A Brief History of Me

January 24, 2014

I was born in London in 1952. After a year there, my parents moved to Waverley in Essex and, to their credit, they took me, a year old at the time, with them. From there they moved to Great Kimble in Buckinghamshire. I attended the Primary School there and then the Grammar School in Aylesbury. When I was 13, my parents moved to Arlington in Sussex and I was sent to Lewes Grammar School. There, I proved to be passably good at two things; English and Science. Forced to a choice for A-levels, I decided to study Biology, Chemistry and Physics. From Lewes Grammar School, I went to Queen May College, London University, where I studied Zoology and Comparative Physiology. Armed with that degree, I applied for PhD places and gained a PhD from London University in Neuroscience. My research career began with an interest in the brain and visual system of insects, and vision became the theme that ran through my research from then until I retired. I worked as a post-doc at QMC, for the government's Overseas Development Agency, and for short spells amongst other places, at the  Freie Universität Berlin, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Hunter College New York, the University of California at Davis, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Eventually, I became a temporary lecturer at University College London and then in a bizarre twist of fate, a lecturer at UCL, a job for which I had not applied! After a short while I was made a Reader, and then in my early 40's, a Professor. Later, I became Head of the Physiology Department and after 5 years in that post, Dean of the Faculty of Life Science and Dean of the Preclinical Medical School, a position from which I retired some years ago.

I started out interested in the way in which the simple eyes of insects (as well as their compound eyes, insects mostly have three of these!) are wired into their brains and what information they convey. At UCL, I continued this interest in the visual system by teaming up with David Attwell to study phototransduction in rod and cone photoreceptors, and later the transformation of the visual signal by bipolar and ganglion cells. My fascination with the way the vertebrate visual system abstracts and conveys information to the brain, led to an interest in how the neural connections within the retina develop. I spent ten or more years examining the way in which the retina develops and also the role of glial cells, brain components that outnumber nerve cells, and how the brain and retina's circulation interact with glial cells both in the adult and during development. Like most academics, I published a number of papers, book chapters and conference proceedings. A short selection of these are listed below. Despite my love of science and research, I think I am most proud of the students that I helped teach or guide as post-graduates. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing young people develop a passion for science and if I in anyway helped with that, then that is where I take my greatest pride.

As well as doing research and teaching, I spent the last 15 years of my career involved to some extent or another in University management, ending up as one of the small team that ran UCL. You learn a lot of things as a scientist, as someone involved in management, you learn a lot about the human condition, the way in which organisations work, and how they become dysfunctional. As well as being an academic manager, I spent time helping UCL develop its teaching and learning methodologies, and was involved in the introduction of iTunesU (self-paced, multimedia, open-courseware), and the development of the UK's first liberal arts degree.

Since retirement, I have pursued some of the interests that I developed as a scientist, in imaging and how animals work. These abiding interests have expanded to include macro photography, photography in general, and environmental issues. The skills I required to be able to develop electronic and optical equipment to study the retina and brain, have mutated to become interests in inventing, and developing optical, electronic and mechanical equipment to aid photographers. I have also turned my hand to creating all kinds of other things, including CNC machines, other robotic, and microprocessor-based devices. Here in the South of France, I have a workshop equipped with CNC mills, a lathe, 3D printer, oscilloscopes, signal generators and everything else I need to pursue my 'hobbies'. When I have time, I blog about my inventions, the local environment and more recently, and inevitably, the politics that affect the environment and my fellow human beings.

A few selected publications:

Peppiatt, C., Howarth, C., Mobbs, P., & Attwell, D. (2006). Bidirectional control of CNS capillary diameter by pericytes. Nature, 443 (7112), 700-7004. Pearson, R. A., Dale, N., Llaudet, E., & Mobbs, P. (2005). ATP released via gap junction hemichannels from the pigment epithelium regulates neural retinal cell proliferation. Neuron, 46 (5), 731-744. 
Pearson, R. A., Luneborg, N. L., Becker, D. L., & Mobbs, P. (2005). Gap junctions modulate interkinetic nuclear movement in retinal progenitor cells. Journal of Neuroscience, 25 (46), 10803-10814. 
2005 Cavelier P, Hamann M, Rossi D, Mobbs P, Attwell D. Tonic excitation and inhibition of neurons: ambient transmitter sources and computational consequences. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. 87: 3-16.  
Pearson, R. A., Catsicas, M., Becker, D. L., & Mobbs, P. (2002). Purinergic and muscarinic modulation of the cell cycle and calcium signaling in the chick retinal ventricular zone. Journal of Neuroscience, 22 (17), 7569-7579.
Catsicas, M., Allcorn, S., & Mobbs, P. (2001). Early activation of Ca2+-permeable AMPA receptors reduces neurite outgrowth in embryonic chick retinal neurons . Journal of Neurobiology, 49 (3), 200-211.
Catsicas, M., & Mobbs, P. (2001). GABAB receptors regulate chick retinal calcium waves . Journal of Neuroscience, 21 (3), 897-910.
Catsicas, M., Bonness, V., Becker, D. L., & Mobbs, P. (1998). Spontaneous Ca2+ transients and their transmission in the developing chick retina. Current Biology, 8 (5), 283-286.
Mobbs, P., & Attwell, D. (1997). Retinal processing: visionary transgenics. Current Biology, 7 (8), 3-6.
Brew, H., Gray, P.T., Mobbs, P. & Attwell, D. (1986) Endfeet of retinal glial cells have higher densities of ion channels that mediate K+ buffering Nature 324, 466-468. 
Attwell D, Mobbs P. (1994) Neurotransmitter transporters. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 4: 353-9. 
Mobbs P, Brew H, Attwell D. A  (1988) Quantitative analysis of glial cell coupling in the retina of the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). Brain Research. 460: 235-45.
Tessier-Lavigne M, Attwell D, Mobbs P, Wilson M. (1988) Membrane currents in retinal bipolar cells of the axolotl. The Journal of General Physiology. 91: 49-72.  
Attwell D, Mobbs P, Tessier-Lavigne M, Wilson M. Neurotransmitter-induced currents in retinal bipolar cells of the axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum. The Journal of Physiology. 387: 125-61.
Brew H, Gray PT, Mobbs P, Attwell D. (1986) Endfeet of retinal glial cells have higher densities of ion channels that mediate K+ buffering. Nature. 324: 466-8.
Mobbs P (1976) Development of the locust ocellus. Nature 264, 269–271.