Cranfield achieves Top 50 recognition

June 23 was International Women in Engineering Day and two Cranfield colleagues, Dr Nadia Abdul-Karim and Simone Weber, were named in the Daily Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35 list. The list features the UK’s top rising female stars of engineering chosen from more than 500 nominations.

Find out about their work and how they feel to have been honoured by reading Nadia’s blog and watching Simone’s video.

At Cranfield we are committed to actively encouraging women into STEM subjects and to help them recognise the varied opportunities within these disciplines. We were proud to be one of this year's sponsors of International Women in Engineering Day. 

Researcher with helicopter blade
Celebrating Simone Weber: The Daily Telegraph's Top 50 Women in Engineering

Meet some of our women engineers

Congratulations to all of our nominees and winners

Dr Nadia Abdul-Karim

Dr Nadia Abdul-Karim  Dr Nadia Abdul-Karim 
Lecturer in Cranfield Forensics Institute 

Dr Nadia Abdul-Karim is a Lecturer in Cranfield Forensics Institute, teaching on the Forensic Investigation of Explosives and Explosive Devices module, a role she took up just two years after completing her PhD.

Nadia's research interests are related to detonation chemistry, shock physics and forensic science, and the chemical characteristics of solid particulate explosive residues which have been exposed to high temperature - high pressure environments.  

Working in a gender-biased field, does not faze Nadia. Instead, her attitude has always been that gender should have no impact on her work or the way in which people perceive her, a view she believes has helped her to become a respected engineer and scientist.

Nadia graduated at the top of her class at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. She graduated with distinction from Staffordshire University with a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry and Forensic Science and University College London (UCL) with an MRes in Security and Crime Science.  Her work at Staffordshire was commended with a faculty prize for Best Undergraduate Dissertation Project on ‘Formation, Ageing and Chemical Analysis of Adipocere in Aqueous Environments’, and a Faculty Prize for Best Student.

Having chosen to continue her academic journey, she won a fully-funded scholarship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and independently designed an innovative PhD spanning engineering and the physical sciences which she also completed at UCL.

Prior to joining Cranfield University, she was a Newton-NRF Early Career Fellow at the University of Cape Town, winning one of only 11 fellowships. 

She is a member of The Royal Society of Chemistry, Institute of Physics (committee member of Shock Waves in Extreme Conditions group), The Women’s Security Society, The Forensic Science Society, Chemical and Physical Society and the NATO Munitions Safety Information Analysis Centre. Currently, she is undergoing the application process to join The Institute of Explosive Engineers.

Public engagement is a major tread through her life. For the past 11 years, she has been an active STEM ambassador. Her passion for inspiring the next generation of young people to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects saw her honored with the UCL Provost’s Award for Public Engager of the year for her work with younger children. She frequently volunteers to take part in engagement projects, including the Big Bang Science and Engineering Fair and the Spark Festival, the largest children's festival in England and Wales.   

Her desire to promote science and engineering as an exciting career option has also led to her winning funding to do her own outreach projects to communicate her research to the public. This includes £2,000 for a public engagement project at the Olympic Park.  For four years she was also a member of the Princess Royal Volunteering Corps, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), an all-female volunteer reserves unit.

Simone Weber

Simone Weber  Simone Weber
Technical Project Manager at Airbus Helicopters UK
and Researcher at Cranfield University (Full-time PhD student)
 

From an early age, Simone Weber has had a fascination with aeronautics. This passion, coupled with a specific interest in helicopters and background as a mechanical design engineer, sees Simone leading a major £2million project for her employer, Airbus Helicopters (AH) UK, called BLADESENSE, which she initiated and is the basis of her PhD at Cranfield University. 

The project is set to revolutionise health monitoring for rotorcraft by investigating the aeroelastic behaviour of rotor blades and developing state-of-the-art fibre optic sensors.

As project lead, she is responsible for the integration of the technical work between the project partners (AH UK, BHR Group, Helitune and various teams across Cranfield University). She is undertaking a key aspect of the research – the development of a mathematical framework that allows the definition of optimal spatial mapping for fibre-optic sensors to monitor the health of helicopter rotor blades, and developing an optimal sensor mapping methodology to predict the blade’s shape/dynamic behaviour using minimal sensors.

