Professor Alex Porter

Professor Alex PorterProfessor Alexandra Porter is a Professor Bioimaging and Analysis in the Department of Materials. At the beginning of 2021, Alexandra was key to starting the donate your device campaign to support children during the nationwide lockdown.

Can you tell us about some of your recent research? 

We are monitoring how pollution and SARS COVID interact to understand how pollution worsens its health impacts. We are putting up filters in the ICU of the Royal Brompton to collect samples of COVID and pollution to develop protocols to do this before we move into other environments like accident and emergency rooms. I’ll be imaging the interaction of pollution and COVID with lung cells using electron microscopy. It’s a fantastic project involving a team of clinicians at the Royal Brompton and physicists measuring airflows and incredibly tricky microscopy! 

What was your proudest achievement in the past year? 

I am proud of the amount I've managed to balance and, so far, those I supervise are happy. Some are thriving. For my research, I’ve published a few papers on bone pathologies that I’m very proud of. These really hit home for me as my father spent half the year in a chair, unable to move, with an infected hip replacement. 

What was your biggest challenge? 

I had to home school two young children, my husband has been ill for most of this year, and I was working full time. This was extremely tough, and at times, I just wanted to disappear down a rabbit warren. But for my job alone, the biggest challenge was having no access to labs and 8 masters students to supervise, all on lab-based projects, knowing they are all completely relying on you to help them pass and you are learning on the job. But we came up with some fun left-field projects from growing plants in the backyard and monitoring the impacts of plastic pollution on their growth and germination to monitoring pollution on hedges near Imperial. It taught me that you can learn a huge amount about experimental design and planning when you have very limited resources to work with. This has been an incredibly valuable lesson. 

What does Women at Imperial Week mean to you? 

It's to recognise how hard this year has been for those in caring roles and to thank the people at Imperial who've gone beyond the call of duty to support us (me) this year, particularly the medics. It’s to find mechanisms to support us to get back on top of our careers. Its to celebrate how much we’ve managed to juggle and achieve this year, the stamina we’ve needed and to consider the positive aspects of our experiences, to pause and learn from these. 

What led you to create the donate your device initiative? 

I was listening to the news about the lack of laptops children had at the start of the third lockdown. So, I said to my husband, but ICT has so many old laptops and computers lying around, why can’t we ask them to fix them up and give them to schools? He came up with a reason why this wouldn’t work, but we both realised there was no reason. We also realised that staff at Imperial have lots of old laptops in pretty good condition lying around. I went to bed, too exhausted to do anything about this, but when I woke up, my husband told me he’d contacted ICT, they had agreed to get on board and the wheels were in motion. Next thing I knew, multiple emails were flying around, and the scheme was up and running!