):
And as time went on my skits became less about La lampooning, the, the senior figures and more about the general plight of, of people in, in research. And I had a, a, a version of the Beatles penny lane, which was, was, was about the, the, the research student throwing their, their chance and, and, and, and having their last turn of the roulette because of its tremendous risk of doing research. And I actually had some people in the audience actually in tears over that. So the skits had sort of morphed into something more communal and more less lesser of a, a comedy show. But there we are, but I, I did do other things. It was only one month in each year that I, I devoted to

Peter O’Toole (00:42:05):
You thought enough about evenings in the lab, making lenses and samples and test slide. We, we do, don’t worry, Brad, we’re not thinking you’re spending all your time. I’m doing skits. You sent me this picture and this is a complete change of subject with this is your drawing. I presume of a correct. Oh, you, you tell us what, what’s it a drawing of? Cause I’ll get it wrong.

Brad Amos (00:42:27):
This is a squirrel fish, an endemic species of Ascension island, which is one of the string of islands that runs across the, the Atlantic. And

Peter O’Toole (00:42:40):
You do yourself.

Brad Amos (00:42:43):
I painted it for Roger Lubbock who was a zoologist because after my zoological phase, when, when the that Danish professor died I I became more zoological cause of striking up an acquaintance with a an [Inaudible] who was extremely brilliant and had been misguided in by his school. The school had sent him to Oxford as a historian, not realizing that he was a scientist, even though he had kept tanks at school and was obsessed with fish and went to scuba diving. And so on you, you may have heard of the school it’s called Eton college. But they got this completely wrong. And Christ church in Oxford said to him, do you realize that you are a scientist, go away, do some, A levels in scientific subjects and then come back and, and we’ll look at you. Um so they saw something in him and it was actually considerable intellectual brilliance. When he arrived in Cambridge, I, I was in my state of disbond because of the death of my, my protector in a way. And Roger turned up and he, he started asking me things. He, he was a confident Etonian. So if he wanted to know something, he just went and asked, somebody had no compunction about disturbing them or anything. Very, very confident. And I ended up being unofficial supervisor and teaching him about science and about if you can believe it mathematics. Even. I remember he came to me once and he said Brad, these, these exponentials logarithms that you are telling me about that bloody good, aren’t they, well, why did they, why did they teach me about logs to the base 10? Cause the exponential ones are so much better which makes him sound like an idiot, but he wasn’t no idiot. He, he, he, he got a personal MRC grant to study self, non self distinction by cilentrex. And he taught Linda, my wife my, my late wife and, and, and me how to scuba dive. And we ended up these, yeah, this is, this is a picture of I’m the one standing up in the Outrigger canoe. And this is off the island of Palawan in the, the Philippines, which is, is is one of the, is places that you must go there if you are a, a zoologist or a shell collector or anything like that Palawan in the sulu sea is a place to conjure with. And wife, I, the if you go back to that, can you go back to the previous, of course I can slide the person in the sea, in the scuba outfit where you can’t see but who took that picture was my wife. Um wow. So she, and, and Roger dived in the Philippines and I couldn’t I developed a tropical head cold, so I, I couldn’t put my head more than more than one meter below the surface of the sea without intense pain. So anyway the next picture shows Linda on a a holiday that we had in, in the the Maldives she’s on a crowded dive boat and, and that’s her in the foreground with the yellow adjustable buoyancy like life jacket. And we, she was incredibly brave cause she, she already was showing some return of the multiple sclerosis, which appeared in the earliest year of our marriage is coming back, but she still learned to scuba dive and she, she she dived with me we, we dived off that boat among sharks because the guy standing up Helmet Whiteman as a crazy German who liked to go down and holding fish in steel reinforced gloves would feed them to sharks. Uh so we, we, we sat Linda, Linda and I on a Sandy bank, the depth of about five meters. And he was waving these fish about, and the, these, these reef sharks came around and you didn’t see them bite. You simply saw them cruise by, there was a flash cuz they’d jerk their head up faster than you can really follow it by eye. And there was the fish halved and a little blood floating in the, in the, in the water. So this was completely mad the whole business, but we did it, he, he just informed us beforehand that if a shark, if the shark comes to you, you do not put out your hand. He just wishes to know if you are British or Spanish. If you put out your hand, he will take it. So we sat with our hands tucked in as, as, as well as we possibly could. And, and, and we survived

