Dr. Karen Marshall


An image of a woman with blonde hair tied in a ponytail working in a lab. She is wearing a white labcoat and gloves and looking into a microscope.

Image by Stuart Robinson

  • BORN 1981, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK
  • WORKED Rocky Mountain Laboratories, Montana, USA; Serpell Lab, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
  • HONOURS BSc and DPhil both from Sussex University


In this podcast myself and  Prof. Louise Serpell  from the Serpell Lab, School of Life Sciences and Prof. Nicholas Till – Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre, explore the ideas behind the Misfolding Project, based at the University of Sussex. We commissioned a series of 5 audiovisual works from a diverse range of artists under the mentorship of Frances M Lynch, which together form an exploration of the science of Alzheimer’s disease. The podcast gives you a flavour of the music by Lynch, Shu Yang, Kira Ramchaitar-Husbands and Antonia Redding with a comprehensive exposition of the science – in laymans’ terms.

Artistic Connections

I first encountered Minerva Scientifica around 3 years ago when Frances came to Sussex University and performed some of her work to a small group of STEMM researchers. I was amazed at this form of science communication and had not encountered anything like it before. The collaborations started there. I love many types of music and have got into various kinds of trouble over the years to make sure I have attended the gigs and clubs I wanted to be at! To be able to participate in merging my two passions is a delightful surprise!


Title: Miss Amy-Lloyd Folding
Written: April 2023
For: 3 solo voices
Performed by: ELECTRIC VOICE THEATRE SINGERS, Frances M Lynch – Soprano, Margaret Cameron and Samantha Houston – Mezzos
Film by: Hannah Fox

One of 5 films made for the MISFOLDING Project 2023 – an audiovisual exploration of the science of Alzheimer’s disease

Title: Misfolding for Dummies
Written: April 2023
For: speaker and digital instruments
Performed by: the composer with Sarah Anker (BSL interpreter)
Film by: Herbie Clarke

Part of the MISFOLDING Project 2023 – an audiovisual exploration of the science of Alzheimer’s disease

Title: Misfolding for Dummies
Written: May 2021
For: Woodwind quartet, 2 violins and speaker
Performed by: the composer (all instruments are simulations due to current covid restrictions)

Frances wrote this piece to try to tell the whole story of misfolding proteins and their connections to Alzheimers disease. It is based on all the discussions we had this year about the project and what we wanted to communicate to the public. It ends with a message of hope.

Title: 3 Misfolding Responses (“Folding and Misfolding”, “Virus, Bacteria, Protein” and “Hope for ReFolding”)
Composers: Kira Ramchaitar-Husbands, Antonia Redding, Shu Yang
Written: as part of intensive Misfolding Workshops 1st & 2nd June 2021

Each composer attended our online sessions, heard about the science, worked on science/music parallels and created music and visuals which aim to communicate our research to the public. More details here.


I went to the local village school for early years, then a girl’s grammar school for secondary education. It was here I developed an interest in science – in particular those processes that go on to make life possible that we cannot see with our eyes. It seemed like magic, and often still does. I also had a brilliant Biology teacher, Mrs. Flaherty. I did a degree in Biochemistry at Sussex then left after to do a job unrelated to science that I thought would make me rich. I found it very boring, decided that having an interesting job was more important than a well paid one, and came back to do a PhD on protein misfolding in 2006.


Bar worker/Supermarket cashier/Football steward/festival worker/CD packer
Mostly for money, but often fun. I was packing CDs after I had got a PhD and just before I left to go to a post doc, it was the only work going!

Medical Lab Assistant, Pathology, Royal Sussex County Hospital
My first proper science job, a placement year during my degree. I really enjoyed lab life and knew that was where I wanted to be.

Amyloid Fibrils from Amyloid Beta Protein (image courtesy of Serpell Lab)

Post-doctoral researcher at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, Montana, USA
My first research job studying transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (e.g. mad cow disease). My flat there cost £300 a month and had a view of the Rocky mountains. The work was very interesting too!

Post-doctoral researcher at Sussex University
Continuing research in misfolded proteins but this time in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. I enjoy lab work more the more I do it – the joy from a successful experiment never wears off! And the failures you just become more resilient to.

Scientific Achievements

I am very proud to be part of a team working to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and helping to discover potential treatments. I have worked on different projects in different places and have been lucky enough to gain lots of different perspectives. In science there is always something new to learn and often no right or wrong, discovering that is something to embrace rather than be confused by is very liberating.

Supervising student projects can be time consuming and challenging but is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. It is a real pleasure to see the same excitement in others that inspires you.

Did You Know?

When I was young I wanted to be either an astronaut or a rock star. Although neither transpired, having a long stare up at the sky and belting out Kate Bush at karaoke have made do!

An Inspiring Woman

The women in science who inspire me the most are those who make the time and effort to engage with students or those in their early career stages. Having someone you admire show interest and enthusiasm in what you do is hugely inspirational because it gives you the confidence that you can achieve as much as they have.