Current maintenance processes are extremely labour intensive, costly and involve regular checks of the rotor blades to identify if there are any potential problems. By mounting fibre optic sensors along the length of each blade, you can determine their ‘health’ and identify early on whether there are any changes to the way in which they are performing.  In the long-term, any changes would trigger the flight control systems to adapt and send an alert to the maintenance team suggesting that further checks are necessary.

There are a number of ‘firsts’ for this project. Not only is this the first ever research project undertaken by AH UK, it is the first time that research has been conducted that directly links aeroelasticity with operational maintenance and will assist in the development of a system that has the potential to transform helicopter safety and maintenance. It is also the first time that a data set of dynamic rotor blade behaviour will be collected, information which has significant impact not only on helicopter maintenance, but on a wide range of technical disciplines from aerodynamics to structural mechanics. 

While aeronautics is her underlying passion, Simone actually started her career as an apprentice in a bus company.  Here she learnt a lot about the ‘importance of expressing her views as a woman in engineering’, something which motivated her to pursue a career in aeronautics.  

During this journey, Simone undertook a degree in Automotive and Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich. While studying, she was fortunate enough to work for Airbus Helicopters (AH) and it was her fascination for helicopters that led Simone to leave her native Germany and move to the UK to undertake an internship in the AH design office. In this role she developed a concept design of Cowling Latch Warning system for various Airbus Helicopter types before rising through the ranks to Mechanical Design Engineer and now Technical Project Manager, a role which is sure to see her leave her mark on the helicopter world.

Dr Tosin Somorin

Dr Tosin Somorin  Dr Tosin Somorin
Research Fellow in Energy Systems

Dr Tosin Somorin is a Research Fellow in Energy Systems at Cranfield University, where she obtained her PhD in the application of biofuels in gas turbines. Her research project is actively contributing to the development of a waterless and hygienic household-scale toilet. This project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and could solve sanitation problems for the 2.5 billion people without access to clean and safe sanitation solutions.

On the Nano-Membrane Toilet Project, Dr Tosin Somorin is developing a micro-gasifier that will treat the solid human waste safely and efficiently. This gasifier is crucial for the toilet, as it not only reduces potentially pathogenic human waste into harmless ash, but will use faeces as the source of energy to power the toilet’s other functions (which also produces usable water). The Nano-Membrane toilet was one of the key projects that earned Cranfield University the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education Awards for Water and Sanitation 2015.

Dr Tosin Somorin has a multidisciplinary educational and work background in science and engineering. She graduated at the top of her class from Olabisi Onabanjo University (Nigeria) with a BSc in Microbiology in 2006, after which she worked as a Microbiologist at Thermosteel Nigeria, a leading consultancy firm in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, and won Best Laboratory Analyst before moving to the UK. She completed a MSc in Biotechnology with Distinction at the University of Hertfordshire in 2010, again coming top of her class. 

Tosin’s entry into engineering field is an interesting one. She started out as a Microbiologist, but took a big career leap to pursue a PhD in Gas Turbine Technology at Cranfield University. At the beginning of her PhD, she had to take a number of masters’ level courses with intensive personal studies to gain confidence in basic engineering concepts while doing her research. She had a baby during her PhD, but this did not hinder her from completing her PhD on time, presenting her research at national and international conferences and publishing her research findings. Although not having a primary degree in Engineering, her work has cut across many disciplines of engineering including aerospace, mechanical, chemical and energy engineering, and she is currently working towards applying for a Professional Chartered Status. She is a member of the Energy Institute and the Society for Applied Microbiology. She won the President Fund (2013) and Best Poster Award (2012) by the Society of Applied Microbiology and a Travel Grant from the American Society for Microbiology (2012). 

Based on her experience of overcoming career hurdles, Tosin currently mentors more than 20 MSc and PhD students at Cranfield University through a monthly research seminar programme. She has been involved in encouraging girls to a career in engineering. She was a STEMNet Ambassador for schools in Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire (2012-2016). In July 2016, she volunteered to demonstrate yeast fermentation to Year 5 and 6 pupils and was a speaker at the Soapbox Science in Milton Keynes. She has an ongoing commitment to providing solutions to some of the biggest issues facing some of our most vulnerable people – ensuring a future that allows access to sustainable sanitation, makes the most of renewable resources, and powers homes sustainably.

