Postgraduate Lives: 'Companies use enzymes to change their products'


Nathaniel Saidu, 25, is doing an MSc in biocatalysis at the University of Exeter

So what is biocatalysis?

It's all about creating chemical reactions in things using naturally occurring catalysts, such as enzymes. It's an important discipline, especially in the cosmetics and food industries, where a lot of companies use enzymes to transform the chemical composition of their products. The subject has been around for a while, but it has started to gain in popularity recently and people are investing a lot of money in it.

Why did you choose this course?

I did biochemistry for my undergraduate degree at the University of Surrey, during which we studied biocatalysis but never really in depth. I was fascinated by how these enzymes could transform one chemical into another, and always wanted to learn more about the process. After my degree, I noticed that Exeter had a biocatalysis centre so I thought I'd come here.

How is it taught?

It's a combination of lectures and your own work. Your supervisors lead you along and tell you what to do and what not to do, and you learn a lot from them, but it's up to you to use your own initiative to do the work.

Is there a research project?

Yes. My topic is about the use of enzymes in the chemical industry. One area is about beauty and cosmetic products, but another is about how chemicals can be used to destroy hazardous and harmful substances such as pollutants. I'm doing the project in collaboration with a company, and I might get the opportunity to do some work with them, which is exactly what I want to do.

What do you like best about the course?

I quite like everything about it, but the best thing is the research project because it defines your degree. Even though you learn a lot in the classroom, until you get to do the work yourself and see how everything operates, you don't really feel like you've achieved something. I'm really looking forward to my research work and I can't wait to start.

And what is the most difficult thing about it?

There's so much you need to learn – it's not just the biocatalysis you need to know about, it's the ethics of everything you're doing and how it affects the wider community. There are a lot of essays to write about the social impact of everything, as well all the science to learn.

Will it set you up well for the future?

Yes. The degree and research project will definitely give my CV a big boost, and the company I'm working with might be able to offer me a job at the end of it.

How much does it cost?

The MSc is £4,000 but I received a bursary from the university to help me cover the fees – they are given out to quite a few students.

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