I met Mat in his office in the new Derriford Research Facility building to talk about his work. At the top of his game and one of the new breed of medical research leaders working in the Faculty of Health, Mat is a microbiologist intent on developing novel ‘antimicrobials’ – antibiotics to you and me.
At school, Mat developed a real interest in biology and wanted to study the subject at degree level. Rather than study straight biology, Mat looked at biology related degrees and became inspired by what he read about microbes.
He wanted to study in a place near the sea and the hills and chose Newcastle University. Later, reckoning that a doctorate (PhD) and career in matters ecological might neatly satisfy his twin passions for matters watersport and ‘bugs’, he enrolled there for a PhD in microbial ecology.
A grant from Shell Agrochemicals and another from the government financed his project looking into bacteria that would attack other bacteria (so-called pathogens), which cause nasty commercial plant diseases such as tomato root rot. Although promising, the work did not reach the stage where his findings could be applied to develop a treatment, but it clearly shaped his direction of travel.
For the next 10 years he moved on through a number of university research appointments working in teams led by eminent scientists and always learning and developing new skills. Modest salaries and the uncertainty of multiple short-term tenures are something of a disincentive for anyone contemplating a career in university academia, but in Mat’s case there were other compensations.
One highlight was the successful research expedition to set up a microbiology laboratory in the remote British Antarctic Survey base at Halley Bay. A Titanic style gash in the bows of the RRS Bransfield off south Georgia on the way out to the base was clearly not-a-good-thing and brought home the dangers of that hostile environment.
He lives in Ivybridge with his wife Fay, who is the business development manager in the Plymouth Science Park. They have four daughters.