I invented a low-cost water filter called Nanofilter®, which cleans contaminated water in order to make it drinkable. Right now, about 12,000 people use the filter every day and the plan is to impact millions of lives.
Growing up, my community in Tanzania didn’t have clean drinking water, and I will never forget how horrible that was. As a child, I would get worms because the water I drank was so dirty, and I wished someone would make it easy for us to access clean water. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and help solve the problem facing my community: I did a PhD in Chemical Engineering and invented the Nanofilter®.
We all know the engineering heroes who forged our path through the industrial revolution and pulled the world into the modern age. For example, we have Brunel to thank for pioneering not only rail travel in Great Britain, but for extending their reach to the shore of America with his giant, iron-hulled steamer ships. Thomas Edison, an American inventor, gave us the record player, motion picture camera and the electric light bulb. Our connected world was made possible only by Alexander Graham Bell’s original telephone; and Tesla was a household name long before Elon Musk and co. released their electric vehicles in 2008.
After the industrial revolution, however, things get a little murky. Our perception of engineering descends into a muddle of hard hats and high-vis jackets, still rooted deeply in the infrastructure of our daily lives; our roads, railways and buildings are all definitely the products of engineering. But what about everything else?
The energy industry is changing rapidly. Consumers and our customers are looking for increasingly flexible and affordable renewable or low carbon energy systems. At the same time, technological advances offer new opportunities for us and the industry to meet this demand for flexibility. In parallel, the energy sector and engineering institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to replace the engineers that are retiring or leaving the industry.
National Grid sits at the centre of this rapid change. We own and operate the gas transmission business in Great Britain, operate the electricity transmission system in Scotland and own and operate the electricity transmission business in England. We see the changing flexible, low carbon and affordable energy system requirements at first hand. We also have an aging expert workforce.
Recently, I attended a meeting hosted by WISE entitled “Executive Action on Gender Balance”. As the Chairman of an SME (a small to medium-sized enterprise), I was very aware that there were some very big employers in the room, employers whose HR resources were probably larger than the whole of my own company, CGL.
Of course, there was much corporate-speak that involved ‘journeys’, ‘moving the dial’, ‘in‑work networks’ and ‘360 degree mentoring’. Language to chill the heart of the most enthusiastic SME director. It was clear, however, that there was a strong sense of a need to change things from where they currently are and to set aspirational goals that deliberately stretch all of us. To those looking to come in to professional engineering, hearing of such conversations should excite them and fill them with belief that a worthwhile career of great opportunity awaits them.
Before we get to engineering, let’s consider first why diversity and inclusion are important full stop. What is the quickest way to exterminate a species? War? Famine? Another general election? Plausible options, but to cut to the chase: if you narrow the gene pool and make everyone the same, you will create an extinction level event very quickly.
We see in nature the value of diversity; both in terms of its beauty but also in terms of how it supports the survival of multiple species. At its core, you might argue that biodiversity is a risk-mitigation tool for human survival.
Between juggling a full-time job teaching engineering, reaching the final round of selection to become Canada’s next astronaut and winning the IET’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year award, the last year has proved a busy one for Dr Jenni Sidey.
To celebrate the first International Women in Engineering Day, we met Jenni to find out a bit more about the world of combustion science and see what it takes to win the IET’s top accolade for young women in engineering.
In celebration of the digital release of 20th Century Fox’s Academy Award nominated ‘Hidden Figures’, I was invited to take part in a very special movie night featuring a panel discussion of engineers from both BME backgrounds and the space industry. Joining me on the panel was fellow QEPrize Ambassador and structural engineer, Roma Agrawal; director for spacecraft platforms and demonstration missions at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, Anita Bernie; and President and CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, Dr Nelson Ogunshakin. Chairing the evening’s discussion was Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, host of the BBC’s ‘The Sky at Night’.
The event opened with a welcome from Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. She began by introducing the work of the Academy in promoting engineering to young people, and hailed films such as Hidden Figures for highlighting the variety of exciting careers on offer, as well as the incredible human stories behind them.
Nigel Whitehead is the Group Managing Director for Programmes and Support at BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest defence companies, developing the most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions on offer. The multinational organisation employs over 83,000 people in more than 40 countries and works alongside customers and local partners around the world.
We spoke to Nigel to hear his thoughts on the challenges of diversity in engineering and the role big businesses can play in bringing about change.