Case Study: Enass Abo-Hamed
“One of the things I find fascinating about engineering is that the greatest inventions of our lifetime are engineering inventions and they all come to solve a problem.”
Raising awareness of climate change
Originally from Palestine, Enass grew up watching her father, who was a mechanical engineer, building things and putting things together.
“ That was something that always intrigue me: the thinking process and the action that comes after that, which engineering really revolves around.”
This really impacted on her and the way she tackles challenges no matter how small or large: from starting her own company or being a passionate advocate in raising awareness of climate change.
It about bring the problem to many people whilst we are working on the solution. That’s where my activism comes from. […] Climate change is a very interconnected problem with others such as air pollution or food waste […] it’s everyone’s problem … everyone should know about it!
Storing hydrogen to produce energy
When Enass was doing her PhD at Cambridge University she invented an imaginative way to capture and store hydrogen safety, as a clean source of energy.
“Hydrogen is unique: very small, it doesn’t have any carbon; when you burn it you’re not generating emissions (carbon footprint). It’s a very elegant molecule with a very elegant solution that doesn’t emit pollutants. That can solve many of our energy problems…”
It took Enass a lot of hard-work to start her own company, H2GO Power, which stores hydrogen as part of a chemical reaction. The gas can be converted into solid state or liquid state. When the hydrogen in needed, it is released in a clean form (zero emissions) and in a controlled manner. This is an efficient, low cost, highly safe way to store hydrogen!
“I think hydrogen is the past, the present and the future. It was there at the very beginning and I bet it will be there in the future […] it’s a very central player into contributing to solve climate change…”
Energy is still a luxury for some …
A trip to Africa made Enass realised that sometimes energy cannot be taken for granted:
“There are 1.2 billion people around the world who do not have control over the switch! Africa has 600 million people who don’t have regular access to power. It shouldn’t be a problem that we have today with the technologies and resources we have around the world. There is an injustice to that, that bothers me personally, and If I have an ability to contribute to the solution, I should!”
More funding needed
According to Enass more funding should be available for entrepreneurs just like her to develop their own ideas. She believes in the power of working collaboratively and would like to see companies and government working together more closely to tackle climate change.
If there would be one thing I could change I would use more engineering to accelerate progress towards tackling climate change (…) we are working at slower pace than we should be.
Enass has won several awards for her activist including the Top 100 BAME leaders in UK Tech and Top 100 influential Women in Engineering in the UK and Europe by the Financial Times. You can watch her talking about climate change and her company below.
Case Study: Angus MacGregor
Angus is a Geotechnical Engineer.
Apprenticeship or university ?
After school, Angus applied to both a university degree to study Civil Engineering and to be an apprentice draughtsperson (Civil Engineering Technician). When he was accepted for both, and just like many other young people, Angus had an important decision to make:
I was accepted for both and then had to choose. The university degree was a bit of a stretch for me at the time as my Higher exam results were not quite good enough. Also the university route involved moving 180 miles to Glasgow whereas the apprentice route involved staying at home.
In the end, Angus decided to go to university and after a year he changed to a similar course Civil Engineering with Geology. He spent 5 years studying at university, 4 of these were in Glasgow and one in Canada. After university, he applied to over 40 graduate engineer jobs and secured 3 job offers.
The importance of holiday jobs
Angus believes that the holidays jobs he had have helped him gain valuable experience. In the longer breaks, he recalls, like summer break, he gained a lot of experience in Civil Engineering as a trainee Civil Engineer. In the shorter breaks, like Christmas and Easter, he worked as a fencer and a joiner’s mate building timber kit houses.
What do geotechnical engineers do every day?
Geotechnical engineers can work in an office or on-site. When Angus is in the office, which can be anywhere in the UK, he is open-minded as he talks and communicates with people who do different jobs in STEM and non-STEM roles. He often provides advice and guidance on how to solve problems at construction sites.
Outside of the office, his work involves visiting current and future construction sites to understand each situation better and to meet all of the workers.
“Most commonly I get involved if there has been a landslide, there is maintenance needed to tunnels, or on sites where the ground conditions are poor and someone really wants to build something.”
Some of these situations are not easy to solve, so Angus needs to be resilient.
The best thing about being a geotechnical engineer
There are a lot of things that Angus loves about his job. He is constantly learning from others to widen his understanding of the world and he enjoys teaching others what he has learnt during his career. Through his job and education, Angus has also travelled to many places all around the world!
“I have worked across Scotland, the rest of UK, Europe and Internationally. Highlights include Shetland, Isle of Lewis, Isle of Eigg, Isle of Muck, Bangladesh, Netherlands, and Poland. I have helped out from afar on projects in South Georgia, St Helena, Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Sierra Leone and Ghana. “
In the photo above you can find Angus talk to one of his colleagues about methods for making the Haymarket South Tunnel in Edinburgh more stable.
curious, imaginative, open-minded
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!”
Case Study: Askwar Hilonga
“I’m giving back to my community and this is now inspiring many young engineers in Africa… it pays more to use our education, to use our innovation, our engineering, endeavours and success to solve the real challenges in our communities.”
