Microbiologist Who Studied Deadly Bacteria in Public Places Dies
Microbiologist Who Studied Deadly Bacteria in Public Places Dies

Microbiologist Who Studied Deadly Bacteria in Public Places Dies

Paul Matewele, who died from COVID-19, was known for discovering dangerous microbes on surfaces people touch every day.

Emma Yasinski
Emma Yasinski
Apr 22, 2020

ABOVE: LONDON METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY

Paul Matewele, a microbiologist who identified pathogenic bacteria on surfaces that humans contact everyday, died as a result of COVID-19 on April 7 at the age of 62. 

Matewele was a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University for 30 years and is best known for his work characterizing potentially pathogenic microbes that people are likely to come in contact with in their homes and public places, according to Úna Fairbrother, an interim head of the School of Human Sciences at London Metropolitan University.

Matewele was born in Zimbabwe in 1958 and earned a master’s degree in biochemistry from St. Andrews University and a PhD in microbiology from Southampton University.

Partially inspired by the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, Matewele conducted studies identifying sometimes-deadly microbes living on handbags, McDonald’s touch screens, reusable water bottles, makeup, vehicle air conditioners, drinks served in cinemas, London transport systems, and coins. His work on the London transportation system led to a deep cleaning of 50 stations in the London Underground in June 2017.

But among colleagues, he was best known for the time he spent lecturing and tutoring thousands of students. “Paul was a warm, kind, intelligent and conscientious man. He was dedicated to his students and a brilliant colleague to have,” Fairbrother tells The Scientist in an email. “He was a genuinely happy, open person and will be much missed from our team on a personal and professional level.”

Several of Matewele’s students and colleagues shared thoughts and memories in a tribute on the university’s webpage describing him as a “dedicated teacher,” “a kind soul,” and someone who “never stopped smiling.”

Sean Frost, a former colleague of Matawele who is currently a lecturer at the University of Hull, writes on the university page that Matewele “took on the biggest challenges and was never afraid to fight for what he believed in, McDonalds being particularly memorable. Even up until March he was broadcasting warnings about risk of infection from cash, Paul always took the side of the little guy, be it colleagues, students or society. He was a fine example of what an academic should aspire to become.”

Matawele is survived by his 18-year-old son, William.