Case Study: Larissa Suzuki
“I think there are lot of transferability in skills from one area to another, and that is why I find engineering a very exciting career because we can be curious and inventive at all times.”
Music and engineering
Larissa grew up in São Paulo in Brazil, and since the age of 5, she knew that she wanted to be an engineer. She recalls that her family and friends had to stop giving her electronics as gifts (like radios and TV’s) because she would pull them apart to understand how they worked.
Engineering was very natural path to me. I did a degree in computer science because I wanted to do engineering I could control data and get things to do what I wanted them to do.
Her parents were not keen in having a female engineer in the house and encouraged her to study music instead. Determined to go to university, Larissa had to work in industry all the time to help fund her studies. She did a degree in Electrical Engineering where she was the only woman in her class.
Designing smarter cities
Larissa believes that being collaborative and sharing data will enhance the quality of life of people living in smart cities.
When we design cities we need to make sure that we don’t design them to fit just a small proportion of the population we have to build a city that mirrors society. If we have a lot of senior citizens living in a city we have to create technology that is understandable by them and we also need to cater services to those people. A one size fits all approach will never work!
According to her a smart city is as city where citizens are provided with everything they need at the time they need and where they need it: a good and fair cost transport system, affordable housing, affordable energy and water supply and fair access to internet and mobile signal amongst others.
To understand how important sharing data is Larissa talks about the current pandemic and how hospitals in London should invest in sharing data regarding the number of available beds for covid patients.
If you have data and that data is processed by machines in real time, we can predict the likelihood of having beds available in hospital x at time y and then we can better plan for your citizens.
Larissa believes that more needs doing to fight stereotypes and increase the diversity of people working in computer science and engineering:
We need to demystify that idea that computer science is a very isolated career. This is not true! You have to be very collaborative… Engineering is a great career option for any type of person. If you can’t see blood you can still help to cure cancer!
She also mentions the amazing women who contributed to advancements in computer science and are often “erased from history”:
Things like Bluetooth, Wifi, AI and programming have been strongly influenced by the work of Ada Lovelace . The first person to create a compiler that would allow us to use natural language to programme a computer was also a female pioneer.
There are several benefits of having a diverse team working collaboratively: creating better products with a better fit. Self-regulating people who think from different perspectives and different angles so a team can scrutinise a product and make it better for the user. Diversity is very important in fields such Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
I truly believe that we are inventors, we create and invent things and that is one of the hardest jobs that we have: to have the creativity to create something that has never been; is a very powerful statement!
Recognitions and prizes
Larissa is neuro divergent and over the past few years has won several Recognitions and awards linked with her career. She was awarded the Engineer of the Year 2021 award by the Engineering Talents Awards and was a finalist for the Women in Science and Technology WISE Awards in 2018. You can find more about Larissa here.
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: Joshua Macabuag
“You are always learning and you are always challenging your levels of knowledge … engineering is so intertwined with the people that you are working with and the communities that you are working with …”
When Joshua was growing up he always had a desire to be useful, to help others. He enjoyed maths and physics and was the first one on his family to go past their GCSEs. Like many young people he was not sure what step to take next but he decided to try university.
“I was felling my own way, coming from a generation where we could go from GCSE to A-Levels to University, that was a bit of an experiment. I really enjoyed university!”
He doesn’t recall having many role models when growing up except his father who was a car mechanics. The practical approach and working on physical projects which naturally happens in car mechanics quickly became engrained on him.
According to Joshua, one of the key drivers of engineering is that final physical output:
“That is a real life impact that is what kept me in engineering, engineering for me is having a real world impact”
He also volunteered for a year in rural South Africa. That year was an eye-opener for him as he saw how engineering is crucial to improve the lives of many people by building roads, buildings and other infrastructures.
Disaster risk Engineering
Joshua is a disaster risk engineer, meaning that he uses mathematical models to try to predict how often natural disasters such as hurricanes or tsunamis can occur and how likely these natural phenomena are to damage buildings and affect local populations.
It about making informed decisions in case of uncertainty: you can’t get information about every single building a city so you have to make assumptions and make decisions based on those assumptions.
The damage that earthquakes and hurricanes do to buildings is very different as Joshua explains:
During an earthquake, as the ground shakes, the building also wants to shake due to its inertia. And the movement of the building and its own weight is what causes the force that then breaks the structure and collapses.
A hurricane is very different. It has very strong winds so you have an external force applying to your building and that force will try to lift up the roof, for example. As the wind passes through your structure it causes an uplift force. The air can get quickly trapped inside of the building which creates a pressurisation that leads to an outwards force that can be strong enough to lift the entire roof or tiles.
Joshua runs his models for the world bank which uses his predictions to lend money to countries to improve poverty.
