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Professor Claire Turner

Profile summary

Professional biography

Professor of Analytical Science
I am an analytical scientist, and have spent all my research career monitoring biological systems.  My most recent research interests are in using volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as markers for disease. 
My teaching interests centre around interdisciplinary science but also Level 1 and Access. I am particularly interested in supporting inexperienced and unconfident learners accessing science for career development or personal interest.  I am also interested in digital innovation in teaching, and how we can use these innovations in supporting students to learn difficult concepts.
From November 2014 to July 2016, I was Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching in the Science Faculty. Since the creation of the new STEM faculty in August 2016, I have been dividing my time between the STEM faculty, teaching and conducting research, and the Learning and Teaching Innovation portfolio, doing teaching as well as working on the Students First Transformation.

Research interests

My particular research interests are in the analysis of VOCs from breath or the headspace above clinical samples of urine, blood, serum, sputum etc. in order to diagnose disease or monitor the health of an individual.

The analysis of breath to diagnose disease is a particularly attractive option because it is non-invasive and with the right equipment, it may be may be done directly in real time.   Sometimes, breath analysis is not possible or desirable, however, VOCs produced in the body may still provide useful information.  In this case, it may be more appropriate to analyse trace gases produced by other biological fluids, for example urine or blood.

Some medical conditions are better targets for VOC analysis than others.  Current research interests include investigating VOC profiles in gastrointestinal disease, malignant melanoma, colo-rectal cancer, food intolerance and diabetes.

VOC analysis uses generic equipment and approaches which may be used in other applications, including environmental analysis, exposure assessments, air quality monitoring and microbiology etc.  The main tools I use are Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS) and Gas Chromatography - Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS).  However, sometimes there are advantages in using sensors where small, portable and inexpensive devices are more suitable, and we are currently involved in a project to assess the use of optical sensors in analysing breath and urine headspace.

Teaching interests

I currently chair the innovative new module YXM130 "Making your learning count", which enables students to gain credit for learning Open Educational Resources.

I chaired production of the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) Access module Y033 as I am particularly interested in developing modules at Access and level 1 to help our students access higher education. Sometimes, one of our modules is the first experience students have of formal education, or the first time they have studied for many years, and I am interested in helping students make this first, important transition to a new way of learning.

I was an author on S240 Analytical science: health, heritage and environments,  SD329: Signals and Perception and the new L1 Health Science module, SDK100.

I chaired S187: Elements of Forensic Science and Y033: Starting with Science, Technology and Maths

I also chaired S111: Questions in Science as it started production.

I was Associate Programme Director for Level 1 in the Facuty of Science until 2014.



External collaborations

I have active external collaborations, including with University of Birmingham, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cranfield University, Amersham Hospital, J. Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague, University of Keele's Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine.

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Biomedical Research Network (BRN)NetworkFaculty of Science
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)CentreFaculty of Science


Externally funded projects

CENTA 2017 intake
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201731 Jul 2022NERC Natural Environment Research Council

CENTA is a geographically and scientifically coherent consortium offering a wide range of excellent NERC science embedded in a vibrant multidisciplinary environment. The Universities (Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Open and Warwick) and Institutes (British Geological Survey and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) have a strong track record of producing PhD graduates fit for further research or other relevant employment. The Open University STEM Faculty has match-funded 3 studentships in the 2017 intake.

Detecting melanoma using volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Oct 201330 Sep 2016Amerderm Trust/Amersham Hospital

It has long been known that dogs are able to detect abnormal skin lesions and anecdotally, there are cases of dogs sniffing and licking their owners’ moles until the mole was tested and found to be malignant. For this reason, the researchers have looked into the ability of dogs to detect various cancers, with a high level of success. However, the challenge now is to translate this into an appropriate clinical test by identifying the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) involved in generating the odour and designing a system to detect them. Some preliminary work has been done on this (see Kwak et al., 2013), but in this project, for the first time, we aim to bring together the analytical capabilities of the Open University, the access to patients and melanoma samples from Amersham Hospital Dermatology Department and identify the VOC profile which the dogs use to detect melanoma.