Viral Footprints

‘Viral footprints’ is a project to inspire interest, creativity, education and discussion around the theme of viral infections. The project is sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, and runs alongside research into the way our bodies interact with viruses.

Who is running this project?

This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust, with contributions from the Royal College of Pathologists and The Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research.

The project is led by hospital doctor and researcher Dr Philippa Matthews and science communictor Dr Lizzie Burnswith input from Oxford University Academic IT department.

What are our aims?

Viral Footprints aims to promote discussion, understanding and interest in some of the key themes of our research, with a special interest in hepatitis infections, but a broader remit to engage a wide audience with research about the interactions between our bodies and viral infections.

We are also interested in promoting equity in science and medicine, with a vision to develop and support each other through encouraging diversity. This way, we gain new ideas and represent our patients more fully. 

Viral footprints image for website
One example of what we can learn through the study of viruses is focused on one of our research topics, hepatitis B virus. We are investigating different outcomes of infection, and are particularly interested in understanding why and how some people's bodies can control and clear the virus, while others develop life-long infection.
In the long term, this will help us find the best ways to provide the best care for our patients, and also provides the vision we need to be able to design new treatment. 

Read on to find out about some of our activities and events...

....or find us on Twitter

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Exhibition at the John Radcliffe Hospital, 2018

Between January and March 2018, we exhibited art-work and quotations collected through the Viral Footprints project over the preceding 18 months.

Thanks to over 200 people in Oxfordshire schools and hospitals who contributed inspiration and enthusiasm to this amazing display of unique viruses, that were displayed in the main corridor of the John Radcliffe Hospital, where they were seen by 1000's of patients, staff and visitors. 


Viral footprints exhibition screenshot


Viral Footprints exhibition

We received feedback on social media: 

'What an amazing project! Had no idea viruses were so beautiful.'

'This is a great example of the amazing patterns and colours you can be inspired by!'

Curiosity Carnival, Sept 2017

Oxford University joined with researchers and academics in cities across Europe to host Curiosity Carnival as part of 'European Researchers Night'. A huge variety of events was held in Oxford, with museums, galleries and gardens open to the public to meet and engage with research teams working on a wide variety of topics. 

Curiosity Carnival logo

Our team was based at the Ashmolean Museum; we used the theme of viruses changing, evolving and spreading to inspire artwork and modelling. A computer game allowed participants to try to copy the genetic code of a virus. If you'd like to have a go, click here!

Here's Anna show-casing all the model viruses that were made by Curiosity Carnival participants 
Curiosity carnival

World Hepatitis Day, July 2017

World Hepatitis Day aims to stimulate interest and discussion about viral hepatitis infections, creating more awareness, and helping move towards global targets for eliminating this group of diseases. 

What did we do?

Our team of doctors, nurses, research scientists and patient advocates had a stand at the John Radcliffe Hospital on 28th July: we used posters, leaflets, stickers and creative activities to stimulate discussion about viral hepatitis. We were also featured on a local Oxford radio station, JackFM, talking about the need for more education around these infections, especially in schools.


Creations for World Hepatitis Day

Here are some of the things we created! - we used modelling clay, collage, beads and coloured pens to make images of viruses and the cells of our immune system.

World Hepatitis Day activities

Childrens' Activities

Children got involved in a variety of activities: here beads are being threaded to make 'DNA bracelets



Why is this important?

World Hepatitis Day is an opportunity to celebrate some of the huge advances that have been made in the treatment and prevention of viral hepatitis infections

However, we also need to increase awareness - we know that over 300 million people are living with these infections, and the majority of these don't know they have the infection. Many patients around the world can't access the treatment they need, and we still need to work hard to tackle the stigma and discrimination that can be attached to these infections.


Art-based workshop at Little Milton School

Work in Oxfordshire hospitals and schools

We are involved in activities, events and workshops in hospitals and schools throughout the year. 

The term ‘footprints’ has been used in science to reflect the changes that can be seen in viruses as they alter to evade our immune system (click on this link if you want to know more). 

In this project, we are using the idea of footprints in a broader sense, to stimulate thought and creativity around the numerous dynamic ways that we interact with viruses.

The footprint theme is also a way to explore the impact that infection can have on us, which might be an effect on a whole population, or the unique journey and experiences of one individual person.

For patients in hospital, the theme is expanded to encourage thinking around the way we might leave 'footprints' through our interactions with others and the marks we make on the world.  


Among school students, we are exploring the footprints theme to encompass ideas ranging from a world view that considers the way that footprints of human travel can impact on the spread of infections, down to molecular interactions through which human and pathogen leave their marks on one another.


