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Dr Catrin Williams

Dr Catrin Williams

Sêr Cymru II Research Fellow

School of Engineering

+44 (0)29 2087 0292
Room C3.13, Queen's Buildings - Central Building, 5 The Parade, Newport Road, Cardiff, CF24 3AA


Health, Technology and the Digital World

I have multi-disciplinary research interests, from pure microbiology to physico-chemical techniques and microwave engineering. My work addresses important research themes, including antimicrobial resistance, biomedical imaging and bioelectromagnetics. The latter is the focus of my current Sêr Cymru II Fellowship (sponsored by the ERDF, Welsh Government and Cardiff University), where I am investigating fundamental interactions between microwave fields and biological systems. These include bioluminescence in the bacterium, Vibrio fischeri, calcium signalling in human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes, ‘suicide’ in cancer cells, and DNA release in hospital ‘superbugs’. Potential biomedical applications of this work include enhanced methods to treat and detect these diseases.

I am also a keen science communicator, media commentator and STEM ambassador.


During my research career to date, I have developed a strong cross-disciplinary theme, applying novel physico-chemical techniques to address important questions in biology.

Education and qualifications

2009-2013: PhD (Microbiology), Cardiff School of Biosicences

2005-2008: BSc (hons) Microbiology, Cardiff University

Career overview

2016-present: Sêr Cymru II Research Fellow, Cardiff School of Engineering

2014-2016: Sêr Cymru (NRN) Postdoctoral Research Associate, Cardiff Schools of Bioscience & Engineering

2013-2014: KTP Postdoctoral Research Associate, Cultech Ltd. & University of Reading

Honours and awards

2017: Wales Online’s Top 35 Business and Professional Women Under 35 award

2017: Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering award, see Figure 4

2015 & 2012: Awarded 1st prize for student poster presentations at the NRN Distinguished Lecture and All Wales and South West Microbiology Forum, respectively, both at Swansea University

2013: Certificate of Commendation by the Zoological Society of London for the Thomas Henry Huxley award

2009: City and Guilds Professional Development Award

Professional memberships

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), membership number: 93806199
  • Society for General Microbiology (SGM), membership number: 1081390
  • Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM), membership number: 504010
  • Associate Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, recognition reference: 51715
  • STEM Ambassador: ID number 211056

Speaking engagements

Oral presentations

2017: International Microwave Symposium (Invited Speaker), Honolulu, USA, and GW4 Biosensors Workshop, Bristol and Exeter, UK

2016: International Microwave Symposium, San Francisco, USA

2014: Edward Llwyd Society (Invited Speaker), National Eisteddfod, Llanelli, UK

2011: Plant-Micro Wales, Bangor, UK, and European Congress of Protistologists, Berlin, Germany

2010: Plant-Micro Wales, Aberystwyth, UK, and International Society of Protistologists, Canterbury, UK

Poster presenations

2017: Microbiology Society Annual Meeting, Edinburgh, UK

2015: Society for General Microbiology Annual Conference, Birmingham, UK; GW4 Biosensors Workshop, Bath, UK and NRN Distinguished Lecture Event, Swansea University, UK

2013: European Netowrk for Gastrointestinal Health Research, Valencia, Spain

2012: 5th International Conference on Anaerobic Protists, Los Angeles, USA, and All Wales and SOuth West Microbiology Forum, Swansea, UK

2011: European Congress of Protistologists, Berlin, Germany and Nano Meets Spectroscopy, London, UK

2010: British Society for Parasitology, Cardiff, UK, and South Wales and South West Microbiology Forum, Cardiff, UK

Committees and reviewing

2016-present: Member of the Athena Swan Self-Assessment Committee

2015-present: Review Editor for Frontiers in Microbiology















2017: National Eisteddfod of Wales: NRN exhibitor in the Science Pavilion

2017: Soapbox Science presenter, Swansea, see Figure 5.

2016-present: Various outreach activities within the School of Engineering and in collaboration with Science Made Simple, e.g. ‘Skype and Engineer’, ‘Superheros’ engineering videos and Smallpiece tours.

2013: Contributor for a BAFTA-nominated documentary on the life of Alfred Russel Wallace: “Darwin, y Cymro a’r cynllwyn” (S4C).

2009-2013: Various outreach activities within the School of Biosciences, including National Science Week activities and University open days.