Dr Joy Sumner

Dr Joy Sumner 
Dr Joy Sumner
Lecturer in Energy Materials 

Since earning her Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, Dr Joy Sumner has focused her research on understanding the degradation of materials vital for generating energy. Ultimately, this research supports the consistent, reliable supply of energy to end users, as well as the avoidance of unforeseen, expensive maintenance in power generation systems. 

In addition to her extensive research and lecturing commitments at Cranfield’s Centre for Power Engineering, Joy presents at a large number of national and international conferences, and is currently supporting seven PhD students on a number of energy-related research projects. 

Her professional memberships include CEng and CSci through the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Dr Sumner has worked comprehensively with the EPSRC, EU Framework 7, TSB (now Innovate UK) and industry, including Siemens, EDF and Porvair.  

Research projects include modelling the lifetimes of gas turbine materials in low CO2-producing fuels; studying the effects of moving to cyclic operations as renewable energy sources enter the grid; assessing the suitability of new materials systems for operation in high temperature environments; and designing test rigs to validate the use of materials in novel and conventional operational regimes. 

The value of her contributions to the energy sector through research output, networking, teaching and professional membership so early in her career makes Joy a strong candidate for Top 50 Women in Engineering. 

Edwina Mercer

Edwina Mercer  Edwina Mercer
PhD Researcher
 

Edwina studied Water and Wastewater Engineering at Cranfield University and then gained experience as graduate Engineer at Aqualogy UK (Suez), providing technical support to the business development of water and wastewater treatment packages. This included liaising with UK water companies and research centers CIRSEE and CetAqua. She was involved in the startup and commissioning of a sludge dryer at a Yorkshire Water site and pyrolysis unit at a Thames Water site. 

That work led her to join the ‘waterless’ Nano Membrane Toilet (NMT) project. The NMT is a decentralised household sanitation system currently being developed at Cranfield University with sponsorship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her PhD thesis addresses key separation processes within the NMT with outcomes contributing to the wider scientific community through novel method development and process application, as well as to the design and integration of the NMT. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L919XntOFc 

If successful, the Nano Membrane Toilet has the potential to be revolutionary, but there are a number of technological and social factors that are addressed by Edwina’s research. Edwina’s work contributes to the project team’s understanding of the viability of this waterless toilet. 

Firstly, her work is building understanding of the realistic operational conditions and impact of loading on this new kind of toilet technology. Temporal toilet usage data including urine and faeces characteristics were collected from anonymous volunteers and statistically analysed. This expands on previous literature describing urine and faeces characteristics by additionally mapping data over 24 hours. This provides greater temporal resolution for downstream processes by predicting when to expect certain characteristics. 

The urine and faeces is separated ‘post flush’ using an Archimedes screw which has demonstrated waste selectivity with pit latrine sludge (Rogers et al., 2014). proved that an Archimedes screw can be used to transport fresh faeces, exercise material selectivity through rotational speed and initiate output control through screw characteristics coupled with aperture size. This chapter was published in September 2016 in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology 2 (6), pp. 953–964 and the integrated front end of the NMT will be undertaking field trials shortly in South Africa.

Edwina’s work also concerns the membrane technology within the toilet. Membrane technology is ideal for small scale systems due to low footprint requirements and provides a barrier to pathogens and other urine contaminants - therefore it is the technology of choice for the NMT. Edwina’s PhD thesis compares 6 commercially available membrane materials (3 processes) on the treatment of faecally contaminated urine. 

Another key element of Edwina’s work is addressing the issue of odour. Research has shown that malodour is a key inhibitor for the use of sanitation facilities; therefore the focus of her work is on the removal of odour attributed to urine and faeces. This is obviously crucial to the success of the project – the technology might be revolutionary but it’s clearly of little value if people are reluctant to use the toilet because of a bad smell. 

The NMT is required to operate without any external energy input. It is therefore essential to conserve or recover energy wherever possible. Membrane technology can also be used to recover energy from the chemical potential in urine which is what the final part of the PhD investigates. 