From poverty to PhD
Hilonga was born in Gongali, a village near the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Growing up was challenging: the village had no electricity, and with limited access to clean water people struggled with waterborne diseases. Hilonga is the youngest of 9 siblings and he is thankful that his parents encouraged him to go to school and made sacrifices for him to get an education:
“I did my best to put all my attention in studies, particularly in science because I loved science …”
After graduating from secondary school Hilonga got a loan from the government which allowed him to study chemical engineering at university. He decided to keep investing in his education and completed a PhD at the university of Hanyang in South Korea.
Tackling waterborne diseases
Hilonga saw an opportunity to help his local community tackle their problems, in particular access to clean water.
“I wanted to make my PhD meaningful. If none of my studies will help solve problems in my local community then they are useless!”
He studied the water filters people were using, he observed water samples looking for contaminants, and talked to local hospitals about which waterborne diseases were affecting his community. With all this information, Hilonga quickly concluded that the water filters were not fit for purpose.
“There is a serious problem here and we need a solution. This is an opportunity for me to provide [that] solution!”
Water can be contaminated by many different types of bacteria or microorganisms, or by heavy metals such as copper. This makes it hard to find one approach to filtrationg which works for every situation. Being imaginative, Hilonga created a nanofilter which can be easily adapted to local communities and their water supplies. After observing and identifying different contaminants from water samples, Hilonga changes the shapes of nano-materials made of sodium silicate and silver so that these can trap different types of contaminants. This is often a trial and error process, so Hilonga needs to be tenacious.
The technology is so advanced that the filters can be adapted to cater for different types of water from local communities. Hilonga can also predict how long will it take for the contaminants to saturate the filters, so he can also advise on how often the filter will need replacing.
Supporting local communities
Hilonga has also spent some time creating his own business model which values local communities. He is the director of startup business Gongali Model, which currently employs 127 local people. The nanofilter is developed by local people, using local materials and can be repaired locally as well: a huge advantage in terms of sustainability and keeping costs down.
“The local people gain a lot from this business [….] There is a lot of win-win with job creation while we are solving the inherent challenges in our community like the waterborne diseases”
Hilonga wants to roll out the technology more widely, and has launched the campaign Thirst for Life. He aims to get 1,000 nanofilter water stations across Africa, from Egypt to Cape Town, over the next few years. This will bring clean water into the lives of 5 million people. One of his favourite quotes is:
“I want to be a millionaire. Not in terms of money, but in terms of impacting millions of lives!”
He hopes one day he gets to be a billionaire, impacting not millions but billions of lives!
Hilonga’s nanofilter technology has received several awards including – from the UK – the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2015 sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Family’s pitch@palace Innovation Award in 2016.
Chemical engineer, Director of Gongali Model
imaginative, observant, tenacious
Case Study: Emma Meehan
Emma is Senior Science Technician for Boulby Underground Screening facility (BUGS) which is part of the Boulby’s Underground Laboratory.
Not every journey into STEM is the same
Emma didn’t follow the typical pathway into a STEM career because she didn’t take an apprenticeship or go to university. Instead, she found her job through her curiosity and desire to learn. Emma joined Boulby laboratory as a part-time cleaner where she met the scientists and started asking lots of questions.
Initially, she didn’t know a lot of science but she had an interest in physiology and biometrics. From asking lots of questions she developed a passion for Physics and even asked to help work on the equipment.
“I started to learn all about Dark Matter and physics and fell in love with it …I became very good at looking after different types of detectors and experiments. So much so that I ended up getting a full-time position and promotion to senior science technician.”
A Laboratory in a mine
Emma works in an unusual environment: a working mine over a kilometre deep underground! She works with astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians and people who love science from all over the world including NASA and ESA.
Emma is observant because she prepares and checks samples which are used to detect rare particle events. She needs to be tenacious as the samples take time and sometimes don’t work. Emma also works on projects looking for life on alien planets, designing and testing space technology like Mars Rovers and special tools and cameras that go on them.
“My job is absolutely amazing. I get to do so many things that I love, and I learn new things every day … I love working underground, it can be hot, dirty and hard work but it really is a brilliant and exciting place to be.”
During her time at the lab she has fallen in love with Physics, Astrophysics, Geology and more.
Guided tours and awards
Before working at Boulby, Emma used to be a horse-riding instructor. She has always loved teaching people and learning about the way animals think and act. Having this curiosity and passion to share her expertise makes her extremely successful at her job.
“The main thing I brought from that to my job at Boulby is my insatiably curiosity and desire to learn”
Emma imaginative as she creates and gives science tours of the mine where she works to visitors. Her hard work is noticed by others and in 2019 she was awarded a Technician Award from the Institute of Physics!
Family, Animals and Adventure
Emma loves animals and has three horses, four dogs, ferrets, hens, ducks, turkeys and sheep! She enjoys being around animals and wonders about how we can communicate with them based on their ways of thinking. She also enjoys days out with her family!
Senior Science Technician
imaginative, observant, tenacious
Case Study: Christopher Robinson
Christopher works as an electronics technician with the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source centre for research.
