Celebrating inspirational women in materials engineering
In the recent Create the Future report commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, emerging economies are shown to have moved beyond viewing engineering as a male dominated field, and interest in the subject is high among women.
Countries such as India, China, Brazil and Turkey show the highest engagement with women, with India leading the way; 79% of women in India registered an interest in engineering as a subject, almost double that of the global average.
To honour International Women’s Day 2016, the QEPrize is celebrating five women who have made their mark in engineering, and in particular, the world of materials.
Dr Mercy Manyuchi
Currently the head of the Chemical and Process Systems Engineering department at the Harare Institute of Technology, Zimbabwe, Mercy is also founder of Motocharcoal Trading Company, developing an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to charcoal. The creation of the briquettes, designed for use in homes across Africa, led to Mercy being shortlisted for the 2015 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Not only does the charcoal substitute burn with the same intensity as regular coal, the MotoCharcoal briquettes are made from agricultural waste materials which would otherwise be discarded, providing an alternative to expensive and finite resources such as wood and coal.
Professor Molly Stevens
Molly is the Research Director for Biomedical Material Sciences in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, and a professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London. Originally mentored by 2015 QEPrize winner Dr Robert Langer, Molly now heads up the Stevens Group, which is noted for developing artificial structures, or ‘scaffolds’ onto which new cells are encouraged to grow. By engineering tissues in a lab in this way, sections of bone, and even whole organs, may be grown outside of the body, ready to be transplanted during surgery to replace tissues damaged by disease.
Victoria Lobos Marambio
Victoria is one of the youngest winners of the Leaders in Innovation Fellowship, awarded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, taking home the accolade for her work in isolating a new strain of brewing yeast native to South America. Chile currently spends around $9.5million a year importing yeast for beverage fermentation industry, and as yet, no laboratories in the country are dedicated to isolating, producing and selling yeast. Having been the one to isolate the first known strain of yeast in South America, Victoria, as the Director of Research, Innovation and Development at Patagonian Yeast, intends to manufacture the brewing yeast on a commercial scale for sale throughout Latin America.
Professor Anne Neville
As a professor of Tribology and Surface Engineering at the University of Leeds, Anne’s research focusses on looking at how different materials interact with their environments, and determining how they degrade over time. While the engineering principles of the subject remain the same, the applications for this research vary widely, and can see Anne one day looking at how well a hip replacement functions in the body after surgery, and the next determining the efficiency of electricity production in offshore wind turbines corroded by seawater. Professor Neville’s studies have even seen her analysing how tree frogs attach and detach from surfaces, with the aim of artificially replicating this for use in surgical instruments.
Professor Angela Belcher
A professor in the departments of Materials Science and Engineering, and Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Angela’s research explores how natural processes and structures can inform the design of materials used in energy, the environment and medicine. By using biological principles, Angela and her team have developed materials that can self-repair and self-assemble, adapting and evolving like living organisms, to become better over time. These materials have been used to make long-lasting batteries and solar cells, and even tools to aid in the diagnosis of diseases.
Photo of Angela Belcher courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons