Case Study: Ruth Amos
“There are so many young people out there who think they are not clever enough to be an engineer, that they don’t come from the right places, that engineers don’t look like them … and they are wrong! … Engineering has a place for everyone! ”
Nearly missed opportunities
Ruth grew up in Derbyshire and she loved making and designing things when she was a child. However she never thought she could become an engineer as she didn’t know of many women in engineering. Through secondary school (she attended a technology college) she thought she was going to be a lawyer and she was going to university. She nearly missed the opportunity to explore a career in engineering until one of her teachers set her a problem of designing a mobility product that helps people to be able to walk up and down their stairs. She won an engineering award for her invention when she was only 15!
“It was only when I won the engineering award that started to meet all of these incredible female engineers and I was like oh, maybe I want to be an engineer … maybe I could be an engineer”
Looking back she thinks she would a bored lawyer as she loves being an engineer and inventing things.
A Zimmer frame for stairs
Ruth’s imagination and resilience helped her to invent StairSteady, a mobility device to make it easier for people with mobility issues to climb stairs. She says the idea is very simple:
“I always think about it as a walker or a Zimmer frame for the stairs …”
StairSteady is like a bar perpendicular to a handrail. People can hold to the bar and pull themselves up or down the stairs safely. This is a mechanical device with no electronics components. It uses friction (a force created between two surfaces that are trying to slide) and it locks itself on the rail. Have a look below in how it works.
Ruth also had to learn a lot about setting up her own business as her role didn’t stop with the invention of StairSteady. To bring a product to the market you have to prototype it, work with manufacturers, patent it and then market it.
Kids Invent Stuff
Ruth and her work colleague Shawn founded and present a youtube channel for children named kids Invent Stuff where they are committed to get children inventions come to life. Children aged 4 to 11 send them their ideas to Ruth and Shawn and they pick one to make: from firing water shooting piano to a jellycoper (yes an helicopter that shoots jelly)!
Ruth says that they feel the pressure to make the inventions justice and that they start every project from scratch. Most times they don’t have all the answers and there is lot of problem solving, being creative with solutions and this is a massive part of engineering!
Every single project they pick some fails and they try to show that was well as we learn a lot when something fails.
“I thought it was only special people that design and invented things and here was something that I had designed being made and that was such a pivotal moment on my journey into engineering so that is something that Shaun and I want to get the next generation and show them, no you can really shape the future!”
During lockdown she made an amazing pair of giant retractable wings made of red feathers for social distancing, which you can see in the image on top of this page.
Stereotypes and reclaiming inventing
Ruth loves to talk to young people about engineering, especially girls and tell them about the role they can have in engineering:
“I love problem solving and when we talk to people about engineering, we to talk about how creative it is, we have to talk about how we are solving problems because I think sometimes that gets missed out when young people are learning about engineering, and they don’t realise how exciting it is …”
There are still too many stereotypes associated with engineering and engineers and this is why Ruth and Shawn like to talk about being inventive rather than doing engineering as you need similar skills for both! Ruth firmly believes that:
“We need to reclaim inventing back!”
Solar energy engineers are experts in utilising sunlight to generate electricity. They create solar cells that collect and store the sun’s rays. They work with clients to design, plan and implement solar energy projects for cities, businesses, and homeowners. They manage anything from large-scale municipal projects to home rooftop installations. Solar engineers may need to report on the efficiency, cost and safety of a project. Computer skills are essential for creating designs and testing photo-voltaic systems.
Attributes: committed, imaginative, organised
Palaeoanthropologists study the origins and development of early humans using fossil remains. They use biological evidence such as fossilised skeletal remains, bone fragments and footprints alongside cultural artefacts such as stone tools which were made by early humans to discover how the human species developed and evolved.
Attributes: patient, passionate, committed
Structural engineers are focused on all aspects concerned with buildings and built structures, such as houses, hospitals, office blocks, bridges, oil rigs, ships and aircraft. They work to understand, predict and measure aspects such as the strength, stability and how rigid buildings are. They also work to develop new designs or modify the designs of buildings or structures which are to be constructed and are responsible for choosing the appropriate materials, such as concrete, steel, timber and masonry, to meet design specification.
Attributes: observant, committed, tenacious
Satellite communications engineers work with the satellite systems which enable wireless communication in regions where mobile networking is not cost-effective. They design programs that direct orbiting satellites and keep them functioning as well as conducting testing of satellite communication systems. They may also work on projects such as NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite which provides continuous communication between astronauts in space and the ground base on Earth.
Attributes: committed, organised, resilient
Network engineers are involved in the installing, maintaining, servicing and repair of computer data and communication systems. They can be involved in installing new software and hardware as well as creating user accounts and dealing with permissions and passwords for networks.
Attributes: committed, patient, collaborative
Nuclear engineers design, build, maintain and decommission nuclear power plants. Their work involves measuring and monitoring radiation levels, ensuring the plant meets legal requirements for safety and security, supervising power station technicians and planning safe methods of nuclear waste disposal. They maintain the systems which transfer the electricity from the generators to the outside world and design ways to improve the efficiency of nuclear power plants.
Attributes: committed, patient, resilient
Acoustics engineers are concerned with the science of sound and noise vibration. They are involved in designing and constructing buildings where sound improvement or noise reduction is a major priority. This could be the construction of sports stadiums and recording studios to improve how sound carries, but may also look at reducing noise interference for local residents. Acoustics engineers assess the noise impact of any construction to ensure there is minimum impact. Some acoustics engineers are involved in designing medical acoustic equipment such as ultra-scans.
Attributes: communicative, committed, open-minded
Solid-state physicists study rigid matter, or solids using quantum mechanics, crystallography, electromagnetism, and metallurgy. They study how the large-scale properties of solid materials result from their atomic-scale properties. Solid-state physicists study the mechanical and thermal behaviour of solids including the thermal conductivity, the amount of energy that must be absorbed by a solid to produce a given change in temperature and the melting points of crystals. It is the electrical properties of a solid that are of most interest, in particular its electrical conductivity. This knowledge is used in the production of transistors and semi-conductors.
Attributes: committed, resilient, imaginative
Magnetic engineers design magnets or machines and devices that use magnets. These may be used in computer data storage, compasses, doorbells and alarm systems, microphones and speakers, motors, electrical generators and electrical transformers. They are also used in medical equipment such as MRI scanners. After a magnet has been designed, magnet engineers define manufacturing processes and testing strategies then analysing test results and present them in the form of operating instructions and manuals.
Attributes: creative, committed, observant
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