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: Greg Bowie
Apprenticeship into engineering
Greg remembers having a curious mind as a young child. He loved looking at things to see how they work, which drove his parents mad! At school he was good at maths and science, and joined the Royal Air Force Air Cadets. He was never interested in going to university, so left school at 16 and took up an apprenticeship at a tool moulding company.
“I was never sort of an academic kind of person, and I find that for me a much more valuable way of learning is getting your hands stuck in, working out how things work …”
Healing broken bones
Greg is currently a manufacturing engineer at Invibio, a company working on biomaterials for medical applications. He uses his hands-on skills and creativity to create and test trauma plates, which are used to hold broken pieces of bone together and allow them to heal. When someone suffers a nasty fracture, they might have one of Invibio’s plates surgically implanted to help stabilise the injury while the bone grows back.
Usually trauma plates are made of metals such as titanium or steel. However, Greg and his team are developing a new material which combines carbon fibres thinner than human hair and plastics.
Greg says the way the material is engineered is much closer to the natural structure of bone, which can lead to good biocompatibility so the plates will encourage broken bones to heal faster. But there are other advantages too:
“When we have these carbon fibre reenforced plastic plates another benefit is that they can X-ray through the plate and see how that bone is developing and healing.”
Learning from failures
When starting his journey into engineering as an apprentice, Greg became resilient by learning from his mistakes. One of his favourites quotes is, “You can’t let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you” (Barack Obama).
Being resilient and patient helps him better to understand the best ratio of carbon fibres to plastic and how the materials should be layered together.
“We’ve got some understanding [of] how the material may work, but we need to make it, we need to test, it we need to see if it fails, how it fails, and [work out] what we need to change.”
In particular Greg and his colleagues need to understand how much carbon fibre reinforced plastic plates bend without breaking (this is called flexural strength), and how tightly screws can be inserted through the material. It goes without saying how important it is to study these properties before a plate goes inside a human body.
Under the sea and other medical applications
Carbon fibre reinforced plastics have become common engineering materials, used everywhere from car components to tennis racquets. They’re also used in pipes for deep sea applications. Being able to tailor the strength and flexibility of the material, they can be ideal for encasing pipes which will have to sit on the seabed without being crushed by the high pressures.
Invibio is also developing other materials for medical applications. For example, they 3D print porous (sponge-like) plastic materials as spinal cages. This allows bone to grow into the implant as well as growing around it.
Gregs loves that his engineering work, and the biomaterials and products he helps to develop, make a difference and improve people’s lives.
“That is what I love about where I work now, it’s an interesting field to be in.”
Going back in time
Greg had a superpower he would like to be able to time travel. Not necessarily into the future: to go back in time, to see how engineers and inventors developed the things they did. That said, he is curious about where biomaterials technology is going to be in 10 years’ time.
“How many bones can we fix in the human body with these plates? Because it not necessarily always suitable for all the applications giving the existing manufacturing process that we use …”
creative, patient, resilient
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: 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
Case Study: Mika Shearwood
Mika is a Software Engineering Apprentice with the STFC.
Route into software engineering apprentice.
Mika studied maths, further maths and physics at A Level and they knew that university wasn’t the right pathway for them. Mika decided to take a gap year to gain work experience and save money to prepare for the future. During their gap year, they have applied to lots of apprenticeships before being successful at securing a STFC placement.
“I knew for a long time that I wanted to be an apprentice instead of going to university, so I spent a gap year getting work experience “
The many roles of software engineers
Every day is different for a software engineer. Sometimes they are writing code, talking to databases, fixing websites and more. These are the types of task that Mika does during their apprentice: learning bits of everything. Mika also gets opportunities to deliver talks to the public about coding or being an apprentice:
“I do lots of things, work with lots of lovely people, and there’s always lots of talks, events and news to join in on. With all the stuff going on the word I’d use is ‘exciting’. It creates so many opportunities for me to take if I want to! “
Creativity is important
Mika believes that creativity is an important skill for their apprenticeship:
“I am a creative person and I am able to apply this in a lot of ways to my work: designing websites and software for others to use, and my personal favourite of writing and hosting a virtual Python workshop for work experience students”
A passion for media
Mika takes their creativity beyond work and into a lot of hobbies: music and video-making are two of Mika’s favourite hobbies and they can be mixed together for musical theatre which Mika loves to be involved with!
On top of all of these hobbies, Mika still has time for friends and loves to play video games with them.
