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Gibson Group: Alex Baker

Alex's research is focused on making medical tests that are stable in a wide range of conditions, for a wide range of diseases, all for less than a US dollar.
Alex engages the public with his research and scientific topics of interest on a national and local level.

"The passion for what he does was apparent and hopefully very inspiring to students"

Feedback for Alex at a Public Engagement event


Alex is a WIE foundation fellow, WIHEA alumni fellow and organic chemist with a focus on carbohydrate chemistry deployed on polymer and nanoparticle scaffolds. His work is used in the design of protein-free medical diagnostic devices. He is also a trained XPS user and teaches lab-focussed spectroscopy in undergraduate workshops and labs. He was awarded his Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, MRSC and MRSB as a PhD student. Alongside his research, Alex is a Student Representative with a strong focus on removing educational barriers before and at university. Alex co-chairs, alongside Dr Bo Kelestyn, a group researching issues around diversity in STEM - specifically focused on how to decolonise STEM teaching and support women in STEM. Through this work Alex has supported and written for the Diversity Book Club initiative.

Alex enjoys communicating Science to all ages and is especially passionate about engaging students from Widening Participation (WP) and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Alex delivering one of the Warwick 2019 Christmas Lectures


Biography

Alex grew up in Essex, attending Westcliff High School for Boys for his GCSEs and A-Levels (Biology, Chemistry, Physics and History). He recieved his first class undergraduate masters degree in Chemical Biology from the University of Warwick Department of Chemistry. His final masters year thesis focused on glycosylation systems in prokaryotes as homologues of eukaryotes, under the supervision of Dr. M. Tosin. This work involved structural and functional studies utilising site-directed mutagenesis and activity assays.

Alex began his PhD under the supervision of Prof. M. Gibson in 2017 with industrial collaborators Iceni Diagnostics. The PhD is funded by Iceni Diagnostics and the BBRSC as an MIBTP iCase studentship and split between the Department of Chemistry and School of Life Sciences.

Since October 2017, Alex has been a member of the Postgraduate Student Staff Liason Committee for Chemistry and an MIBTP student representative for the University of Warwick iCase programme. In November 2017, Alex became the Postgraduate Research Representative for the Faculty of Science at the Univeristy of Warwick and was elected in March 2018 to represent the newly formed Faculty of Science, Engineering and Medicine. He was re-elected in 2019 and 2020.

Alex has a particular interest in improving student mental health, encouraging faculty outreach and raising the profile of teaching. His recent work has seen the introduction of a robust pastoral system for all PhD/PGR students and the passing of maternity/paternity leave for all funded and part-funded PhD students.

Alex has been made a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) for his contributions to teaching, learning and the student experience. WIHEA is an academy of educators engaged in developing high quality learning and teaching at the University of Warwick. Alex has also been awarded a Warwick Institute of Engagement (WIE) Foundation Fellowship for his work in outreach and public engagement.


Research Interests

The development of glycan-based nanoparticles and lateral flow platforms for point of care diagnostics, and the synthesis of novel small molecules and sugars. He is also trained in the use of x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS).

Alex has undertaken a three month mini-project (January-March, 2018) at the University of Birmingham in the research group of Dr. F. Fernandez-Trillo. The project focused on producing glycopolymers for lectin agglutiniation studies.

During the UK COVID-19 lockdown (March 2020 to July 2020) Alex's research was applied to tackling the problems of COVID-19 diagnosis. By applying his research, Alex and other key workers in the Gibson Group (and colleagues in Physics, the Medical School and Iceni Diagnostics) were able to prove that the proteins on the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus could be sensed in a rapid lateral flow device. This was the first published lateral flow test to use only carbohydrates ("antibody-free") as sensing units.

Research Presentations

Oral Presentations:

  • Hacking Pregnancy Tests with Chemical Lego to Fight Disease and Drug Resistance - Warwick Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference 2019
  • Out with the Protein, In with the Glycopolymer - A New Generation of Medical Diagnostics - Chemistry Postgraduate Symposium 2020
  • Towards Rapid COVID-19 Diagnosis - A New Generation of Medical Diagnostics - Macro Group UK Young Researcher Meeting 2020
  • From Grafting Density to Medical Diagnostics - XPS Applications in Synthetic Chemistry - UK Surface Analysis Forum 2020

Poster Presentations:

  • Can a Historic Reaction Deliver Novel Sugars for Future Diagnostics - MIBTP Poster Session 2018
  • Robust Protein-Free Diagnostics for the Developing World - MIBTP Poster Session 2019 and MIBTP AGM 2019
  • Going Protein-Free - The Future of Medical Diagnostics - Chemistry Postgraduate Symposium 2019

