Interview with Prof Jonathan Reid
On 10th March 2021, the Christian Academic Network held its first online Share and Develop event, an opportunity for spending quality time together for academics to share their stories online for helping one another to develop. For this event, Prof Jonathan Reid was invited to be interviewed about his academic work in aerosols as well as being a worship leader. During the covid-19 pandemic the opportunity arose to apply his expertise to the effect of aerosols and resulting transmissibility of a virus from singing and this provided an opportunity to integrate his work with his faith. An excerpt of the interview during the event is recorded here.
What academic research have you specialised in over your academic career?
My background is chemistry and I really started working in quite fundamental areas of physical chemistry and how molecules interact, collide and absorb light. That was during my PhD and in postdoctoral work abroad. I think I then made what was quite a challenging change when returning to the UK as an academic, moving into the area of aerosols. I would not recommend changing direction at that career stage but it has been challenging and rewarding! It did take me a few years to get up to speed and get established. Research at the time was motivated by how stratospheric clouds play a significant role in the ozone hole, but we also know now that aerosols play a significant role in climate change and air quality.
I presume therefore that aerosols go far beyond hairspray and deodorant?
Quite right, an aerosol is relevant to anything where there are particles in a gaseous phase so that may be in clouds with water droplets, the poor air quality we live with, or the delivery of drugs through inhalers to ensure small particles are delivered to the respiratory trap. They also play quite a crucial part as well in disease transmission; viruses can be airborne in the particles we exhale.
Has the outbreak of covid-19 made a substantial impact on the importance of your research?
It was recognised even before 2018 that there is a skills shortage in this area. Working with others, I have helped establish a doctoral training and research centre to train the next generation of researchers in this area. The current situation has certainly provided a strong justification for the importance of research in this area.
How would you say your faith has impacted on your research and in vice versa?
Looking back even before the pandemic, I’d say really that my academic career in science is my vocation, a lifelong calling, and I guess that this would resonate with many of us. A passage I come back to time and time again is Colossians 1 where in v 16-17 it says: “For [in Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” I think for a Christian working in science, I come back to the person of Christ and the reassurance that all things hold together through Him. Even though it may not be always obvious, we accept that as an article faith. I would say my faith has connected with my science and reinforced the need to act with integrity. That’s not to say that those who aren’t Christian don’t have integrity, but for me it means that it is important to have integrity both in faith and as a scientist, an integrity which recognises the saving grace of Jesus and that all things hold together only in him. Responding in obedience, which is a word we often avoid, is ever so important at times like these. At a day by day level we are all having to be obedient to government guidance, put in place for our wellbeing. But also our obedience to Christ and how we act during this time is also crucial. Then, finally, my faith has impacted on my research by encouraging me to give joyfully; not necessarily money in this context, but giving time and using the resources God has given me and the skills. To act with integrity, respond with obedience and give joyfully are very aspirational and I know that I don’t always meet them, but in terms of connecting faith and research, these themes have really come through as important to me over the last year.
How has your faith inspired your response to the pandemic?
The Tom Wright book, “God and the Pandemic”, has an interesting reflection on it that was new to me. He reflects on the reaction the church in Antioch to a famine in Jerusalem: they acted practically by collecting money and sending it with resource to the church. They didn’t ask why there was a famine as recorded in Acts, but they looked at who was at risk and worked out what needed to be done. That has been important to remember – my team have been drawn into working on aerosols in a number of areas over the last year including studying aerosol generating procedures in hospitals and how to protect clinicians. In a high containment lab we are also looking at the survival of the virus while airborne. These are a few ways in which we have been able to respond practically to the current need.
As a worship leader and what instrument you play and what kind of worship you lead.
I am classically trained in playing the trumpet but I also sing, play the piano and organ. Also I am quite comfortable with many worship styles and have always valued the richness that comes in worship from different styles, from charismatic through to more traditional liturgy in an Anglican church where I’m present now.
How would you say the current situation has changed any perspective on worship?
I think for many of us regardless of background, the big issue has been the absence of corporate worship, meeting as a family and singing as a congregation which has been a deep loss. I think of the song “When the Music Fades” by Matt Redman, notably the lines “When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come. Longing just to bring, something that’s of worth that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not what you have required. You search much deeper within through the way things appear. You’re looking into my heart. I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, all about you Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you. All about you Jesus.” I’ve played and sung that song many times during worship and thought I understood it but I think I understand it now a bit better than I did. Also, this was written long before covid-19, the pandemic has stripped back all those things which we think worship is about and brought back to focus on the person of Jesus and what worship is about. Over the last year, opportunities to worship God have not often come through church services over Zoom if I’m honest. While it’s really important to connect and engage with others through Zoom, I have found opportunities to worship have come through being in the garden or outdoors, recognising signs of God’s character in his creation, through the changing seasons.