Peter O’Toole (00:49:35):
You braver than I would be,

Brad Amos (00:49:37):
But I, I did nearly kill myself once scuba diving, but that, that’s another story

Peter O’Toole (00:49:43):
Back to the fish. Cause it’s, I believe from the pictures you sent me has another story as well behind it, another

Brad Amos (00:49:51):
That’s right. Well I was working in the lab and two extremely polite gentleman in Tweed suits turned up. And they explained that they were both company directors who had retired and were now working as crown agents. So they were working for the queen and they were responsible for the design of British postage stamps. And they wanted my painting. The, the painting that’s behind you is one that they wanted to use on a stamp for Ascension island. And it’s the, the bottom left one that’s the squirrel fish. And so I, I got that first day cover and the picture return. And and that, that was my my, my Royal duty executed, unfortunately I, although I thought at one time I might be a painter. My painting has been an and drawing has been really reduced to illustrating Roger’s ethological things and diagrams for scientific purposes. And at the start of the confocal project, I was using all of my faculties, my I when, when bio-rad, started to manufacture because bio ad were not terribly interested in putting any money into it. So John White and I had to really work hard to make sure that the things succeeded together we’ve worked on the production line to get systems shipped off to the USA. And I was drawing from then on quite a lot because I had to do the engineering drawings for all of the the scan head components, all of the adapters to fit the, MRC 500 and all the other microscopes to, to different microscopes. So I would take my drawings, which were there was no CAD in those days, or it was barely available. So I had, there were Indian ink on, on a faint blue graph paper, and I would go to all of the subcontractors and all too often I’d be discussing the drawing with the subcontractor, the guy who was actually gonna carve metal and the financial person in the company come in and say, we love to talk to you, Brad, but I’m, I’m afraid we can’t do it anymore because Bio-rad have not paid their bills, the company was really, really nickel and diamond all the time. Yeah. The, there, there are many stories about the the president of this international company who are so pathologically mean that he influenced the whole outfit and there was nobody hired for RnD for two years. So I was the RnD I was the promotion making two far east trips, which could be quite long three USA trips and several Europe trip in a year. And I got the opportunity to learn about American and Japanese Korean and Thai culture. So it was very interesting, but also tremendously exhausting cuz I was also having to write patents at the time. And my, my wife said, you, you are able to live like a Renaissance man because the company is such crap. And that, that really was the situation later on, they slowly began to hire people. But the basic problem was that they were interested in consumables and not, not in selling instruments. The, the secret of the company’s success was making HPLC kit, but that, that trapped every hospital into buying the consumables, including standard, urine and other things perpetually. So they, they were, weren’t so keen on, on British people. They weren’t so keen on microscopes either.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:35):
So Thinking about going to traveling to all these places some quick fire questions, what’s your favorite food. Been to all these places? What is your favorite food, if you to be taken out for dinner, what would you order?

Brad Amos (00:55:50):
I was terrifically fond of Sashimi and the, the, the tuna and the, the the shrimp. And so on that I had in Japan was always fantastic. I confess that I also tried whale meat. Now my family when they had lived in Liverpool during the war had been obliged to sometimes eat whale, meat is totally disgusting auto digested rubbish, but the the the whale meat that figured in Japanese cuisine was absolutely delicious. And of course I used the the, the rather feeble, moral excuse the whale had already been killed. So it made no difference whether I ate it or not, but anyway, it, it, it was delicious.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:01):
That’s never got a hold out as an, and we know that one what’s your least favorite food. So any food you really don’t like

Brad Amos (00:57:09):
There is one particular Indian dish, which is called Murg Moso and it makes me throw up. So I think it contains some antigen to which I’m allergic. I have no other food allergies at all. It’s just that one particular dish. Okay.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:32):
Are you an early bird or night owl?

