Duncan Hull

Is bracing himself for the England game

Favourite Thing: To go to international conferences. This is great fun, where you get to present your work (and have other people criticise it) and also look at the cool stuff other scientists and engineers from around the world are doing.



St Laurence School a long time ago


University of Manchester, Biology (undergraduate), MSc and PhD (Computer Science) 2007

Work History:

A sausage factory, a breakfast kitchen in America, a school in India, a publisher, a small software consultancy, the University in Manchester, Budgens supermarket and I did a morning paper round at secondary school for about 6 years (record service!)


European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) near Cambridge, UK

Current Job:

Software engineer

Me and my work

Helping computers to understand chemistry and drugs by making them more ‘intelligent’.

I’m part of a small team of people that research and develop a public database of small compounds (many of them drugs) for use by scientists and engineers mostly in Europe. We make all our data publicly available on the Web so that anyone can use it for whatever purpose they see fit, such as discovery new kinds of drugs for cancer etc. As well as developing the database, we’re working on novel techniques to improve it so that more intelligent computer programs can “understand” the information, and make useful suggestions (and maybe discover new knowledge) for scientists in the lab, this is a kind of artificial intelligence. If we get this right, we can leave the computer to do our jobs for us and all go down the pub instead…. its a kind of Robot Scientist if you like. 

My Typical Day

coffee, computer, meeting, lunch, more coffee, seminar, meeting, more computing, then home.

I cycle to work, have a shower, then a coffee and read through emails. Every day at about 10am we have a group meeting called “Scrum” where we each talk about what we’re doing that day and try to help each out if possible. I spend a fair amount of time writing software and testing it, usually in the morning. Then we go for lunch in the canteen. In the afternoon there might be a seminar to go to on the campus where I work or there may be various lab meetings to attend. As well as doing experiments with software and talking to people, I try to read and write about the work related to what we are doing, to keep on top of developments. At the end of the day, its back on the bike and home…

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to build a large interactive wooden model of ribosome, the machinery inside cells that make proteins, and use this in science festivals and other teaching activities

Earlier this year I was involved with the Cambridge Science Festival which was fantastic fun. We had lots of interactive exhibits for school kids from age 4-18 and the ones that work best tend to have a model of some kind. I would like to build a mechnical model of a ribosome (or perhaps pay for somebody else to build a really good one), this is the machinery inside each cell that makes many kinds of different proteins and enzymes, that participate in virtually every process within living cells.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Only three words?!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Most things *except* Celine Dion

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Cycling/Snowboarding in the French Alps (not at the same time!)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. Health 2. Happiness 3. To have close friends and family

What did you want to be after you left school?

Something sciencey but not sure what

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Sometimes but generally

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Travelled the world and met lots of crazy people from around the globe (especially Californians and Japanese).

Tell us a joke.

Q: How many mathematicians does it take to change a lightbulb? A: None. It’s left to the reader as an exercise.