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.
Russian-UK Raw Materials Dialogue in St Petersburg (myself with another Imperial Materials Science student, Chimdi Igwe)
My first encounter with materials science was in a Design and Technology classroom when I was 13 years old. Tasked with designing a product that used ‘smart materials’ (materials that respond to stimuli such as pressure, heat and light), my imagination ran wild with ideas about how we could incorporate this into clothing. My friend and I came up with the concept of the ‘novel bra,’ which could grow with its wearer through puberty. We presented our design with a mini marketing campaign, explaining how the bra could alter its shape in response to changes in skin pH induced by hormones. The project ignited a spark in me to ask why materials behave the way they do.
I thought: ‘Why do glasses shatter? Why are metals strong? How can you design materials that can withstand extreme heat, e.g. in airplane turbines or rocket engines? How can you create nanoporous structures which give you ‘breathable fabrics’?’
Electronically displayed information is everywhere; smartphones, laptops, TV, advertising billboards, wearables… the list of devices we use goes on and on. These displays are mostly based on either liquid crystal (LCD) or organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology. These are great technologies, but they are not without limitations. We have all experienced the poor readability of a phone screen in sunlight and short battery life, largely due to the high power consumption of the display. Recent research has also shown that evening use of these light-emitting devices can negatively affect sleep and next-morning alertness.
So how can we design the next generation of displays to address these issues? A promising approach is to develop displays which can reflect natural ambient light or room lights to illuminate the screen, rather than using the powerful backlighting used in LCDs. Deployed in eReader devices, reflective displays provide vastly improved power consumption and outdoor readability. But this current form of reflective display technology cannot render good colour, nor deliver video rate refresh rates – a major limiting factor to wider application.
Engineering is all around us – it’s an intrinsic part of our society. In her new book, QEPrize Ambassador Roma Agrawal explores how construction has evolved from the mud huts of our ancestors to towers of steel that reach into the sky. Below is an excerpt from the book, which is out now!
On the morning of 12 March 1993, I went to school in the Juhu district of Mumbai as usual, with my hair tied neatly back, wearing a crisp white blouse and grey pinafore. My teeth were hidden by braces, which were interwoven with my choice of green bands; definitely not cool (yes, even at nine I was already the class nerd). At 2.00pm Mum picked up my sister and me in our lime-green Fiat and took us home. While she was parking the car, we raced up four flights of stairs in our daily competition to see who could make it to our front door first. But something felt different. We stopped at the last step; we couldn’t get to the door because our neighbour was standing there, nervously fiddling with her dupatta, looking distressed.
Immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality are currently taking the world by storm. Over the past three years, we’ve seen a huge interest in immersive technologies from the likes of advertising agencies, games developers, construction companies and more…
Immersive technology is not a new concept. Experimentation with virtual and augmented reality has been taking place since the 1960s, hidden inside research facilities across the world. The Sword of Damocles is considered by most to be one of the first virtual reality headsets. Built by Ivan Southerland and Bob Sproull in a laboratory at MIT, it was a large and somewhat dystopian looking device. The device was so heavy that it had to mounted to a mechanical arm attached to the ceiling when in use.
Dr Vinton Cerf was one of the recipients of the inaugural QEPrize, taking the accolade in 2013 for his part in creating the Internet. He was awarded the prize alongside Dr Robert Kahn, Louis Pouzin, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen, whose work gave rise to the fundamental architecture of the internet, the World Wide Web and the browser. We caught up with Cerf, who is now vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, to find out what his team has been working on since he received the prize.
The QEPrize has often put a spotlight on technological innovations, with the creators of the Internet and the World Wide Web receiving the award in 2013, and the inventors of the digital imaging sensor taking the prize last year. These two pivotal developments in technology have truly changed the way people communicate all over the world. The impacts of the technologies have also transformed many industries, from entertainment, to education, science and medicine.
Last year’s Create the Future report revealed the vast scale of the impact of technological innovations on society. Respondents from 10 countries picked computers and the internet as the most important innovations in the last 100 years, with artificial intelligence and robotics following closely behind. However, although people recognised AI and robotics as important, they did not necessarily see them as relevant to their daily lives.
On 7th December last year, the 2017 QEPrize winners joined TV presenter LJ Rich, along with biomedical imaging specialist Alison Noble and ESA engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill, to discuss the past, present and future of digital imaging sensors at the Science Museum.
The panellists explored the creation of the digital imaging sensor, as well as current and future applications in space and biomedical imaging. Watch the video to find out more!