My Sêr Cymru II fellowship aims to address a fundamental biophysical question: how do microwave fields interact with biological systems?

Radio frequency and microwave-based technologies have become ubiquitous in our modern, urban environment and play a critical role in society as a whole. These technologies have shaped the way we communicate (e.g. radio, telephones and Wi-Fi), travel (e.g. radar and GPS) and treat diseases (e.g. thermal ablation of cancer and heart disease). However, despite their widespread use, we do not have a thorough understanding of how the microwave fields emitted from these devices affect processes at the molecular level, leading to therapeutic or destructive biological effects.

This gap in our knowledge is reflected in the International Agency for Research on Cancer classification of microwave radiation from mobile phones as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’. Furthermore, current safety standards for human exposure to microwaves, set by government agencies, vary across the world. Moreover, these safety standards only consider the thermal effects of microwaves to be relevant, despite the fact that there is mounting evidence which supports non-thermal mechanism(s) of interaction of microwaves in biology. Conversely, microwaves also have therapeutic value, and are used clinically in the ablation of tumours and cardiac arrhythmias.

Understanding the biophysical and molecular basis behind this non-thermal mechanism of action, as well as the induced biological consequences, will facilitate further research into optimizing the microwave dose required for therapeutic applications and serve to better inform government agencies on safety limits for human exposure.

During my previous position as a National Research Network Postdoctoral Research Associate (NRN 062), we showed that light emission from the bioluminescent marine bacterium, Vibrio fischeri (see Figure 1) is rapidly increased in pulsed microwave electric fields, but diminished at higher power levels. Whereas in pulsed microwave magnetic fields at 100-fold higher powers there are no short-term detectable effects (see Williams et al. Appl. Phys. Lett. 109 (9), 093701, 2016).

I am building on this research in order to address the following aims:

  1. Optimize and validate the use of a coplanar waveguide device to allow microscopic observation of the real-time effects of low and high frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs, see Figure 2).
  2. Investigate non-thermal biological effects of EMFs and characterise the molecular and biophysical mechanisms which lead to therapeutic and/ or pathophysiological outcomes.
  3. Determine whether the same mechanism of action is transferrable across two domains of life: from bacterial organisms to the complex network of cells which comprises the human heart, separated by ~3-4 billion years of evolution.

My work utilizes a combination of engineering, applied biology and physico-chemical techniques in order to address the following objectives:

  1. To develop a standardised methodology for comparing the effects of different EMF-utilizing devices in terms of pulse patterns, frequency and power intensity on Vibrio fischeri and hESC-CM cells using the coplanar waveguide launchers integrated into the microscope set-up.
  2. To separate the thermal and non-thermal effects of EMFs by measuring localized intra-and extra-cellular temperature changes during EMF irradiation by developing novel ruthenium and europium-based luminescent temperature probes.
  3. To determine whether exposure of biological systems to 50 Hz and 2.45 GHz frequency EMFs disrupt or enhance cell-cell communication, and to probe the biochemical and molecular pathways involved in eliciting these effects.

This work is sponsored by the European Regional Development Fund (see Figure 3), the Welsh Government and Cardiff University.







National Eisteddfod Outreach Fund

Dr CF Williams

National Research Network in Advanced Engineering and Materials


August 2017

Small Equipment Research Fund

Dr CF Williams

Cardiff School of Engineering


July 2017

Conference Grant

Dr CF Williams

Microbiology Society


April 2017

Ser Cymru II Fellowship

Dr CF Williams

European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Government and Cardiff University



Small Equipment Research Fund

Prof A Porch and Dr CF Williams

Cardiff School of Engineering


July 2015

Conference Grant

Dr CF Williams

Microbiology Society


April, 2015

Scientific Meeting Travel Grant

Dr CF Williams

Microbiology Society


July, 2011

Charles Coles Travelling Scholarship

Dr CF Williams

Cardiff University


March 2011

Travel Scholarship

Dr CF Williams

Welsh Livery Guild



Travelling Fellowship

Dr CF Williams

Journal of Experimental Biology


August, 2010

Travel Award for Students and Postdocs

Dr CF Williams

International Society for Protistologists


July, 2010

Gillian Powell Memorial Travel Scholarship

Dr CF Williams

Cardiff University


January, 2010

Supervised Students