Brad Amos (00:57:35):
I tend to slide later and later. And yeah, that, that, that, that that causes problems because you, you have to just stop it eventually and try and reset yourself. Okay.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:55):
That’s interesting. Tea or coffee.

Brad Amos (00:57:59):
Oh, coffee. I have a vast consumption of of, of, of coffee and yes, I, I I used to grind it but now I, I, I use pre-ground coffee, so I lowered my standards a little bit, but for, for

Peter O’Toole (00:58:26):
There a place for everything in this world, a place for everything’s still.

Brad Amos (00:58:28):
Actually, you can improve the taste of coffee by adding a tiny touch of salt. And there’s a Vietnamese trick where you add a tiny little bit of chocolate to the coffee before you allow it to percolate.

Peter O’Toole (00:58:46):
Okay. I was gonna say, what type of coffee then at that point, beer or wine

Brad Amos (00:58:51):

Peter O’Toole (00:58:52):
Beer or wine?

Brad Amos (00:58:56):
I’ve, I, I confess I’ve, I’ve kind of taken to having a Stellar Artois in the evening. And I used not to be a beer drinker at all, but I find that very, it was very convenient and I just go to the fridge and I get my my stellar wine drinking is difficult if you are on your own. I I’m now living with my younger son who does not drink wine. And so it’s, it’s, it’s quite difficult. I, I, I love especially burgundy and I, I like the, the, the rowan wines as well, but I, I, I don’t really get much chance to to drink. It would be a solitary occupation, which would be no fun.

Peter O’Toole (01:00:05):
Okay. Chocolate or cheese,

Brad Amos (01:00:09):
Chocolate, or

Peter O’Toole (01:00:11):

Brad Amos (01:00:11):

Peter O’Toole (01:00:14):
So sweet or savory, I guess.

Brad Amos (01:00:16):
Yes. Yeah. I I’m very partial to a a nice Brie or or a Stilton. I think I, I do get easily sickened by chocolate cause maybe because I tend to eat, eat the lot in one go. But cheese cheese is, is, is my, one of my gourmet treats.

Peter O’Toole (01:00:47):
You should go dark chocolate then. It’s always by my side. You don’t tend to gorge so much just snack on it. MAC or PC

Brad Amos (01:00:57):
PC, because as soon as you start working with a company, you tend to have to use a PC software for the original confocal from BioRad was an IBM 286 PC because Richard Durbin who’s now a head of, well, he was head of the, the world human genome project, but he, he wrote the software as a favor to his supervisor, John White. And he tried to use the Mac because everyone in the LMB uses a Mac, but he found that apple were too secretive about their operating system and it just, he had to follow the pattern of industry and, and using the PC.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:53):
Okay. Mcdonald’s or burger king

Brad Amos (01:02:00):
Try to avoid both, I

Peter O’Toole (01:02:02):
Think. Okay. That that’s a fair enough answer. Book or TV,