Edwina’s PhD has allowed her to become familiar with a wide spectrum of innovative technologies and scientific processes which have never been applied to urine and faeces. This benefits the wider scientific community through novel application and methods. In addition these findings will be applied to the design of the Nano Membrane Toilet prototype. The key engineering challenge is ensuring that these components can be integrated together with the components investigated by the other team members to create a fluid process line which complies with the size and energy budget of the Nano Membrane Toilet.

Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris  Sarah Morris
Lecturer in Digital Forensics / Course Director: MSc Digital Forensics
 

Sarah’s commitment to the area of forensics was obvious from the very start of her academic career, as she studied a number of master’s level short courses at the same time as working towards her PhD within the Cranfield Forensic Institute. She has been a lecturer since June 2012 and it’s testament to her impact on students, community outreach and the wider subject area that just four years later (in January 2016) she was asked to lead the Cranfield University Digital Forensics MSc.

Sarah works on the deconstruction of digital devices to gain access to stored data, then reverse engineers the stored data to identify evidence of what the device has been used for. This might include obtaining chat history, web browsing data and photos/videos. She is also leading research into a standardised methodology for removing and reading data chips from mobile devices. She has assisted law enforcement with current investigations by providing expertise on various aspects of digital forensics including: thumbnail caches, virtual machines, optical media and recovery of information from unallocated space. Her work is never-ending, as each new software and device update presents a fresh challenge. 

Sarah regularly partakes in community outreach, most notably by leading a one-day forensic computing course for students aged 12-18 entitled “The case of the stolen artwork”, which is delivered to various schools across the UK. She designed this course for children to teach them about the importance of being safe online. She does this by showing them the forensic evidence left by using devices such as smart phones. 

Sarah epitomises the modern academic – her work is firmly rooted in practical application and she never stops developing her own knowledge to keep pace with changing technology. She brings that spirit into the lecture rooms and laboratories too. Having only just formally taken over leading the Digital Forensics course in 2016, she took the MSc through a major course review before successfully obtaining full GCHQ accreditation – making the Cranfield Digital Forensics course the first MSc of its kind to gain the accreditation. 

She has championed the redevelopment of digital forensics labs to ensure that they are fit for purpose and aligned with the most recent technology. To that end, she has acted as a reference and reviewer for several digital forensics labs applying for ISO compliance. 

She is generous with her time in supervising and mentoring others. As a PhD supervisor, she has co-supervised one student to completion (on the topic of cloud computing), and is currently supervising two other students. In addition to that, she mentors a female apprentice, and is teaching her to handle day-to-day lab operations, as well as developing her skills in digital forensics and research. Her students really appreciate her too – she has been nominated for Best Lecturer, Most Interactive Lecturer, and Best Teaching Support Staff in the Cranfield University Student Led Teaching Awards 2014, 2015, and 2016. 

All too often engineering is thought of as bricks, roads, bridges and pipes. But at a time when our online safety and security has never been more important, and when we are all more vulnerable to digital crime, Sarah’s practical research to prove both innocence and guilt, alongside her work to educate key groups such as laboratory management, law enforcement, early career researchers and MSc students, and adolescents, certainly deserves recognition.

Charlene Greenwood

Charlene Greenwood  Charlene Greenwood
Research Fellow
 

Charlene’s research interests are in biological apatites, especially those associated bone and bone diseases such as osteoporosis and breast calcifications associated with breast cancers. Her research also looks at bone analysis for fracture prediction. Her work on osteoporosis and the biomarkers associated with osteoporosis has hugely contributed to her research field. Her work is pioneering the exploitation of biomarkers through development of instrumentation and she was recently nominated for and accepted a position offered by the International Centre of Diffraction Data (ICDD) to chair their Bio-ceramic Task Group. She will be solely responsible for setting up and running this task group. ICDD is the predominant organisation providing support for powder diffraction labs around the world, therefore she will be responsible for the way in which labs worldwide analyse their diffraction data for bioceramic materials. She currently provides all of the crystallographic support for the production of endo-prostatic coatings for a large international pharmaceutical company. She is also an Associate Member of the Chartered Society of Forensic Science.

