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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

I am an Environmental Microbiologist interested in the role of water in the spread and control of water-related diseases. I'm particularly interested in how we can protect human health and aquatic environments. My teaching and research focuses on three main areas:

  • the monitoring and provision of safe water and sanitation in low-resource settings;
  • the behaviour of microbiological and chemical contaminants (e.g. viruses (especially phages), bacteria, pesticides and microplastics) in engineered and natural environments; and
  • the development and application of low-cost methods for assessing water quality.

My teaching draws heavily on current and recent research projects investigating water and sanitation in low-resource settings in parts of Africa (UNICEF and GCRF), Asia (Gates Foundation and GCRF), and South America (SantanderBritish CouncilNewton Fund).  

Approach to teaching

My teaching is underpinned by contemporary case material drawn from my personal experience of international collaborative research in the field of water and sanitation. Modules taught include ‘Water, Sanitation and Health’, ‘Soil and Water’, ‘Global Environmental Challenges’, ‘overseas Fieldwork’, ‘Field Skills for Research and Careers’, along with supervision of Undergraduate and Master’s level dissertations.

Much of my teaching also involves a fieldwork component to help my students contextualise the subject matter and a laboratory component to ensure that they have a sound grasp of methods used for water quality monitoring. Students who take these modules come from a variety of disciplines including Environmental Science, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Ecology, Civil Engineers and Geology. Getting students with different, often complementary skills sets to work together across disciplines is useful preparation for the work-based challenges that await them beyond the University.

Research interests

My research career to date has focused on the development of innovative low-cost tools that tackle pressing global disease problems. In Malawi, I worked on a UNICEF-funded project 'Assessment of Drinking Water Quality for Low-Cost Water Technology Options in Rural Areas' which led to the re-design and improved management of rural wells, providing low-income communities with safer drinking water. More recently, I was involved in a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project in India 'SaniPath Typhoid' which sought to enhance understanding of typhoid transmission pathways in Kolkata’s megaslums.

In Europe, new methods developed during an EU Interreg-funded project 'RISKMANCHE' have helped identify human faecal contamination of rivers and established viral removal rates in a full-scale wastewater reuse systems (Thames Water). This information is helping water companies and environmental agencies to meet international standards and more effectively protect public health, by detecting, or interrupting the transmission routes of human waterborne diseases.

Knowledge exchange

My research involves working closeIy with a range of non-academic partners including local charities such as the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust, international Non-Governmental Organisations such as UNICEF, MSF, and WaterAid and with the UK water industry (Southern, South East and Thames Water). 

Supervisory Interests

To date I have overseen the supervision, career development and successful completion of 12 doctoral students from the UK, Italy, Portugal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Brazil and India. These PhD's have covered a range of topics such as 'Bacteriophages as Surrogates of Viral Pathogens in Wastewater Treatment Systems (Dias 2016)', Ecological Characteristics of the Enterococcal Surface Protein (esp) gene with reference to microbial source tracking (Yaliwal 2014); Low-cost physico-chemical disinfection of human excreta in emergency settings (Sozzi 2015); Bacteriophages as Indicators of Human Enteric Viruses in Mussels (Da Silva 2013); and UV Radiation Response of Bacteriophages of Human-specific Bacteroides (Diston, 2010) .

I am currently supervising a water industry-funded PhD student who is using cutting-edge source apportionment approaches to investigate drivers of pollution in Chichester, Langstone and Pagham harbours (S. England) and have just finished supervising a PhD on Pollution, plastics and plumes; understanding the behaviour of microplastics in aquatic sediments of the R. Thames catchment.

I'm keen to supervise postgraduate research (MRes/MPhil/PhDs) in the following areas: development and application of low-cost and/or rapid water quality monitoring tools; behaviour of micro-contaminants (particularly viruses) within the environment and impacts on human health; understanding environmental interactions of emerging contaminants; water and sanitation within low-income and/or emergency settings.

According to French Physiologist Claude Bernard - "The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen." Anyone who has undertaken a doctoral degree is likely to agree with this analogy (at least at some point during their journey). As a PhD supervisor, I see my role as someone who can potentially make the kitchen a little less ghastly, or the journey slightly less arduous. I strive to provide a highly connected, supportive, nurturing international research environment with the Environment and Public Health Research and Enterprise Group.

I am currently supervising a further 3 PhD candidates. My PhD students have originated from an equally diverse range of disciplines including Fisheries Engineering, Environmental Science, Biology, Biomolecular Science, Microbiology, Ecology, Environmental Management, Mathematics and have worked for NGO’s in Haiti (MSF), on Gates Foundation-funded research in India, on US AID-funded research into safe excreta disposal in emergencies (Cholera and Ebola treatment centres), led MRC-funded projects in Kenya, founded research groups in Brazil, and managed prestigious research laboratories in the US.

All have gone on to forge careers within the burgeoning field of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and or microbiology, either via academia, or industry. The sustained success of our thriving research group stems from a blend of enthusiasm for the wider subject area and from a long-held desire to break down barriers, to ensure that epidemiologists mix with engineers, and microbiologists work with modellers. This has been achieved by exchanging PhD students (and Early Career Researchers) with trusted and established international project collaborators within the public, private and voluntary sectors.

I also maintain a rolling programme of group activities, training initiatives and social events for new arrivals into the group, which is increasingly populated by previous PhD students who are even better placed to support the career aspirations of our current and future Doctoral students. With unsafe water supply and sanitation responsible for an estimated 842,000 deaths per year, the WASH sector continues to face significant challenges, which are only likely to be met through interdisciplinary, cross-border collaboration by a new generation of WASH-focussed researchers, capable of confidently sharing ideas across a range scientific domains and via an increasingly complex network of stakeholders and end-users. I hope that as my students continue to emerge into the ‘dazzlingly lighted hall’ they are as well-rounded and well-placed as possible to meet this challenge.   

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Identification of sources of faecal pollution in surface waters using a novel antibiotic resistance profiling technique, University of Brighton

Award Date: 1 Jun 2006

Master, MSc Environmental Change: Social and Environmental Aspects, Brunel University London

Award Date: 1 Nov 2000

External positions

External Examiner MSc in Water, Sanitation and Health and MSc in Environmental Engineering and Project Management, University of Leeds

1 Nov 202131 Oct 2025

Trustee, Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust (OART)

31 Jan 2015 → …

Keywords

  • TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering
  • Sanitation
  • Environment
  • Microbes
  • Behaviour
  • Risk
  • Public health
  • Water
  • Q Science (General)

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