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My Influences: Dr Joseph Houghton, Project Lead, Virustatic


Dr Joseph Houghton is project lead at biotech company Virustatic, based in Cheshire.

Virustatic uses biobased green chemistry with a vision is to protect people and the planet with naturally occurring protein science, with the firm best known for researching and developing materials and products for pandemic prevention.

Dr Houghton joined the firm in 2021, after the company received funding of £150,000 from the Business of Fashion, Textiles and Technology (BFTT) Creative R&D Programme.

In his role as Project Leader at Virustatic currently working on an SME R&D Project, he supports the company in the innovation of textile coatings.

Here, he shared how he blends chemistry with innovation and sustainability, as well as his top three influences.

The person that has inspired my working career the most, and why

I would say my parents have inspired me the most in the direction of my working career. Not only thanks to their inspirational work ethic, but also by instilling in me most of the sustainability values that have shaped my career to this point. They taught me and my siblings to tread lightly on this earth and to value the things we have. Most of my clothing growing up was second hand and I learnt to sew so that I could fix my clothing rather than throw it away.

From an early age I was taught to think about how my actions would affect the world I live in and to try and minimise my impact on it. This inspired me to take it one step further and to focus my career on leaving the world a better place than when I found it. They also provided support and encouragement with whatever I wanted to focus on (as well as putting up with me trying to explain complex chemical concepts to them while revising for exams) and I’m pretty sure they are some of only a handful of people that have read my PhD thesis cover to cover.

I have also had the great privilege to work with some amazing individuals over the course of my career, never more so than at Virustatic, their commitment to sustainability and to advancing science and technology the right way has been immensely inspiring, this is exemplified in the re-launching of their flagship product Virustatic SHIELD®, where they have taken it back to the drawing board and re-designed it with sustainability as a key consideration.

The place that has inspired my working career the most, and why

I would say that my time spend in the Green Chemical Centre of Excellence during my PhD and first post-doctoral role inspired me the most. The collaborative, interdisciplinary and industry focussed research performed there provided an amazing melting pot of ideas and skill sets that I thrived in. It honed my already existing passion for sustainability while simultaneously giving me a broad range of experience and knowledge within the area.

I always felt as though my ideas were listened to and encouraged and was surrounded by some of the most amazing individuals I have had the pleasure of working with. One of the biggest lessons I learnt during my time there, was to always question what I was doing within an academic research role. I always considered whether it was truly the most sustainable option but also crucially whether or not it is applicable to the ‘real world’ to take something from academically interesting, to game-changing within the industry.

As part of this, I was exposed to industrial collaborations from day one and ended up working with over six different industrial partners over the course of my PhD alone. This taught me the importance of industrial and research partnerships for progressing the field of sustainability.

The thing that has inspired my working career the most, and why

It is difficult to capture in words, as it is a bit of a nebulous concept, but the act of seeing someone’s mind change, or seeing someone learn something new inspires me the most. Talking through a complex chemical concept with a non-scientific industrial partner and seeing the moment it ‘clicks’ with them or challenging someone on a sustainability point and seeing their mind begin to question what they thought was correct gives immense satisfaction and purpose behind what I am doing.

I think this also links to my love for presenting and talking, before I became a chemist I wanted to be an actor, and that love of being on a stage and of affecting people through my words has never quite left me.

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