For many years, going as far back as my great-grandmother, the jobs, careers and businesses of my family have been in textiles, and before commencing my academic career I trained as a fabric technologist for Aquascutum.
This involved testing textiles for their suitability for being made into particular garments, evaluating care labels and working with the designers in London. Although I loved this job, I knew deep down that I wanted to be a scientist!
Therefore, I gave up what was a very good job and followed my real passion – ‘science’. I gained a BSc in Biology and published my final year dissertation. I then came to another crossroads. I was offered two PhDs: one unfunded but in an area of microbiology that inspired me (the use of natural products as antimicrobials) or another fully funded PhD in composting microbiology (interesting, but did not excite me). Once again, I took the more difficult path and chose to study what I was truly interested in and funded my PhD by working as a research assistant. My supervisor Carol Phillips was a great support and together we patented my PhD research.
My initial training and understanding of textiles later allowed me to combine two of my passions: textiles and microbiology! My current research centres on bacterial spore removal from industrially laundered NHS bedsheets, domestic laundering of healthcare uniforms and the product development of antimicrobial textiles. I work with the NHS, contract laundries and the antimicrobial textile coatings industry, as well as contributing to research and marketing material for Johnson Cleaners. I also work closely with the UK Textile Services Association (TSA) and internationally with the European Textile Services Association (ETSA) and Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) in the USA.
I am the co-founder of A Germ’s Journey, which is a global package of innovative educational resources for young children to learn about germs and handwashing and how this is linked to their health. A multidisciplinary team (microbiology, education and technology) have developed an interactive book and website (www.germsjourney.com); the global publication of these educational resources was funded by the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) and included 1000 copies for widening participation purposes. The issue of hygiene practice is particularly pertinent in developing countries, where poor practice can result in serious illness or death. Therefore we have conducted workshops in India on A Germ’s Journey that involved more than 350 children and 150 teachers who were trained in good hygiene practice. We have also created posters and parent guides for India, the Middle East and West Africa based on the book. Additionally, a successful crowdfunding campaign has raised money to translate the A Germ’s Journey book into Gujarati; 900 books will be donated to schools, community centres and hospitals across the Gujarati region. A video of a song with actions about how to wash your hands has been created in collaboration with teachers in India and a UK song is being developed in a co-creation project with children.
The relaunch of the A Germ’s Journey website has made all of the educational resources free at the point of access to children and teachers around the world, with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) adopting the resources to be used in refugee camps. Partners and collaborators on this project include DMU Local and Global, Manav Sadhna, the Sanitation Institute India (ESI), WaterAid, UNICEF, UNESCO, PAL International, Q Shield, SAPHNA, VSO and local education authorities. In addition, we are working with the Thinktank museum in Birmingham on their co-creation children’s project for those aged 5–8 years, where we are hoping A Germ’s Journey will become a permanent feature.