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!”