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When you hear the word 'scientist' you would be forgiven if an image of the Muppets character 'Beaker' springs to mind. Scientists can sometimes get a raw deal so we're here to show you that Scientists are human beings just like us who happen to be interested in science too.


Our first Science Quarterly interview is with Neil Ashcroft. Neil, 40, has been a scientist for sixteen years and works as an Analytical Chemist for a company called Intertek Analytical Sciences Group (ASG).


Here, Neil chats with us about everything from his job to his favourite colour.


Did you always want to be a scientist?
No, when I was in primary school I wanted to be a helicopter pilot.


So you didn't want to be a scientist?
I didn't know anything about science then. When I was younger, primary school children weren't
introduced to science we had to wait until we were in secondary school.


Do you remember what the first experiment you ever did was?
That was probably the separation of a felt tip marker on filter paper when I was in Secondary School.


What was your favourite subject in Secondary School?
The obvious answer is Chemistry, although I did really enjoy History too.


At what age did you know you wanted to be an Analytical Chemist?
The decision to be an Analytical Chemist was made whilst I was at University although I knew I wanted to a scientist when I was in High School.


You mentioned you made the decision whilst at University. Which University did you attend?
I was born and raised in Manchester and although there are excellent science courses throughout the UK, I chose to go nearby to Salford University which is in Salford.


What courses did you do at University to help you become a scientist?
I received A Levels' in Chemistry, Physics and Maths when I was in College. With this I was then able to go to University and study a BSc (Bachelor of Science) in Chemistry which was a three year course. Once I received this, I then continued studying for an extra year and received my MSc (Masters) in Analytical Chemistry.


Is education important if you want to become a scientist?
I believe education is important no matter what it is you want to do in life whether it be a scientist; physiotherapist; medical secretary; doctor or art dealer.


Your job title is 'Analytical Chemist'. What does Analytical mean?
My definition of Analytical would be to take a structured approach at looking at something. With regards to my job the definition of Analytical would be the measurement of different aspects of a material to give a better understanding of the whole.


What sort of things do you analyse?
Personally I have analysed a wide range of materials from impurities in toners used in laser printers to potential anti cancer compounds found in tree bark. On a more regular basis I currently analyse polymeric materials including proteins and peptides to determine purity and molecular weight.


Is it hard to analyse liquids?
For me it is not hard to analyse liquids as most of my instruments involve a liquid (mobile) phase which passes through my instruments.


Can you analyse solids and how do you do that?
I analyse solids on a regular basis. I do this by dissolving them in a liquid, for example proteins are water soluble, then I introduce (inject) them into my instruments.


What does an 'Analytical Chemist' do?
An Analytical Chemist will measure the chemical and physical properties of materials to gain a full understanding of the whole. With regards to me I specialise in Separation Sciences which, funnily enough, involves the separation and measurement of samples which may contain multiple compounds.


What equipment do you use?
I use on a regular basis High Performance Liquid Chromatography, Size Exclusion Chromatography, Capillary Electrophoresis and Multi Angled Laser Light Scattering.


What makes your job fun?
Did you not hear my previous answer? I use instruments with Lasers! Lasers are so cool.

Seriously though what makes my job fun is the solving of the puzzles and problems that occur when you try to measure some of these compounds, also the knowledge that sometimes you are one of the first people in the world looking at that compound with that technique.


That does sound fun. You obviously enjoy your job.
I do. On average I work 40 hours a week. That's a long time if you don't enjoy what you're doing. I think it's important to enjoy what you do.


So you were lucky...
I was lucky. I fell in love with science at a young age and have enjoyed the journey it has taken me on ever since. That doesn't happen to everyone. Sometimes it takes years for a person to find what they enjoy and turn it into a career. I feel very fortunate.


You're not only a scientist you have many other interests too. Do you think that is important?
I do. It's great to enjoy your job but it's also important to enjoy other things in your life.


What other interests do you have?
I'm a member of a local brass band and have been for the past 30 years. We travel all over the country taking part in competitions and have even travelled to France where we won the French Open in 2009.

I also enjoy the outdoors, anything to do with walking or camping. I was a Boy Scout when I was a teenager and have enjoyed camping since then.

I read a lot and have been known to read into the early hours of the morning if I can't put a book down! I also enjoy playing computer games.


As well as learning about your hobbies, we like to ask random questions so our readers can learn more about you. Is that okay?
Of course. Fire away.


What's your favourite colour?


What's your favourite food?
That's a difficult question for me to answer as I tend to eat virtually everything, but I do love a good steak.


What's your favourite television programme?
Currently the one I watch regularly is Top Gear.


Who was your idol when you were growing up?
When I was a boy and being a Manchester United fan my idol was Steve Coppell.


What's your favourite "chill out" day?
A day playing games on the XBox or the PC


Where would you most like to visit?
The South Pole, I even tried to get a job there once.


Would you prefer to go to a museum or a football match?
A football match.


What's your favourite word?


What's your least favourite word?
Deviation, it's a work thing.


What sound or noise do you love?
I love the sound of thunder.


What sound or noise do you hate?
That would have to be a mobile phone going off when I'm in the cinema.


What was your favourite film as a child?
It was Star Wars, and it's still one of my favourites today.


And finally, what was your favourite book to read as a child?
The Lord of the Rings, I could read it in three days during the school holidays.