Jefferson scientist melds passions for a career second act in textiles.
For a decade, Heather Kelly dived into her analytical strengths and worked in Jefferson’s microbiology lab as a lead technologist. She loved the behind-the-scenes aspects of health care, performing routine bacteriology, mycology and mycobacteriology and eventually moving into specialized cultures.
As her skills progressed, the lab also adopted more advanced methods to accelerate the diagnosis of critical infections like sepsis or meningitis. Kelly says she thrived on being on the frontlines of validating these rapid molecular methods, but at the same time, the technological evolution swirling around her inspired self-reflection.
Maybe Kelly needed a similar shakeup with her career?
“It fueled me to seek out new avenues,” she recalls.
She seamlessly balances art, design and aesthetic abilities with technical knowledge. Heather’s attention to detail throughout the iterative, creative process is certainly informed by her scientific background. —Marcia Weiss, Textile Design Program Director
Kelly always enjoyed knitting; however, she considered it a hobby, not a job possibility. That is, until she took a weaving workshop with Jefferson textile design program director Marcia Weiss, who answered Kelly’s questions about the field and opened her eyes to its potential.
“I saw how equally technical it was,” says Kelly, noting textiles could feed her creative spirit as well. “It was a great intersection of the things I love the most.”
Kelly enrolled in Jefferson’s MS in textile design program in the fall, but she admits she struggled at first with the switch. “Do I just have to give up these past 10 years of my career?” she thought.
Fortunately, learning about Jefferson’s work with hemp, especially in high-performance apparel and textiles, medical devices and wearable technologies, nudged aside any doubts. With these new opportunities, she could meld her healthcare experience and growing textile knowledge.
“It was a sign,” she says. “This is exactly what I want to be doing.”
Along with conducting market research for medical-textile applications, Kelly works with the Jefferson textile engineering and sciences program to study environmental issues associated with microfiber and microplastic shedding. These microscopic materials—caused by processes such as standard laundering and tire tread wear—end up in the ecosystem, taking centuries to breakdown, she says.
Kelly wants to find ways to decrease the amount these products shed, and in future research, she hopes to explore more environmentally friendly solutions for textile finishes and processes (for example, dye baths and enzymatic treatments).
Program director Weiss praises Kelly’s “wonderful curiosity and desire to learn and grow,” she says. “She seamlessly balances art, design and aesthetic abilities with technical knowledge. Heather’s attention to detail throughout the iterative, creative process is certainly informed by her scientific background. I look forward to seeing the work she creates as she moves through the textile design program.”