Tinkering and learning on the job
From a young age, he has been tinkering with different objects learning more about how they work and how they are put together. Christopher finished his A-Levels before he decided to apply for an apprenticeship with STFC. He really enjoyed the practical side of things at school and found that an apprenticeship meant he could carry on developing his hand-on skills and learn from projects.
At STFC I gained invaluable knowledge due to our fantastic apprenticeship scheme
Doing an apprenticeship also meant that he was being paid at the same time he gained qualifications on the job. Another highlight of his apprenticeship was the opportunity to travel abroad:
I was offered the chance to travel to Geneva in Switzerland for 7 weeks to work at CERN, an opportunity that saw me develop and gain many useful skills and personal achievements at the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world!
Christopher loves his job. According to him being an electronics technician means that he is imaginative when he designs and builds electronics circuits which are used in parts of the particle accelerators at ISIS. Christopher is also self-motivated and enjoys the variety of work he does:
Because of the nature of it no two jobs are the same. Each job requires a unique method in order to complete it.
He is also patient as he finds faults and repairs equipment when it fails.
Christopher also enjoys that his work pattern is flexible. This means that there is an opportunity to do some overtime to earn more money, change his working days or simply being on call.
Using knowledge and expertise to help others
Recently, Christopher was really proud to be able to get involved in an important project:
“I have recently been heavily involved in the ventilator challenge at Penlon, repairing and testing ventilators for the Covid-19 outbreak.”
Christopher is so passionated about engineering that during his free time he find engineering related activities to do. He is currently working on a vintage motorcycle and is very excited about the final product.
imaginative, patient, self-motivated
Case Study: Dr Paul Mann
Paul is a biogeochemist working at Northumbria University. Biogeochemists study the different chemical, biological and physical processes that create the natural environment we live in.
Paul spends many of the summer months in remote regions of Alaska, Canada or Siberia to collect water and soil samples for analysis. Thousands of years ago carbon was ‘locked up’ in the water and soil in these regions. Paul is trying to understand if that ancient carbon is now being released back into the environment.
“We need to understand this, as the release of ancient carbon may speed up climate change in our lifetime.”
Paul grew up miles away from the sea in Birmingham, UK. He remembers being told by a careers advisor that he should become a bomb disposal expert because he liked SCUBA diving and science.
“They laughed when I actually said I wanted to become a marine biologist. I grew up thinking I would never (a) be clever enough to go to university, (b) actually teach at a university, and (c) be able to travel to amazing places and do something I love.”
Paul has traveled to many interesting places for work, including living and working in Antarctica for 1½ years. His research has also taken him to the Congo river in Africa, the Mekong river in Asia, and a number of the great Arctic rivers draining Alaska and Siberia.
“I always loved the ocean as a kid, especially snorkelling. I then took up SCUBA diving. At school, I enjoyed science. Combining the two passions felt like the obvious thing to do.”
While studying, Paul has also had numerous other jobs to help pay the bills: working in call centres, door to door sales and banking.
Paul’s advice to young people
“Don’t let others tell you can’t do something. Follow what you want to do, irrespective of how you do in grades. I never got my ‘best’ grades in science. Take time after each step to work out where you are and what you want to do next, don’t be afraid to change direction at any point (you do have time – even if it doesn’t feel like it).”
Paul is currently working on a project called Cacoon, looking at how the Arctic Ocean will respond to changes in the supply of water, carbon and nutrients from land. It’s important to know this because it could influence the climate globally, affecting you, your family and maybe your children. NUSTEM have worked with Paul to create workshops for schools about Cacoon so that he can share his learning with students.
As well as researching biogeochemistry, Paul also teaches undergraduate students studying geography at Northumbria University.
imaginative, open-minded, resilient
A-Levels, Degree, PhD
Talib is an Environmental Engineer who uses computers to understand how to look after the environment better, and improve our health and wellbeing. He advises people working in industry and university students how to better look after natural resources such as water, land, and air. In his free time, Talib enjoys dancing, especially Salsa.
Talib is an Environmental Engineer who uses computers to understand how to look after the environment better, and improve our health and wellbeing.
He advises people working in industry and university students how to better look after natural resources such as water, land, and air.
In his free time, Talib enjoys dancing, especially Salsa.
Talib’s most magnificent thing
“Energy is all around us and gets transferred all the time! Static electricity can be really fun to explore with your children, and has many different applications in engineering.”
When you rub plastic, you transfer electrons (tiny particles with negative charges) from one material to the other. They are then stored in one material (making it a bit more negative) while their absence makes the other material a bit more positive.
Because plastic is an insulator, the electrons cannot flow through it so they effectively get stuck there – they are static.
creative, imaginative, observant
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
Systems engineers design and create systems to meet specific needs by combining and integrating people, components and processes into a whole system and ensuring each of those components work correctly. Systems are used in industrial processes to increase output, but a toilet, a refrigerator, an air conditioner, an automatic iron, a car and even the human body are all systems. Larger systems include moveable bridges, manufacturing plants or the International Space Station.
Attributes: collaborative, imaginative, resilient
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