My career in materials engineering and management has been possible through a mixture of hard work and a passion for my subject. However, there have been a few people who have made a big difference to my journey:
Unnamed woman: I met a female chartered engineer on holiday in Turkey at the age of 12. She was so enthusiastic about the application of science through engineering. She inspired me to pursue this career.
My parents: I grew up in rural Dorset as an only child. No one in my family is an engineer. They encouraged me to follow my interest in science. With their support I won a place to study mechanical engineering at Imperial College London.
Dr Sean Crofton: I failed my first year of mechanical engineering at university. Luckily, my senior tutor, Dr. Crofton, threw me a lifeline: “You passed the materials module easily” he said. “If it interests you, why not study materials instead?” I took his advice, and in doing so I found the branch of engineering where I belong.
As chemical engineers and chemists, we often don’t get to see what we create – molecules are too small to see and chemical processes often happen in closed systems. As such, when we do get to see the fruits of our labor, the result can be incredibly exciting and motivating.
This was the case in the founding of my company, Sironix Renewables. During my PhD at the University of Minnesota, I worked with a team of scientists to develop new, eco-friendly replacements to existing chemicals and fuels. The process involved making renewably-sourced products, like fuels, detergents, and plastics. Finding a suitable replacement to an existing product is great, but for us the ‘holy grail’ was finding something that worked better than what existed.
One of these ‘holy grail’ moments struck us when we were looking at a set of vials – all but one was filled with a cloudy, white liquid. We were looking at the hard water stability of new detergent molecules for things like spray cleaners and laundry detergents, and the cloudy, white liquid meant it didn’t work well. The one clear vial, however, was our new detergent molecule and it performed flawlessly. This was one of the few moments where we got to see the result of our work.
I’ve been in the building services industry since I was 18, and yet it wasn’t until I started progressing within my company that I realised there was a problem.
Once I left my ‘bubble’ at the office and started to attend design meetings, I realised that I was the only female at the table. When I looked around at conferences, I was one of a handful of female visitors, and when I measured up a plant room on site, all the construction workers looked at me.
It was then it hit me; girls need to be told what a great industry and career choice engineering is. I started to look for ways that I could communicate this directly to school students, when it matters most.
Growing up, I was always fascinated by the way things work. Most of my childhood activities were driven by a curiosity to answer the questions ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘what if’. Despite this natural zeal for problem solving, I never considered engineering as a career until I was about 15. I thought that all engineers did was slide under cars in blue overalls and come out covered in oil – disgusting! That’s not what I wanted to do: I wanted to build; design; create. I wanted to change the world.
I stumbled across a competition where you had to research ‘problems of the 21st century’ and how engineers can solve them. I started exploring global problems and was surprised that engineers could be involved in solving all of them in one way or another. Whether this was childhood obesity and developing technology to entertain children and keep them active, or developing sturdy but lightweight and portable shelters to combat homelessness.
Sarah’s manager collects her award, with Sarah attending the event via FaceTime!
I never really knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to be part of a team, helping solve problems and doing something that I could be proud of. I decided to apply these desires to a career in the Royal Air Force, as an avionics technician. Here, I was working on radar, communication and flight systems on helicopters- this definitely ticked the right boxes for me!
It goes without saying that there are not enough doctors in the world to see everyone, every day, for all our health needs. Doctors will only see us if we go to their offices, and will only run complicated tests if they have a reason to do so. The situation is even worse for those living in rural areas and the developing world, as they may not even have a doctor nearby.
We are, and always will be, the first line of defense for our own health. We can figure out when something is wrong, like when a parent checks their child’s temperature using the back of their hand to see if they have a fever.
Jetting off to Hawaii in the name of science certainly sounds appealing, but for one intrepid group, it wasn’t all beaches and barbecues. In January, six scientists and engineers traded their home comforts for a life on Mars. Or at least, the closest imitation of life on Mars without leaving the atmosphere.
The HI-SEAS project, or the ‘Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation’, is a geodesic dome perched on a Hawaiian volcano. Set on a lava field around 8000 feet above sea level, the remote habitat is surrounded by Mars-like geology. Stranding crews on the mountain, the NASA-funded project aims to find out what is needed to endure long-duration space missions, including the trip to Mars.
Student entrepreneurs Siena and India are taking on the food waste challenge with their innovative, fridge scanning app. What started as a classroom project has grown to a working prototype, winning its inventors the Big Bang Fair’s Junior Engineer of the Year award and a shot at pitching their idea at St James’ Palace. We met up with them to find out more!
Tell us a bit more about the Eat Me app. How does it work?
Siena: Eat Me is an IOT solution that helps transform the relationship between the consumer and the amount of food they waste in their homes. We have built a working prototype that turns any fridge into a smart fridge. It scans best before dates, optimises menus, orders food or even alerts another user if you are running out of certain products in your fridge.