Publications

  1. Georgiou P.G., Baker A.N., Richards SJ., Laezza A., Walker M., Gibson M.I., Journal of Materials Chemistry B., 2020, 8, 136-145, Tuning Aggregative versus Non-Aggregative Lectin Binding with Glycosylated Nanoparticles by the Nature of the Polymer Ligand - Paper
  2. Richards SJ., Baker A.N., Walker M., Gibson M.I., Biomacromolecules, 2020, 21, 4, 1604-1612, Polymer-Stabilized Sialylated Nanoparticles: Synthesis, Optimization, and Differential Binding to Influenza Hemagglutinins - Paper
  3. Laezza A., Georgiou P.G., Richards SJ., Baker A.N., Walker M., Gibson M.I., Bioconjugate Chemistry, 2020, 31, 10, 2392-2403, Protecting Group Free Synthesis of Glyconanoparticles Using Amino–Oxy-Terminated Polymer Ligands - Paper
  4. Baker A.N., Richards SJ., Guy C.S., Congdon T. R., Hasan M., Zwetsloot A.J., Straube A., Walker M., Chessa S., Pergolizzi G., Dedola S., Field R., Gibson M.I.,The SARS-COV-2 Spike Protein Binds Sialic Acids, and Enables Rapid Detection in a Lateral Flow Point of Care Diagnostic Device (The pre-print paper can be found on ChemRxiv here, Published online 15/6/20)
  5. Baker A.N., Richard, SJ., Guy C.S., Congdon T. R., Hasan M., Zwetsloot A.J., Gallo A., Lewandowski J. R., Stansfeld P. J., Straube A., Walker M., Chessa S., Pergolizzi G., Dedola S., Field R., Gibson M.I., ACS Central Science, 2020, 6, 2046-52, The SARS-COV-2 Spike Protein Binds Sialic Acids and Enables Rapid Detection in a Lateral Flow Point of Care Diagnostic Device - Paper - Top 20 "Most Read Articles" on ACS Central Science 1 year after publication

  6. Fasciae M.A., Linclau B., Galan M.C., Baker A.N., Ledru H., Webster C.S., Council C.E., Walker M., Chidwick H., Wheatley D.E., Vendeville J-B., Keenan T., Budhadev D., Chemical Science, 2020, 12, 905-910, Introducing affinity and selectivity into galectin-targeting nanoparticles with fluorinated glycan ligands - Paper
  7. Georgiou P.G., Marton H.L., Baker A.N., Congdon T.R., Whale T.F., Gibson M.I., Journal of American Chemical Society, 2021, 143, 19, 7449-7461, Polymer Self-Assembly Induced Enhancement of Ice Recrystallization Inhibition - Paper
  8. Pancaro A., Szymonik M., Georgiou P.G., Baker A.N., Walker M., Adiaensens P., Hendrix J., Gibson M.I., Nelissen I., Nanoscale, 2021, 13, 10837-10848, The Nature of the Polymeric Glycolic-Linker Controls the Signal Outputs for Plasmonic Gold Nanorods Biosensors in Complex Media due to Biocorona Formation. - Paper
  9. Baker A.N., Richards SJ., Pandey S., Guy C.S., Ahmad A., Hasan M., Biggs C.I., Georgiou P.G., Zwetsloot A.J., Straube A., Dedola S., Field R.A., Anderson N.R., Walker M., Grammatopoulos D., Gibson M.I., ACS Sensors, 2021, 6, 10, 3696-3705, Glycan-based Flow-Through Device for the Detection of SARS-COV-2 from Patient Swabs - Paper
  10. Baker A.N., Congdon T. R., Richards SJ., Georgiou P.G., Walker M., Dedola S., Field R.A., Gibson M.I., ACS Polymer Au, 2021, End-Functionalized Poly(Vinyl Pyrrolidone) for Ligand Display in Lateral Flow Device Test Lines - Paper
  11. Baker A.N., Muguruza A.R., Richards SJ., Georgiou P.G., Goetz S., Dedola S., Field R.A., Gibson M.I., Advanced Healthcare Materials, 2021, Lateral Flow Glyco-Assays for the Rapid and Low-Cost Detection of Lectins - Polymeric Linkers and Particle Engineering are Essential for Selectivity and Performance - Paper
  12. Limas J.C, Corcoran L.C., Baker A.N., Cartaya A.E., Ayres Z.J., Chem. Eur. J., 2021, The Impact of Research Culture on Mental Health & Diversity in STEM - Accepted
     

Patents

Alex is a named inventor on a patent related to the COVID-19 rapid diagnostic work - Interested parties should direct their correspondence to Prof. Gibson.

Media Interest

The group's work producing a rapid diagnostic for COVID-19 ("coronavirus") has attracted media interest from the BBC and other media outlets. Prof. Gibson and Alex were interviewed.

