Air Pollution

The scientists and doctors interviewed here have been major figures in producing the evidence base that proves the pathological health effects of air pollution by, for example, nitrogen dioxide emissions from diesel car exhausts. Asthma exacerbation and COPD are two of the many ill effects of polluted air that are discussed historically, as well as emerging links between air pollution and illnesses such as dementia. 

Biles, Brian

After serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Mr Brian Biles was appointed to the MRC’s Industrial Medicine Unit, where he studied pollutants such as DNOC in farm workers. An expert in the detection of airborne particles using electron microscopy, he also taught art and science photography. 

Derrett, Chris

After an early career at the MRC’s Air Pollution Unit, Dr Chris Derrett studied medicine. He specialised as a GP and worked in East London, where he helped to develop facilities for patients. Throughout his career, he has been involved in teaching and career development, as a GP trainer, an Appraisal Lead, and a Senior Clinical Lecturer at Barts and The London NHS Trust.

Lord, Philip

Starting out as a maths teacher, Mr Phillip Lord moved to the MRC Air Pollution Unit during the 1960s, where he was quickly promoted from technician to a member of scientific staff. While researching lung function and morphology, he set up a computer system inside the Unit, and also completed his MSc in mathematics. He went on to work in IT management for Elsevier and SmithKline Beecham. 

Macfarlane, Alison

Since graduating in mathematics from Oxford in 1964, Professor Alison Macfarlane has spent her career working in public health. She has held positions both in governmental and academic institutions, as a statistician for research in agriculture, transportation studies, and environmental science. After helping to develop studies at the MRC Air Pollution Unit during the 1970s, she has been primarily interested in maternal and child health, and became Professor of Perinatal Health at City University, London.

Norris, Keith

Trained as a biophysicist at King’s College London during the 1950s, Dr Keith Norris developed microscopy techniques for the study of nucleic acids alongside Dr Rosalind Franklin, and contributed to the discovery of DNA structure. He went on to research air pollution, directing studies of particle detection through infrared spectroscopy at the Microbiological Research Department, Porton Down. Subsequently, he worked for the Ministry of Defence and Home Office, developing and advising the government in chemical and biological defence. 

Seaton, Anthony

Qualifying in medicine from Cambridge in 1962, Professor Anthony Seaton held many senior posts in respiratory medicine in the US and UK. Working in research on TB, asthma, COPD, and pneumoconiosis, his contribution to occupational medicine has had important consequences in industry, leading to the development of protective standards in mining, asbestos work, and the PVC industries. He has taught and published over 300 papers on respiratory medicine. 


Witness Seminars

Air Pollution Research in Britain c.1955–c.2000