Kevin Mackenzie tells us about his role as Manager of the Microscopy and Histology Facility

Tell us about your role at the University

I manage the Microscopy and Histology Core Facility at the Institute of Medical Sciences on the Foresterhill Campus. The facility currently has 18 different microscope systems offering a wide range of techniques for imaging specimens, including light, fluorescence, laser, electrons, and x-ray. We also provide sample preparation facilities for researchers and handle a diverse range of biological and non-biological samples.

I have worked in the microscopy field at the University for over 35 years. During this time, I have not only acquired a breadth of knowledge across various disciplines, but also seen many changes and weathered many storms.

How do you usually start your day?

With a walk from Dental School carpark – I’ve learned that there’s no point trying to park at IMS unless you arrive before 7.30am. Besides; it’s a chance to stretch my legs and to get some fresh air.

When I get to the office, I check my email and calendar and plan the day ahead, discussing any issues or new jobs with my small but dedicated team. Then it’s a quick check of the microscopes to make sure they’re all working as they should.

What brought you to the University of Aberdeen?

I first came to work at the University straight from school. A fresh-face country boy from Grantown on Spey, I started out aged 17 as a trainee histology technician in the Department of Anatomy, located as it then was in Marischal College. This is where I was first introduced to electron microscopy.

I never left! But I have moved around.

After 10 years in Anatomy, I moved to Plant Science in Old Aberdeen. I was only there for a year before I, and the two electron microscopes, relocated to Zoology. I stayed in Zoology for 15 years looking after the Electron Microscope Unit before moving to IMS in 2005.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I enjoy being able to work with a diverse range of samples and being involved in projects across different research disciplines. You never know what you’ll be asked to look at next.

I’m also fortunate, for the most part, to be able to manage my own workload. This allows me to build in time to research, learn and develop new methods and techniques. And it allows me to spend time on the more creative part of my role – looking out for those one or two special microscope images that have potential. Something a little out of the ordinary that not only captures my interest, but that might also capture the imagination of competition judges!

What are your work priorities at the moment?

We are in the processes of preparing a grant application for a new Confocal Laser Microscope to help improve the service we offer researchers and to keep the facility at the forefront of research.

We have a new 3D printer and are working up methods for producing our own 3D prints to be used in public outreach activities.

In the New Year, I hope to spend some time using the School of Biological Sciences new CT scanner recently installed in Fraser Noble, Old Aberdeen. This technology is still relatively new to me and I want to see just what it can do

And on the creative side, I’m working with colleagues from the Rowett to produce a series of colourful images for their staff break out room.
How do you like to relax outside work?

Much of my free time is spent fly fishing for trout and salmon, on the Dee, Don and the Ythan estuary. Once a year, I get up to Orkney where in midsummer you can fish until midnight and into the small hours.

I also have an interest in photography that started in my early 20s. However, despite owning an amazing Nikon SLR camera and several quality lenses, I find I’m getting lazy and can’t be bothered to lug the kit around with me – I blame the iPhone!

I enjoy live music and will happily travel the country to see favourite bands.