Finding a way or make one
Josh is also a search and rescue engineer for SARAID which is a group of volunteers that helps finding people trapped in collapsed buildings. Their moto is “Finding a way or make one”. Josh needs to be observant and resilient as this is a difficult task.
If there is anybody trapped inside of the collapsed building you’ll have minutes to decide the best way to access and extricate those people. You don’t really have anything other than what you can see with your eyes.
So for Josh is all about get as much information as possible:
The first thoughts are is there any big beams inside and where are they likely to be and what did that building looked like originally.
In a way Josh assessing the past present and future of the structure: what is made of, where did it moved to and what would happen next (if it fails further).
Once these questions are answered the next step is making sure that the structure is temporarily stable, lifting an shifting of heavy items, breaching and breaking through slabs or walls and carrying out first aid to stabilise any casualties.
In rescue there not going to be any time to run computer models. Calculations in your mind, intuitive judgements based on sound engineering principles.
Teamwork is essential
During a search and rescue event, Joshua and other engineers are part of a broader team of professionals which include technicians, team leaders, medical staff. All the different teams need to come together quickly and collaborate and communicate effectively. This is why Joshua thinks that no matter which branch of engineering you are in, teamwork and being collaborative is very important skill:
Engineering, as a profession is made up of a spectrum of people, so you have those who are outgoing naturally extroverted team players and you have those who prefer to work on their own in isolation […] I had to learn the team player aspect of it […] for an engineer to be effective they end up leaning towards teamwork and working closely with others because a) it makes a better outcome and b) its enjoyable and it’s how you learn and it’s how you make friends and it’s how you get the most out of the profession, which is already very rewarding…
Case Study: Sian Cleaver
“Going back [to the Moon] is going to be inspiring for a whole new cohort of people. A large proportion of the world will being seeing this for the first time and I hope that will inspire young people and do wonders for the world of engineering.”
An astronaut in the making
Sian grew up fascinated with the vastness of space: she even remembers a book about astronauts that was at her nursery! When she was five years old she had an opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Centre with her family, and from that day onwards her mind was set on becoming an astronaut. She joined an astronomy club in school, built and launched rockets in the local park: all of her education journey was shaped around her ambition of one day becoming an astronaut.
“Because I always wanted to be an astronaut and was interested in space, that end goal shaped my career. I did certain GCSEs and A-Levels (physics, maths), I chose certain hobbies.”
Sian hasn’t achieved her dream job yet, but for her it’s all about the journey:
“Whether I achieve that or not [being an astronaut] it allowed me to carve a really, really interesting career and I feel really lucky that I’m doing the thing that I am doing purely because of a decision that I made when I was 5 years old.”
Sian is a spacecraft engineer at Airbus working on the Orion Programme: part of a series of missions which will return humans to the moon.
She is currently working on the support module, which is the bit of the spacecraft just behind the capsule where the astronauts live and work. The support module is a critical part of the vessel, as it provides water, oxygen and power… and propels the spacecraft to the moon. It is powered by four solar panels.
Sian has to be organised and logical at work because part of her job is to manage a list with every single step that is required to put the module together. It’s a bit like the instruction booklet that comes with a Lego set, but Sian’s list tracks 20,000 pieces and 12 kilometres of different-colour wires that needs to be put together in a very specific order, all inside a compact cylinder.
“I think it’s beautiful! It takes my breath away how complex it is, but how beautiful it is at the same time!”
Sian is also responsible for ensuring all the equipment going inside the module arrives on site at the right time so that her team can build it in the correct order. If there is something wrong with an individual part it needs get resolved so it doesn’t compromise the rest of the assembly.
Beyond the Moon… Mars!
Going back to the Moon is a stepping stone to the next stage of space exploration: Mars. The Orion Programme plan is to build a space station around the Moon. Once infrastructure is up and running – perhaps even using resources from the Moon – then future Orion missions could go from the Moon onwards to Mars. That’s something Sian hopes to see in her lifetime.
“There is a generation of people who weren’t alive at the time of the Moon landings. Going back is going to be inspiring for a whole new cohort of people. A large proportion of the world will be seeing this for the first time, and I hope that will inspire young people and do wonders for the world of engineering.”
That said, Sian also believes that the time has come for a more diverse group of people to have the chance to experience the Moon and contribute towards the development of space technology:
“Now is the time for women to go to the Moon. It’s time for Europeans to go to the Moon. It’s time for a whole diverse crowd of people to start accessing the Moon and opening up to the whole world!”
The power of languages
Sian learned Russian at secondary school. She thought the language was super cool and linked well with her love of space.
“When I was younger, I was very dismissive of languages. I wanted to be a scientist, I wanted to do physics and really didn’t think I needed languages. But now, I’m like: of course you need languages! The more languages you know in Europe the more opportunities it opens up for your career!”
