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Dr Patricia Warke’s life changed direction radically when she turned from a career in nursing to pursue a love of geography and geology. But she did not forget all the things she had learned in the medical world.

Patricia is a geomorphologist at Queen’s – interpreting landscapes and the processes which shape them – and lectures in physical geography.

‘As a nurse I worked with cancer patients whose conditions are assessed by a globally- recognised system that uses common terminology to provide a measure of the disease stage which a person has reached. One of the issues in my professional world now – dealing with historic stone – is how to assess which buildings are more in need of care than others and how best to target ever-diminishing funds.

‘So when we were given the task of setting up an historic stone database, assessing nearly 2,000 stone structures across Northern Ireland, there was a bit of a problem. That’s when I came up with the idea of using the system I was familiar with in medicine.

‘We’ve adapted and applied it as a successful condition assessment tool which is now being used elsewhere. My late colleague Professor Bernie Smith and I even travelled to Petra in Jordan, where they have 800 tombs, and we were able to prioritise those which were in most urgent need.’

Patricia – who outside Queen’s is a member of the Historic Buildings Council – is a key figure in the University’s Weathering Research Group, one of the main centres for this work in the UK and Ireland. There is a close collaboration with the Northern Ireland firm Consarc Design Group and through them the stone specialists S McConnell & Sons Ltd, based in Kilkeel. This has led to a Knowledge Transfer Secondment (KTS) involving one of Patricia’s PhD students, Catherine Adamson.

‘Catherine has been looking at the greening of buildings. As our weather gets wetter and warmer, showing the first effects of climate change, we’re beginning to see green algae growing. In trials which we carried out all over Northern Ireland there was evidence that this is very rapid.’

With Patricia supervising, Catherine agreed to step down from her PhD for six months and went to work with McConnell’s to give them the benefits of her knowledge about stone. Patricia says, ‘We set up exposure trials at our field site at Derrygonnelly in Fermanagh. McConnell’s provided stone that had been treated with various biocides, to see how effective the treatments were. We found that some worked and some didn’t.’

The final report on the KTS shows the benefits of the project. Catherine emphasises that it gave her the opportunity to work with a prestigious industry partner and that it gave her a different perspective to her work.

In turn, McConnell’s are now changing the way their treatments are used, adding that ‘the KTS has reinforced the importance of collaborative research links between industry and academia which we will hopefully be able to sustain into the future.’

Patricia says, ‘Getting this kind of feedback from industry helps me understand the complexity of what people have to deal with and it’s invaluable for students too.

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