Video from BBC Midlands Today evening and late news (26/6/20)


Public Engagement

Alex presents his research and topics of interest to a wide audience for both the University of Warwick and at a National-level for organisations such as The Training Partnership.

Alex enjoys speaking on a variety of topics in Chemistry and the Life Sciences, he has a particular interest in drug/diagnostic development and design. He is passionate about showing that Chemistry impacts on all aspects of modern life and that Chemistry is a modern world-changing subject for all. Some examples of talks he has given are listed below;

  • Lateral Flow Tests - Why Chemistry is more than just Chemicals - Alex presented this talk for The Training Partnership, Chemistry in Action 2021 events. His interactive and interdisciplinary talk focused on the health inequalities of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically diagnostic inequalities, and explored if glycopolymer-based systems might be the answer. He presented at three events in London, Manchester and Warwick to >2,000 A-level students. Some feedback from the events is below;

"The passion for what he does was apparent and hopefully very inspiring to students"

"Very fun and I liked how interactive it was. The parts about health inequality was really eye opening."
"Excellent synthesis of biology and chemistry. The juxtaposition of LFTs to pregnancy tests was a good comparison tool"
Feedback from TTP Participants for Alex's talk
  • Chemicals, Cocktails and Creativity – from molecules to masterpieces ("Creative Reactions") - One of three Pint of Sciences 2021 events from the University of Warwick as part of City of Culture Coventry 2021 and the University's Resonate Festival. Alex proposed, designed and hosted the interdisciplinary session as a panel discussion between experts from Chemistry, the School of Life Sciences, School of Liberal Arts and the NHS. The topic of the session was the influence chemicals found in nature (caffeine, opiates, cannabis and psilocybin, and their synthetic derivatives) have had on biology, medicine, art and culture.

"@warwickengages have put on a cracking #PintOfScience talk this evening, somehow combining cocktails, science and history in a brilliant way"
Feedback from viewer on Twitter
Advertising slide from Pint of Science Event
  • When Medicines Become Drugs - National Pint of Science 2020 Speaker for "Cuppa Science" (Pint of Science during the COVID-19 UK lockdown) run by the University of Hull and presented by Phil Bell-Young (@Philby91). Marty Jopson was the other guest speaker (@martyjopson)

This talk explored the small chemical differences that separate medicines from drugs, and how these differences turn chemicals from those that heal to those that harm

A link to the talk on youtube can be found here

Example advertising slide from Pint of Science Talk

The talk was later updated and repeated at NerdNite in 2021.

  • Naughty or Nice Chemistry - Warwick Christmas Lectures 2019, for over 1000 primary school children

This lecture looked at what makes certain chemicals "naughty" or "nice" using lots of demonstrations and audience participation

Highlights from the Christmas Lecture

  • When Medicines become Drugs - ACORNS Conference 2019 & 2021 run by Warwick ChemSoc for around 300 A-level students (2021 was virtual)

This talk discussed the small chemical differences that separate medicines from drugs, and how these differences have changed the world. Feedback was 3.9 out of 4 and 3.8 out of 4 for information and enjoyability respectively.

Alex at ACORNS Conference talking about "When Medicines become Drugs"

  • Fixing Pregnancy Tests with Sweet Chemical Lego - Research on the Rocks 2018, for around 50 undergraduates and postgraduates
  • Chemical Lego - Better Pregnancy & Disease Testing - Pint of Science 2019, for around 50 members of the public

A demonstration of "Alginate Jelly Worms - super-fast polymers synthesis" used at Pint of Science 2019

Alex at Pint of Science 2019 getting the audience to run pregnancy tests of their drinks to show how lateral flow diagnostic tests work

  • Assisting and mentoring Dr. Kathryn Murray in preparing and delivering an interactive lecture entitled “How to Freeze a Human” for Slice of Science, 2020. This was an event specifically for encouraging girls to consider studies and careers in STEM subjects.

Outreach Work

Alex enjoys running and participating in outreach activities for all ages, some examples are listed below;

  • Demonstrating for primary school, GCSE, AS and A-Level students in the undergraduate teaching laboratories with Nick Barker.
  • Founding and running the Think Science™ conference for two years. The conferences encouraged over 500 A-Level and GCSE students to see the diveristy of current research and to consider studying STEM subjects. Shortlisted as Best Summit, Conference or Forum in 2017 by the University of Warwick Students Union.
  • Speaking to 300 young people and parents on the importance of non-clinical research to the health sector and why it is a viable career alternative to Medicine - Not all Doctors have a Medical Degree
  • Running the ChemSoc Outreach program, as Outreach Officer (2014-2015), aimed at sparking a love of the Sciences in primary school students. He was awarded the Warwick Volunteers Certificate for this work.
  • Carrying out various talks and careers days in secondary schools to encourage GCSE and A-Level students to pursue a degree in the Sciences.
  • Organising and running an annual 3-day science track at a summer club for primary school children.

