Christine Switzer

Wow! Lots of great questions today!

Favourite Thing: problem solving, especially when I get to work with students.



I grew up in a military family and changed schools frequently. I finished school in the USA in 1993.


I studied chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University and Rutgers University (USA). I completed my PhD in 2004.

Work History:

Vanderbilt University (USA), University of Edinburgh


University of Strathclyde

Current Job:

I am a Lecturer in Civil Engineering

Me and my work

I apply laboratory and small field experiments to solve complex environmental problems such as contaminated land.

I teach subjects that are related to my research: Water & Wastewater Treatment and Contaminated Land. I also teach project management and technical writing to undergraduate students. My main research projects are

1) Smouldering remediation of contaminated soils: Smouldering is a form of fire that you know if you have ever burned charcoal in a BBQ. We have found that we can burn hazardous oils within the soil and make the soil completely clean.We are working with an international company to turn this process into a successful business.

2) Soil rehabilitation after remediation: Remediation comes from the word remedy, which means cure, restore, relieve or heal when it is used as a verb. The environmental industry uses this word to describe efforts to clean contaminated water or soil. We have found that if we use fast processes like smouldering to clean contaminated soil, we may change the soil. We are researching ways to restore soil after remediation so that it is as healthy as it was before contamination.

3) Environmental applications of charcoal from waste materials: We can make charcoal from a wide range of natural materials. This product is called biochar and we are hoping to prove that it can be very helpful in water treatment and other engineering applications.

4) Contamination issues in urban gardens: Allotments and other urban garden spaces are vulnerable to contamination. The push for “guerilla gardening” that some of you may have seen on some of our TV programmes recently may be unsafe if previous land use is not known. I am working with a team of researchers to study soils in urban gardens and engage with people who use these gardens.

5) Fire retardants in the environment: Fire retardants are used to stop materials from burning. They are found in a wide range of materials that we use every day, but there are also reports of fire retardants ending up in the environment.We are asking a lot of questions about how fire retardants are used and how they are measured.

6) Micropollutants in the environment: Along the same line as the fire retardants, we are investigating how other products that we use every day behave once they reach the environment.

My Typical Day

I love that there is no such thing as a typical day at my work.

I supervise a team of PhD, Masters and Undergraduate students researching topics related to contaminated land and water. My days mix research, teaching and admin duties. I see two main goals of my job: push fun research ideas forward and help mentor the next generation of scientists and engineers into successful careers.

This week, we are finishing the last of the paperwork to graduate our final year undergraduates. With about 100 graduates this year, this is not a small job! I am training some of my new students in laboratory methods (they get to burn things so they are excited) and I have a field trip planned with a visitor from Australia.

What I'd do with the money

Develop and pilot environmental science laboratory and field experiments for school pupils.

Environmental science and engineering have foundations in chemistry and biology.  Laboratory and field activities can be fun ways of supporting this teaching. Water quality monitoring could involve chemical testing or biodiversity “bug count” measurements. Simple tests can tell us a lot about how healthy a river or stream is.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

friendly, inquisitive, stubborn

Who is your favourite singer or band?

My answer changes by the moment.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Most recently, the most fun thing I have done is sail blindfolded down the Firth of Clyde.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

More time for fun, more time for science and a house in the country with a flock of Red Setters to keep me entertained.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A doctor or scientist.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes. I was a daydreamer in school, especially in subjects that I did not like.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I helped to develop a new method for cleaning contaminated soil that is much more effective than anything else developed to this point.

Tell us a joke.

Why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he is a fungi!