Peter Wildy Prize Lecture 2019: Professor Laura Bowater

Posted on June 17, 2019   by Kaisa Berg

The Peter Wildy Prize Lecture is awarded each year for outstanding contributions to microbiology education or the communication of microbiology to the public. Professor Laura Bowater (University of East Anglia) won this year’s prize for her work as a committed science communicator who has engaged with a variety of audiences using different media and activities to raise awareness about the role of microbiology in society and of the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.

Professor Bowater began her Prize Lecture by sharing some of her life story to explain how she got involved in microbiology. As a child she lived in Uganda where her father worked as a soil scientist, and she learned early on the connection between tropical diseases and dangerous – but invisible – microbes. This led to an awareness around microbes and health that stayed with her into adulthood.

After moving back to the UK with her family, she studied biochemistry and microbiology at the University of St Andrews. As a student it was the link between humans, microbes and health that captured her imagination and attention. She later got an MSc in Cellular and Molecular Biochemistry and a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Dundee. After a career break in America with her husband, she got a job as a research assistant at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich, and it was during her time there that she became interested in communicating science.

She became a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA), where she taught a module on science communication. She also wrote a book on the topic to provide practical guidance for scientists wishing to start communicating their science more. She became Professor of Microbiology Education and Engagement at UEA in 2016.

In her lecture, Professor Bowater identified the topics of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), widening participation to higher education, science communication and equality and diversity in science as being the defining topics of her career. She also shared with the audience the role the Microbiology Society has played in her career, from being the Editor of Microbiology Today, and having access to grants, to being on the Communications Committee and the Equality and Diversity Working Group.

Professor Bowater then went on to show how infectious diseases are still the top ten causes of death in low income countries, despite the discovery and mass production of antibiotics. She used examples of bacteria that are increasingly becoming resistant to antibiotics to highlight the dangers of AMR, and showed how this will only become more of an issue in the future if we continue on the path we are currently on.

She rounded of her Prize Lecture by going through some of the things that we can do to combat AMR, and some of the projects she has engaged to raise awareness of the issue, such as work with the Microbiology Society on the Antibiotics Unearthed project, giving talks, writing a book called The Microbes Fight Back and arranging events like ‘Science Café’.

You can view Professor Bowater’s Peter Wildy Prize Lecture below:

Peter Wildy Prize Lecture 2019