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: 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: 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: 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: Sophie Robinson
“One of the good things about engineering is that there are a lot of opportunities where you can use your skillset to make a difference, and make a difference in lots of different fields as well!”
Sophie grew up in a working class family from a mining village in the North of England. As a child, she remembers wanted to be an astronaut and being fascinated with Lego (she claims to have had the equivalent of her body weight in Lego!) and Meccano. Her parents encouraged her to go to university: they saw it as a good route to a professional job. Sophie recalls:
“When I was young I was always really into maths and science. I would have done a pure maths degree but there was something always nagging in the back of my mind […] I always wanted something more practical.”
With this combination of academic interests and practicality, she thinks engineering became an “inevitable” career path.
After she finished a PhD in flight mechanics from the University of Liverpool, Sophie got involved in many projects as an aerospace engineer. It’s a job she describes as being involved in the whole lifecycle of anything that flies: design, certification, operation, maintenance and safe disposal (decommissioning).
Sophie’s currently a senior flight dynamics engineer at Vertical Aerospace, a company working on creating the world’s first commercial eVTOL aircraft – electric vertical take-off and landing. It’s planned as an air taxi, to transport people and goods on short journeys.
Vertical’s aircraft will be 100% electric, affordable, and could help ease road traffic in densely populated areas.
“All of the technologies to make this kind vehicle happen exist, we are not conjuring things out of thin air that don’t exist at the moment. It’s all about bringing those technologies together into a package to make it happen.”
A lifetime achievement
In her current role Sophie is responsible for the simulator that will train pilots to fly the aircraft: she needs to be creative and logical. She also studies the performance of the air taxi, in particular how manipulating the controls translates into aircraft motion. The air taxi will be a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for Sophie and her colleagues, so she tells us that hard work is essential.
“Why did I become an engineer in first place? Because I wanted to be involved in projects like this, it’s completely innovative! That is human nature, we always want to find the next step, the next new thing. How can we put together the different technologies we’ve developed?”
Nothing great is easy
Outside of work. Sophie enjoys travel and particularly swimming. In 2012 she swam the English Channel, inspired by the first person to do so, Captain Webb, who said, “Nothing great is easy”. She has his quote as a tattoo.
“I am a mermaid when I’m not an engineer!”
She often colours her hair a different colour as this makes people notice and remember her. She says it‘s a good conversation starter!
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: 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
Case Study: Jens Dopke
Jens is a senior detector scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
The importance of foreign languages
Jens is originally from Germany, so he had a slightly different education to here in the UK. Jens did the equivalent of A-Levels in Physics and Maths and studied Physics at university. He then completed a PhD in particle physics. Looking back at his time in school he underestimated the importance of learning a new foreign languages.
“I was never good at languages, but being able to use them, made me appreciate them a lot more and I noticed that it often takes a lot less than perfection to get somewhere.“
Being a senior detector scientist
According to Jens, being a senior detector scientist often involves being curious, thinking outside of the box and coming up with newer, more efficient ways to do experiments. A big part of his time at work is spent designing, assembling and testing devices for particle physics experiments worldwide.
“I often set out, not knowing how to fix a problem or build something and am very gratified if I can live up to the challenge.“
There is no place like CERN
CERN is home to the most advanced particle physics experiments and this is Jens favourite place to work. It reminds him of the collaborative nature of scientific research. He is open-minded about working with new colleagues from different backgrounds.
“The solution generally involves interaction with many people […] It often helps me to be able to understand people of different backgrounds and bridging (as best as I can) language barriers”
However CERN is also a beautiful place to visit because is located on the boarder between the Jura mountains in France and the Alps in Switzerland.
Ancient scrolls and hiking
When Jens is not working in particle physics experiments he has an unusual hobby: using physics and computing skills to make burnt ancient scrolls readable! He also loves hiking:
I love to go hiking, as far and high as possible and whilst I am afraid of sudden drops, I am perfectly ok when I am wearing my safety gear. I love the Scottish highlands, tend to visit early every year and meet interesting new people in the middle of nowhere.
Senior detector scientist
curious, open-minded, resilient
A-Levels, Degree, PhD
Case Study: Katy Ellis
Katy is a computing liaison for the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN.
A long road to CERN
Katy took A-levels in Physics, Maths, Economics and business studies and Music. At university she studied Physics and took part in an exchange year in France on a programme called the Erasmus. After this she did her PhD in experimental particle physics on the ATLAS experiment which included a year at CERN.
Computing liaison: getting physics and computing talking the same language
Particle physics experiments need a lot of large computing centres for running simulations and processing lots of data from detectors. Katy works in a computing centre in the UK where she communicates between computing and physics experts. She looks out for problems with the computing jobs, and thinks of ways to make improvements..
I like when I can make a change to the computing system and see an improvement
In the past Katy has used lots of different types of simulation software for physics experiments and processes. Before her PhD she worked at Qinetiq on materials and EM waves as a stealth scientist. After her PhD she tested simulation software for an oil reservoir and for nuclear fusion power software.
Teamwork is essential
Essential to her job is to work in a strong and supportive team. She enjoys working as an environment where everyone can give and receive support for each other. That said Katy also has to collaborate with other teams from other projects, all over the world! This means she is also able to travel to a lot of different countries as part of her job to attend conferences and meetings.
“I like being part of a team. I like bringing people together and helping them understand each other’s point of view.”
Fun times and friends
Outside of work, Katy enjoys taking exciting trips with friends and getting together for frequent catch ups. She is also really involved in sports and has been since a young age. Two of the sports that she took up at a young age are Taekwon-Do and skiing.
Computing liaison for CMS experiment
hard-working, observant, tenacious
A-Levels, Degree, Masters, PhD
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