Software Engineering Apprentice
creative, organised, self-motivated
Apprenticeship, Further Mathematics, GCSEs, Mathematics, Physics
Case Study: William Pilcher
William is the deputy IT Service Delivery Manager for the Particle Physics Department at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
The importance of apprenticeships
William developed many of his IT knowledge through a one year apprenticeship for STFC. This meant that he could study in college whilst gaining hands on experience at the Rutherford Appleton labs. This gave him great skills and knowledge of this fast paced workplace.
After his apprenticeship, William applied to a full time position with the Particle Physics Department (PPD) and was successful!
“I was ever so grateful for the opportunity presented to me through my apprenticeship, and it’s great to see that there’s a renewed focus on similar pathways for younger versions of me!“
What IT service delivery managers do.
William is responsible for key central management platforms. These are things like Windows/Mac support, anti-virus software and printing solutions. His ideas are shared at staff meetings where everyone can work together. Here they share more ideas and improve plans to support staff across all STFC sites.
“While it’s easy to describe my IT job as “being adept at Googling problems, and even better at switching things off and on again”, there’s a great deal of depth to my day-to-day tasks! “
What does William love about his job?
William loves the wide variety that his work has because it keeps things interesting and exciting! Sometimes he has a large workload and it can feel difficult having a lot of things to do at once. But, it is all worthwhile to get to meet staff from all around the department. He loves to hear what they are up to and about the effects that his work is having.
“Working in such a friendly, open environment is the key benefit to me – if ever there is a quiet moment in my work, I know I can go and speak to colleagues to hear what exciting projects they’re pursuing.”
He has worked in the PPD computing group for five years helping with a variety of projects. He has helped with masterclass open days, introducing computer software and supporting colleagues working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Competitive sports and socialising
Outside of working hours William likes to stay active. He takes part in different competitive sports but enjoys weightlifting and long distance running the most. He believes that having a good social life is very important. Whether that be going to music events with his friends or hiking and meeting new people.
Deputy IT Service Delivery Manager
organised, patient, resilient
Paula is a Civil Engineer who has designed and built many large projects. Her current work is to look after the A19, a major road which runs from Seaton Burn and Cramlington in the North, through the Tyne Tunnel, past Nissan in Sunderland, down through Thirsk and York, to Doncaster. Thousands of people use it daily, and Paula’s job is to make sure the road can get them where they need to go safely. Paula enjoys the variety of her work and particularly likes working in teams, and seeing things get finished. She talks to lots of pupils about engineering, hoping that in the future we’ll have lots of new engineers helping to build a better world. Paula also enjoys travelling, with work and for fun.
Paula is a Civil Engineer who has designed and built many large projects.
Her current work is to look after the A19, a major road which runs from Seaton Burn and Cramlington in the North, through the Tyne Tunnel, past Nissan in Sunderland, down through Thirsk and York, to Doncaster. Thousands of people use it daily, and Paula’s job is to make sure the road can get them where they need to go safely.
Paula enjoys the variety of her work and particularly likes working in teams, and seeing things get finished. She talks to lots of pupils about engineering, hoping that in the future we’ll have lots of new engineers helping to build a better world.
Paula also enjoys travelling, with work and for fun.
Paula’s most magnificent thing
“I love where I live! Wherever I go I can see lots of interesting engineering all around me!
Walking along the River Tees you can see lots of unusual bridges as well as stop off at the Tees Barrage, white water rafting and AirTrail.
When on your next walk why not open your eyes and explore how things are made, and who has helped to make them?”
Links about the Tees
- Explore our Landscape: River Tees Rediscovered.
- Tees Newport Bridge. Visible from the A19 at the Tees Viaduct, this bridge originally lifted straight upwards to allow large ships through. The local firm who built it also built the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as the Tyne Bridge.
- The Tees Transporter Bridge, pictured above, is extremely unusual, with only about a dozen bridges like it in the world.
- If you’re really getting into the ‘Bridges over the Tees’ vibe, you’ll love the Bridges on the Tees website.
- Fancy something a bit more active than looking at industrial heritage? How about the Tees Barrage, which has got you covered for canoeing, windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, powerboat racing, white-water rafting, the Air Trail Paula mentions, and more.
- Are you a teacher or home educator looking for more information about the Tees Valley? Find more here.
communicative, hard-working, tenacious
A-Levels, Degree, GCSEs
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