Brad Amos (01:02:09):
Sorry, which or TV? Yeah,

Peter O’Toole (01:02:11):
Book or TV. Oh,

Brad Amos (01:02:13):
Book or TV. I, I, I don’t watch TV very much now except for the news. And my, my taste in books is something like Joe Nesbook scan war when I’m just wanting to do something and, and have a horror story from, from Norway instead of thinking. But I I’ve tended more to read me nonfiction and I I’m very with the the, the William Sergeant book, which I’ve, I’ve looked at again and again, all, actually all my life called the, the battle for the mind, cuz I think it’s highly relevant to current situation in the world. And in politics, Sergeant was a I dunno if you know the book. No, no. He was a, he was a Cambridge psychologist who dealt with world War two, shell shock victims and people who had suffered brainwashing and, and terrible tortures and so on. And he put together this book, which examines how the human mind can be, can be washed and the prerequisites for successfully getting ideas, to penetrate into the human brain. And this has become a, a, a major interest for me. And I it’s maybe not appropriate, but I, I, to summarize briefly Sergeant found that all religious cults including things the lat Landers north American Indians Catholic liturgy and, and other things had the same quality of rhythmic chanting at about the same frequency about the frequency of the human heart. And he, he explains how, when you, when you have fear in your mind, your mind is very susceptible to suggest, and you will accept things which are manifestly untrue. They, they would not be accepted by the thinking side of your, your brain. And I have a, a feeling that we need to do that kind of analysis. There are interesting scientific experiments in experimental psychology that, that I could describe, but I want but the situation now is that every country in the world has more or less simultaneously given itself over to strong men. At the same time, we have the notion of climate change and that the synchrony of all of these events all over the world in different cultures suggests to me that human beings are afraid now and that they have become susceptible to political persuasion. And I think there is a part of the brain which is, is particularly non-logical and is a receptor. And to have it, I think is actually adaptive because we, we now know that our closest relative the chimpanzee is not like other monkeys. It’s very like us. However, because the males go out in a formation, a military formation, and they go around the perimeter of their territory and they murder any chimpanzee and occasionally other monkeys as well comes within in their territory. This is exactly what we do. And this is why humane civilized, cultured nations which have parliament even with women MP’s and so on and become fascist as happened in, by mark Germany. Um and so you can have the, the logical brain, but you can also have within it this capacity to commit genocide. And I think that it’s actually as a, as a zoologist, you’ve got to explain everything in terms of evolution. And I fear that we have this built into our brains. It so that we can receive things like war cries and act on them. And the word slogan is interesting cause political slogans, I think can go into the brain with this William Sergeant type conditioning. The word slogan is actually Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic for a war cry. And I didn’t know that I’ve gone on too long about this issue, but I, I,

Peter O’Toole (01:08:41):
Yeah. And yeah, very we can’t end on that somber note. So, and, and we’ve gone over the hour by a few minutes, actually. So I’m gonna ask you a couple of other quick questions. Are you a tidy or a messy person?

Brad Amos (01:08:57):
I am grotesquely messy with terrible long periods. When I vow to be tidy, I tidy everything and it takes me an hour to mess it all up again.

Peter O’Toole (01:09:13):
And do you have any bad habits?

Brad Amos (01:09:19):
Oh, the old man’s tendency to blether which is roundly pointed out when I go to Scotland, but that’s, that’s good for me to have it to be reminded.

Peter O’Toole (01:09:41):
But, Brad there was a couple of the, we didn’t get through, but it is up to the hour. I I’ve got good, cuz I love this picture. This picture you sent was when you were, I think from the text you sent me was when you were 14, is that correct?

Brad Amos (01:09:54):
Yes. And it’s it, it represents one of my mistakes, cuz I thought that this was science. I thought that a beautiful drawing was actually doing, I didn’t realize that for research. You very seldomly need beautiful drawings. So I, I got it all wrong. I neglected my mouths. I, I, I just didn’t understand.

Peter O’Toole (01:10:17):
And it was, but it was a microscope picture when you were 14, it was through a,

Brad Amos (01:10:21):
It was taken with a brass size nice microscope with a, a British made low power objective stuck on it. Yes.

Peter O’Toole (01:10:36):
Stunning picture and at the age of 14, which is amazing. Brad, thank you so much for taking your time today cuz I, I very much appreciate it. It I look forward to being part of your next skit, which no doubt might end up being the case. Thank you everyone for listening, watching this episode of The Microscopists, please, don’t forget to subscribe to whichever channel you are on and I hope we get Gail soon on this, Brad. Thank you very much again.

Brad Amos (01:11:04):
Thank you for having me

Brad Amos (01:11:05):
All the pleasure. Thank you for agreeing.

Intro/Outro (01:11:08):
Thank you for listening to The Microscopists, a Bitesizebio podcast sponsored by Zeiss microscopy to view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit


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