Professor Louise Heathwaite holding a Munsell Soil Colour Book.

I am an Environmental Hydrologist with a BSc in Environmental Sciences. I did a PhD in Wetland Hydrochemistry that led to my long-term research on environmental pollution, in particular, understanding the pathways of nitrogen and phosphorus loss from agricultural land to water, and the impact on freshwater quality.

Professor Louise Heathwaite

I’m truly interested in how things work, and I like to work independently, so there was no career for me other than being a researcher. I like science to be useful, and when I started my PhD it was in the Somerset Levels, where pump drainage of a wetland, (part of which had just been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)), was a problem, as it was polluting river water causing fish to die. It was a good problem to work out and understand and to think about the pragmatic application of the science.

I’ve taken this further in recent years by, first of all, working with one of the research councils, the Natural Environment Research Council, building strategic research programmes around sustainable use of natural resources, covering everything from energy use through to conservation strategies. More recently, I worked as Chief Scientific Advisor for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment for the Scottish Government, looking at the scientific evidence underpinning a lot of the decisions we make around the environment.

I guess my inspiration to become a scientist was actually not liking to be told what to do! I like working independently and science just offered that opportunity to start from scratch. I often tell my post-docs and early lecturers that the time when you’re a PhD student is when you have three years ahead of you to ‘do your own thing’ and discover something new, which is so exciting.

Louise is holding a Munsell Soil Colour Book – Professor Albert H Munsell was the first person to illustrate colour systematically in three-dimensional space, based on experimental science and it’s been the official colour system for soils research since the 1930s.