An imaginary virus created by a primary school pupil

Working with people in hospital, we are using the beauty and intrigue of viruses to stimulate interest and creativity, using a variety of images to inspire activities ranging from design to origami. The focus and concentration required for these tasks can provide a welcome respite from the anxiety and boredom that patients in hospital often suffer.


Asking participants to design and send a postcard inspired by the project will allow us to develop our own network of international ‘footprints’.


As well as the selection of images shown on this page, you can find more of our output by clicking on the links listed at the bottom of this page. 







Rose Hill Primary SchoolAt Rose Hill Primary School, children from years 2 and 6 created beautiful artwork to show the beauty and intrigue of viruses.

Cheney Ebola
Discussing how we protect ourselves from infections... with Year 10 students from Cheney School.

Rose Hill Primary School 2

'I have learnt that white bloods cells fight germs' (Year 2 pupil, Rose Hill Primary School). 

We made our own viruses, and learnt about how our amazing bodies fight infections.

St Helen's
Why do I care about pathology?
We discussed how pathology incorporates themes from art, medicine, geography, anthropology, history, and maths, using real examples of understanding infection at a workshop at the School of St Helen and St Katherine, Oxford. 
We are passionate about encouraging girls into STEMM subjects, and providing diverse role models to champion race and gender equity. 



Word cloud generated by students at the School of St Helen and St Katharine.


  • 'Helped me understand how beautiful the inside of my body is' [child in John Radcliffe hospital school]
  • 'I'm enjoying’s therapeutic...passes time' [adult on dialysis unit]
  • 'It's stimulating, and that’s what he needs' [patient's relative on trauma ward]
  • 'Really good and interesting, inspirational, interactive. Had known literally nothing before, now very interested' [sixth form student School of St Helen and St Katherine]
  • 'I learnt that there are different ways to be a scientist' [GCSE student, School of St Helen and St Katherine]

  • 'I thought that it was brilliant, pitched at the right level for our children, lots of question asking and holistic activities to keep them keen and involve them' [teacher, Little Milton primary school]
  • 'I love science' [year 2 pupil, Rose Hill Primary School]
  • 'What an inspiring lesson! The children were fascinated by the art of such small things' [teacher, Rose Hill Primary School]
  • 'It's useful to know more about a branch in medicine that could be a potential choice of career' [GCSE student, Cheney School]

  • 'Given that we have such an excellent healthcare system in this country and people like yourself carrying out important research, I think we have a duty to try and share the benefits of that with those in other parts of the world who are not so fortunate' [member of the public providing feedback after World Hepatitis Day].
  • 'Well pitched for the target audience'; 'Really good and interesting – you can tell because the children were well behaved!'; 'Engagingly undertaken and genuinely interesting'; 'I really liked that students dressed up and I thought your tone with the students was just right' - Teachers from Cheney School.


Hexagons artwork
Virus designs created by children in the John Radcliffe Hospital School

Hepatitis Infections and Stigma

We are trying to tackle stigma by encouraging open dialogue, providing education, and increasing awareness of hepatitis viruses among patients, healthcare workers and the public. 

Our work in collaboration with many centres in Africa, including Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon and Kenya, illustrates the stigma and discrimination that still exists for people with these infections, and for their families. This can be a barrier to getting the right treatment, and to preventing new infections. We hope that our ongoing work will continue to tackle this and identify ways to reduce stigma.


Hepatitis Free GenerationThis image is one of several that we created and used to promote relevant themes for World Hepatitis Day 2017.

What next?

We are developing this work further to link in with projects that seek to alleviate boredom for patients undergoing hospital treatment: to find out more, visit Lizzie's Anti-Boredom Campaign page

We are collecting responses and feedback from everyone who participates in our events, to help to improve the way we communicate messages about sciences and medicine.

More resources

More links, resources & contacts

You can find more of our work on-line by clicking on these links:

Hepatitis B Research Website (this showcases our own research and provides links to our academic output)

Poster for World Hepatitis Day 2017 

Stop-HCV podcasts for World Hepatitis Day 2017 (MRC STOP-HCV group with whom we work closely)

Viral footprints workshop in hospital school

Viral footprints workshop in trauma unit

Viral footprints workshop in dialysis unit

Blog article (Hippocratic post): Why Hepatitis B isn't on its way out (yet)

Blog article (Hippocratic post): World Hepatitis Day 2017

Blog article (Oxford University Press): Why 'tropical disease' is a global problem

Malaria worksheet for schools

Immunology teaching notes 

Tropical Medicine Notebook (Oxford University Press 2017) ISBN: 9780198737773


We feature more of our news and activities on twitter, using the twitter handle @pippa_matt or @viralfootprints

You can get in touch directly by email:


I AM poster World Hep Day