Working in the space industry often requires a global collaboration between many countries such as Europe, Russia, USA, UAE – all sharing knowledge, working together for a common goal. Sian really enjoys this side of her job, as it makes her open-minded to others from different backgrounds.
“You learn about food, culture and jokes in other languages, it’s really fun. It adds a whole new dimension to the office having people from different nationalities and cultures.”
Outside of work
When she’s not building her way to space, Sian enjoys gliding and scuba diving. She says Scuba diving transports you to another world, and is the closest experience on Earth to being in space!
logical, open-minded, organised
A-Levels, Degree, Physics
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: Roma Agrawal
“I don’t think there are that many professions where you get that sense that you’ve made a thing that people are going to interact with. It’s extremely, extremely rewarding!”
Engineering: the practical side of physics and maths
When Roma was a child she loved making and breaking things, and wanted to be an astronaut. She grew up in India and studied physics and maths at school as these subjects are seen as very prestigious and could lead to many careers. That said, Roma remembers that nobody suggested she might consider a career in engineering. It was not until she was studying physics at Oxford University and got a summer job working at a physics laboratory that she realised engineering brings together mathematics and science with the practicality of making stuff: that is what she wanted to do!
“It’s intrinsic to humans to be engineers … to me every human-made object is engineered. Every time you pick a material or tool and change things in some way, that is engineering.”
Engineering an iconic building
Roma lived in the US from the age of 16 before moving to London. She says that living in different countries made her open minded about finding different ways of doing things in engineering.
In London, Roma spent six years as a structural engineer working on an iconic building, The Shard. She worked on the building’s foundations, a very complex task which required a lot of collaboration amongst different teams. They had to build the foundations in a very tight space and make sure they didn’t disrupt nearby buildings, or the London underground.
“If the foundations don’t work very well, you will get the Leaning Tower of Pisa!”
Being a structural engineer
Roma describes the role of a structural engineer as follows:
“Structural engineers ensure buildings and bridges stand up. We use maths and physics to think about all the forces that are attacking the structure: so gravity is pulling it downwards, wind is pushing it sideways and in some places, earthquakes are trying to rattle it. We convert all of these forces into numbers and we then think about what materials we want the structure to be built from. Often the foundation is concrete because it’s a very robust material.”
Thinking of the invisible and the power of sketching
Roma often finds herself thinking of the invisible side of structures, such as their foundations, wires, or even sewage systems. It blows her mind how complex it is to put a building together, let alone an entire functional city! She is fascinated by bricks (and likes to touch them) and she is surprised how we still rely on this old technology to build modern structures. If she had a superpower it would the ability to control concrete and swish it into any shape she wants. One piece of advice she has to offer:
“I often encourage young people who are considering engineering … build up some confidence in your sketching and drawing skills because it’s a great way to communicate.”
A published author
Roma is currently working as a writer and communicator and has published books for adults and children about engineering. She uses her good communication skills as an engineer and writer to make engineering more accessible to all. She says people often forget that engineering is for humans and it’s helped us advance as a civilisation. Her latest children’s book tells the stories behind awesome structures across the world.
Roma is featured in an episode of the Inventive Podcast:
Case Study: Rory Harris
Rory is a Science Communication placement student with UKRI Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Rory studies Physics at the University of Manchester. As part of his degree, he has taken a one year placement with STFC as a science communicator. He loves science and after finishing his GCSE’s he chose to study Maths, Further Maths and Physics at college.
Communicating science with the public
Rory collaborates with scientists to tell the public about the work they are doing. He has great communication skills and can explain why science is important and what it all means in an easy way.
“My job is to tell everyone all about the great work being done by particle physicists!”
Science communication is very important, a scientist’s work is a lot more useful if everyone knows about it and can understand it too! As part of his job, Rory is also hard-working as he ensures he meets deadlines for news articles and social media updates during his placement.
Whilst studying at university, Rory volunteered at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, giving public tours and answering questions about exhibits.
He really enjoyed doing this and found it was great helping engage people with science. Now, on his placement Rory has helped to create some exhibits for their visitor centre as well!
Science Communicator (Placement Student)
collaborative, Communicator, hard-working
A-Levels, Further Mathematics, Mathematics, Physics, Physics, Placement
Case Study: Shrouk El-Attar
“That idea of what an engineer looks like is really out of date and it needs to change […] people engineer in their heels, people engineer in their dresses, and for me it’s such a creative field!”
A journey of resilience
Shrouk left her native Egypt at the age of 15, arriving in the UK with her family. She was eventually granted refugee status on the basis of her sexuality, but her mother, sister and brother were deported. Showing remarkable resilience, she enrolled to study electrical engineering at Cardiff University, but could only start to study once her asylum case was complete – which took several years. She believes that more needs to be done to enable asylum seekers to access higher education, and to help people considering engineering as a career:
“We need to produce more than 186,000 engineers every single year, just to meet our engineering shortfall by 2024, and the same time we prevent people from accessing engineering”
Improving the quality of life of others
Since graduating from university, Shrouk has collaborated with others in a variety of projects. She’s designed robots that can measure tiny things just a few nanometers across, and built a machine that can detect cancer cells based on how electrons wobble in the presence of magnetic fields.