A demonstration of "Elephant's Toothpaste" to over 400 people on the final morning of the summer club

Slow-mo Bottle-rocket launch at the summer camp

  • Refurbishing labs and teaching Science at Solidarity International Academy, Nepal.

Teaching Experience

Alex enjoys teaching and has actively engaged with teaching in the University, this has built on Alex's time as a secondary school Science teacher in Nepal and teaching experience placements in UK Schools. Alex's university-level teaching experience is listed below;

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
  • Supervising MChem students both in the lab and online during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Assisting and teaching in the delivery of Spectroscopy Workshops a 2nd year undergraduate chemistry module
  • Demonstrating biochemistry labs for 1st year biochemistry undergraduates
  • Demonstrating organic chemistry labs for chemistry undergraduate and postgraduate courses
  • Writing and delivering Spectroscopy Intro Labs for 1st year chemistry undergraduates
  • Designing and supervising 1st year PhD students on 3 month research projects
  • Supervising a 2nd year undergraduate URSS student for their research project
  • Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) Fellowship - 2019-20 (now alumni fellow)
  • Warwick Institute of Engagement (WIE) Foundation Fellow
  • Leading student led revision classes for undergraduates in organic chemistry, bio-organic chemistry and biology for chemists
  • Acting as lab-support for disabled students

Education/Pedagogical Pieces

  1. Is this the end of the lecture? But the beginning of something more? - The Future of the STEM Community. Invited essay for "Bubbling Up" a student and staff blog in the Department of Chemistry at Warwick University - link
  2. Alex is the lead of the writing team for the Diversity Book Club (2021), a year-long initiative in the Department of Chemistry aimed at educating students and staff in diversity issues with the goal of fixing these issues. This is in collaboration with the RSC. University Coverage & Website.

Awards

2022
  • Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) 2022, 10th Anniversary - Participant
2021
  • Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)

"For someone at such a junior career stage this is unusual but an indication of the consummate professionalism that infuses the entire application and the supporting statements. There is a keen understanding of the sites of learning outside, as well as within, the classroom."

FHEA Feedback

  • Warwick Institute of Engagement (WIE) Foundation Fellow
  • Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) Alumni Fellow
2020
  • Member of the Royal Society of Biology (MRSB)
  • Macro Group UK Young Researcher Meeting 2020 Best Oral Presentation Prize

"Towards Rapid COVID-19 Diagnosis - A New Generation of Medical Diagnostics" 

  • Faculty Representative of the Year Award
  • University of Warwick Department of Chemistry, Postgraduate Symposium Talk Prize - First Place

"Out with the Protein, In with the Glycopolymer - A New Generation of Medical Diagnostics"

  • University of Warwick, Department of Chemistry, ChemContext - Second place

A competition to produce a poster that frames a topic in your research in the context of the UG curriculum

2019
  • Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) Fellowship
  • Faculty Representative of the Year - Nominated
  • Exec of the Year Award - with Postgraduate Exec
  • University of Warwick Department of Chemistry, Postgraduate Symposium Poster Prize - First Place

2018
  • Faculty Representative of the Year Award

"For having worked tirelessly to promote and amplify the research student voice’, within both the university and the SU. He has successfully formed and maintained partnerships with academic colleagues and has more than deserved this award"

Warwick SU

2017
  • Associate Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (AMRSC)
  • Associate Member of the Royal Society of Biology (AMRSB)

Affiliations

Royal Society of Biology: Member (MRSB)

Royal Society of Chemistry: Member (MRSC)

Higher Education Academy: Fellow

Biochemical Society: Postgraduate Student Member

Warwick International Higher Education Academy: Alumni Fellow and Member

Warwick Institute of Engagement: Foundation Fellow

Grants and Bursaries

  • BBSRC-funded MIBTP program
  • iCase Scholarship with Iceni Diagnostics Ltd.

Other Interests

Outside of his research, Alex enjoys playing hockey, watching Scottish Rugby and the Green Bay Packers, films, tech, history and attempting to learn French.

AB profile PoS

Education

University of Warwick

MChem in Chemical Biology

2013-2017

Contact

a dot n dot baker at warwick dot ac dot uk

@AB_wan_Kenobi

ORCID ID

orcid.org/0000-0001-6019-3412

QR code for Orcid

Affiliations

FHEA

MRSC

MRSB

WIHEA Alumni Fellow

WIE Foundation Fellow

ResearchGate

Link to RG Profile