Having been nominated for the Lord Kings Norton Award for her PhD thesis, and having won the Cranfield Defence and Security award for best thesis, she has established the osteo-disease team at Cranfield University. She has taken part in an international collaboration with Melbourne University, which allowed her to spend 6 weeks within the university’s laboratories, bringing the skills and knowledge she developed back to Cranfield. During her visit Charlene influenced the way in which data was collected and the use of analytical techniques for investigating biological apatites within the laboratories at Melbourne University. 

Charlene has recently volunteered to organise events within her department and across the university. She is currently organising the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) conference to be held at Cranfield in 2018.

In addition to her academic work, she is an active member of the Step Up Women’s Network Working Group and as such has enrolled on and participated in the AURORA Leadership Programme, allowing her to bring her newly acquired skills to the Step Up group. She has used these skills positively to contribute towards decision making whilst this group was being set up and hopes to continue to be a prominent and proactive member of the team. 

Charlene is a keen advocate for young female scientists and their career progression, and is heavily involved in public engagement and voluntary work with Girl Guiding. She is currently a leader for the Brownie sector and has presented to both her own group and other groups in the district on osteoporosis and effective management to avoid this disease in the future. She has also volunteered to give presentations to 150+ members of the Women’s Institute, Oxfordshire on both osteoporosis and breast cancer research.

Aim High event at Cranfield
'Aim High' - a Cranfield University and Boeing International Women in Engineering event

Interview with Professor Jane Rickson

Chair of Soil Erosion and Conservation and President Elect for the Institution of Agricultural Engineering

What’s the best thing about working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)?

I see STEM as trans- and multi-disciplinary, so it can help address many of the world’s toughest challenges. In my job, scientific understanding is used to develop technologies to solve these issues, including how to produce enough food and energy to meet increasing global demands; how to reverse the loss of natural ecosystems; and how to cope with climate change and extreme weather events. It follows that many solutions need engineering approaches. 

What was it that most appealed to you and how did you get in to the job you’re in now?

I am fascinated by how scientific principles can be applied in practice to develop technologies to solve important problems. For example, we have to understand the fundamental chemistry, biology and physics of soil degradation processes (e.g. soil erosion) at the particle scale to predict when and where the problem might be significant. We can also use mathematical models to test whether our predictions are sound. The scientific understanding of processes helps us design technological interventions such as erosion control blankets and soil conditioners to control the processes of erosion.

Did you have any particular influencers that encouraged you? Or anyone who was a barrier to your progress?

My first influencers were my school teachers, who encouraged my enthusiasm towards protecting and improving our natural resources. Since then I have always been fortunate to work with inspiring scientists and engineers.


"It is vital that employers take a flexible approach, especially with working parents (men and women). An explicit commitment to flexible working would make an employer more attractive to prospective employees. It would also help retain employees in the longer term and improve their motivation and job satisfaction. I was very fortunate that Cranfield is supportive to me with my family commitments."


What do you do on a typical day (if there is such a thing)?

I have been at Cranfield for 30 years now, and no two days are the same! My job is a mixture of research, training/teaching and consultancy. My research looks at fundamental and applied soil science at a range of spatial and temporal scales. It has focused on the assessment, monitoring and management of soil resources to aid better understanding of soil functions and their role in agricultural production systems. 

I am interested in the concept of soil quality and soil health, and how these are linked to the delivery of vital and ecosystem goods and services, such as food production, water regulation and climate change mitigation through carbon storage. My research also addresses the effects of soil degradation on soil quality, and how technology can be used to solve these problems. I work closely with the agricultural industry, including farmers, growers, land owners, food processors, land-based charities, retailers and consumers.

It has been suggested that until STEM industries improve their approach to flexible working, women won’t look favourably upon those kind of jobs. What’s your experience of that?

It is vital that employers take a flexible approach, especially with working parents (men and women). An explicit commitment to flexible working would make an employer more attractive to prospective employees. It would also help retain employees in the longer term and improve their motivation and job satisfaction. I was very fortunate that Cranfield is supportive to me with my family commitments.

One suggestion is that policymakers, educators and the industry should make better connections between STEM and broader social impact. Do you think that would make a difference to the career aspirations of girls and women?

I think this is important, regardless of gender! Yes, knowing your work has impact can be a great motivator. This is recognised by Research Councils for example, who require all proposals to have a ‘Pathways to Impact’ section in the research application. It’s always good to think how your research will affect society as a whole.