Currently, she gets to release her creativity designing and testing products which help improve the quality of life of many women and others across the world. She find engineering to be a very collaborative field:
“You work with other engineers, scientists, data scientists and artists to make your product look nice …”
Changing perceptions of engineering
Shrouk is a passionate advocate for changing perceptions of engineering, as there is still a long way to go in terms of attracting creative people into the sector. She also works towards valuing non-univeristy routes into engineering:
“We need to change our language. We need to make it more accessible, we also need to change the default routes into engineering. Why is just the university route considered? Why can’t we take on more apprentices?”
A passionate advocate
In her free time Shrouk is a belly dancer, and she fundraises to help the LGBTQ community in countries such as Egypt. In 2018 she was awarded Young Woman of the Year in the Women on the Move Awards, from Migrants Organise and the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency).
Shrouk is featured in an episode of the Inventive Podcast:
Case Study: Emmanuel Olaiya
Emmanuel is a particle physicist working at the Particle Physics Department with STFC.
A passion for physics and travelling
Emmanuel studied maths, physics and chemistry for his A-levels. However it was his passion for physics which push him into university and beyond.
“Physics was always my favourite subject and for further education I wanted to do something that I enjoyed so I studied physics at university and then completed a particle physics PhD”
After finishing his degree at university, Emmanuel continued to study towards a PhD in particle physics. This opportunity allowed him to travel the world. He lived in Geneva in Switzerland for a year to do his PhD. Then after that he moved to California, USA to work on a particle detector for 4 years.
“Another one of the great things about my job is it has enabled me to live in other parts of the world.“
He lived in Geneva, Switzerland, for a year to do his PhD. Then after that he moved to California, USA to work on a particle detector for 4 years.
Being a particle physicist
According to Emmanuel the job of a particle physicist can be described as follows:
“I investigate the smallest particles and the forces they interact with. To do this I work with physicists around the world on experiments that detect what happens when you collide particles together at very high energies.”
Emmanuel is logical as he programs hundreds of computers to help him identify particles that are produced in accelerator collisions. He needs to be self- motivated because these experiments create so much data which needs looking through carefully. Emmanuel looks through the data creatively hoping to find missing particles that can explain how massive the Universe is.
“My main ambition is to detect particles that could explain Dark Matter which we believe form the majority of particles out there in space.”
Always learning new things
Emmanuel is always learning physics through his job. He also gets to teach physics and write research papers which he enjoys a lot. Other tasks involve spending time computer programming and working on detector development which he finds very interesting.
“I really love how varied and stimulating my job is.”
In his spare time, Emmanuel loves to explore his beautiful surroundings by hiking or cycling. He also loves to go skiing, something that he found he really enjoyed whilst working in Geneva.
creative, logical, self-motivated
A-Levels, Chemistry, Mathematics, PhD, Physics, Physics, Research
Case Study: XinRan Liu
XinRan is currently a Research Associate at the School of Physics and Astronomy of the Edinburgh University
How things work
XinRan was born in China and moved to Edinburgh when he was 7 years old. He has always been curious to find out how everything in the Universe works. To help him find some answers, XinRan studied science at GCSE and A-Levels. He then decided to study Physics at University.
“I have always been interested in learning how things work: Why are we stuck onto Earth? How does the Moon affect us? Why does gravity not suck us into the Sun? How are stars and galaxies are formed?”
A professional hunter of the invisible
XinRan describes himself as a professional hunter of the invisible. As he further explains,
“Our eyes cannot see tiny cosmic particles which are constantly passing through our planet so particle physics researchers need to use massive detectors that are deep below the Earth’s surface.”
These detectors need to be underground so that they are protected from interference that is present at the surface. These particles rarely interact with anything, so XinRan has to be patient while he waits for them to be detected. He is curious to find out what the particles can tell us about things like what is Dark Matter and origin of the Universe.
XinRan job has taken him to travel the world to work however he has always loved Scotland and he is happy to have found a job at the University of Edinburgh. According to him the best part of his job is as follows:
“It has taken me to some of the most spectacular places around the world many of which are deep underground. It has also introduced me to many amazing people along the way.”
XinRan is also passionate about work with young people. He is recently developed an activity for schools to build mini Mars rovers and exploring the STFC Mars Yard at The Boulby Underground Laboratory.
Getting better at tennis
In his free time XinRan loves reading, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking. He also enjoys watching tennis but when it comes to play it he needs to improve his game.
curious, passionate, patient
A-Levels, GCSEs, PhD, Physics, Research
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