Who are we? Why are we here? Luckily as we’re asking these questions in the context of The Variables rather than as a prelude to a philosophical discussion, we can actually get somewhere with that… meet the team!


Michael Conterio is the head of the Variables, having set it up based on his experiences as part of the Science Showoff Talent Factory. A former research physicist, he enjoys showing people that there’s more to quantum physics than Schrödinger’s cat, and that there’s more to physicists than messy hair and a glazed-over look. Photo courtesy of Steve Cross.


Stanley Strawbridge has recently emerged from his Thesis Writing Cave. By Day he uses the tools of math(s) to explore the wonders of how one pluripotent cell can give rise to all other cell types of the body, and by night he trys to explain how there is more to stem cell biology than Dolly the sheep and growing limbs in the lab.


Sonja Dunbar thinks plants are great! Having completed her PhD in protein-protein interactions she returned to her plant sciences roots. She now spends much of her time trying to get people to look past the plain green exterior and see how complex and fascinating plants really are.


Fran Day is a theoretical physicist studying the mystery of dark matter. She writes and performs comedy about how physics works. Fran uses humour to go beyond big numbers and explosions (most of the time) to the deeper questions of fundamental physics.


Moyra Lawrence is a stem cell biologist working in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. She has moved countries more times than she’d like to admit and thrives on science and cultural misunderstandings. She likes to talk about how to spot a scientist in a crowd, her favourite stem cells, zombies, blackcurrant syrup smuggling and proposals.


Riva Riley is a zoology PhD student from the American Midwest. She studies freshwater fish (which are totally underrated) and her research pertains to communication- she essentially studies how fish make friends. Throughout her time in the field and the lab, she has made fishy friendships with all sorts of creatures (including some other humans).


Kate Feller is a sensory biologist with a sense of humor. Her sets typically recount her experience doing field work with mantis shrimp, the coolest crustaceans you probably didn’t know about. She also plays songs on the ukulele and talks about her adorable, albeit disgusting, little British dog.


Matthew Kemp loves rocks. That’s all you really need to know, but if you want some more… He is a geologist in the wilderness between degree and PhD – researching (basically coding and rock licking) by day, performing stand-up sets and songs about rocks by night. Science Communication is his passion (as well as rocks) and he wants to help everyone love rocks as much as he does.


Elo Madissoon studies biological differences between cells by the novel method of single-cell RNA-sequencing. She is a PostDoc in European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and Wellcome Sanger Institute. Her personal interest in Popular Science and stage performance has lead to stand-up comedy, in spite of her often receiving accusations of not getting other people’s jokes.

Bish Marzook is a scientist, writer, and comedian – definitely in that order if you ask her parents. She recently moved to Cambridge after completing her PhD in virology and cell biology in Sydney, Australia, where she also wrote for comedy news website SBS Comedy and The Backburner, appeared on local on national radio, and co-ran Wolf Comedy, a Sydney comedy room committed to promoting diversity in comedy. She has performed at international science festivals, national music and writers’ festivals, and local comedy festivals. She hopes to book her first food festival soon.

Sushmita Sridhar is a second year PhD student studying the greatest things on earth–bacteria. When she’s not busy contemplating bacterial world domination (let’s face it, this is already the case), she’s often alternating between wandering aimlessly and walking with great purpose, or lurking near rubbish bins. Life goals include maximizing daily chocolate intake and lurking farther away from rubbish bins.

Dana Galili, a post-doctorate researcher in neuroscience, is interested in the secrets of our brains and our behaviour- what makes us think, learn, laugh and cry. She is a co-founder of “Bake This“, an improvisation theatre group, in which she performed, told stories and entertained audiences for 7 years before moving to Cambridge. Dana now combines her passion for science with her love of the stage to tell you all you wanted to know about everything there is. Photo courtesy of Steve Cross.

Jonathan Cairns mixes statistics, genetics and medicine together to make a delicious fondue of science. His modest achievements in those fields have all been overshadowed by his appearances on daytime quiz shows.