Meet our Climate Change engineering heroes who are researching and developing ways to heal the Earth through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Climate change affects us all and we need you all to make a difference to keep the Earth healthy. Your everyday actions affect people, plants, and animals all over the world, so why not try buying products made of recycled glass or plastic, turning off electronic equipment when it’s not being used or composting your food waste to help replenish the soil?

Climate Change heroes

Dr Irene Carra
Helen Ryan
Dr Joy Sumner
Michelle Watiki

Hi, I’m Irene Carra

I investigate new technologies to improve our drinking water. I research how new water treatment processes work and how they can improve water quality.

My superpower is chemistry. I use my chemistry knowledge to understand new technologies and determine if they will produce the quality we need in our drinking water.

My STEM strengths are maths and communicating science to others. I work with different types of professionals to implement new processes, and we all have different backgrounds (engineers, chemists, economists, managers, hydrologists…). Communicating the science I develop in a way everyone can understand promotes my research in a business environment.

I am a problem-solver and I like helping people in the team. I work with many people in my daily job and our work is often inter-linked. By helping others, I contribute to the overall project and research to move forward.

My challenge is speaking out in public. I have worked for many years on feeling more comfortable speaking in front of others. I know it is important to share what I do so that it makes a difference, and that has been one of the drivers that has helped me overcome this challenge.

I am currently working with a water company to design a drinking water treatment plant that will be able to tackle persistent contaminants that older plants can’t cope with. My chemistry knowledge, skills to look at the bigger picture and to pay attention to detail have been really important in this project.

My top tip! Be driven by curiosity. Explore the world around you and ask yourself questions about how things work. Knowledge is very important, but so are skills like good communication and being able to work with other people.

Hi, I’m Helen Ryan!

I am a student studying for a master's degree in Advanced Mechanical Engineering.

I am learning about all the key parts of being a mechanical engineer. My courses have covered the materials that we use in engineering, how those materials might get worn down and form cracks over time in use, as well as how fluids behave to create forces that act on structures. I have just finished my group project where we worked on a new design for part of an offshore wind turbine's foundations.

My superpower is mathematics. Mathematics underlines how the whole world around us works. Pretty much every engineering problem has a mathematical aspect, even if it seems hidden at first! In my recent project working on improving the foundations of offshore wind turbines, I looked at what the best number of connections to have would be. There is something called a stress concentration factor which, as engineers, we want to keep as small as possible. I figured out how to write this factor as a function of the number of connections, and then used calculus to differentiate the expression and find the minimum point. Maths is a wonderfully useful toolbox that can help you solve problems!

My STEM strengths are scientific investigation, logical thinking, and computer programming. Thinking scientifically is very important when approaching engineering problems. You need to be able to formulate a hypothesis and then develop a robust plan for gathering the evidence to see if your hypothesis is correct. I am also good at computer programming, which is a really useful skill to help me solve some problems more quickly.

My teamwork skills are a good sense of humour, being empathetic, listening, standing up for my team when I need to, asking people if they need help, getting on with the jobs that might get overlooked, and de-escalating not escalating. My first thought when I was asked this question was that it was like asking how air helps me breathe. Teamwork is so important! The vast majority of jobs in the world involve working with other people. Teamwork helps to make sure that things run smoothly and that every person is able to deliver their best. In my recent group project in my degree, my group worked as a team to tackle a really big problem by splitting it up into tasks for each person and helping each other out.

Imposter syndrome is my challenge. Ever since I left school I have suffered from imposter syndrome, which is when you feel like a fake – that you're actually no good and you've just tricked people into thinking you're capable. I try to combat this by being open and discussing these feelings with family, and with my managers in the jobs I've worked in. I also take the time to reflect on my achievements and the things that I'm really proud of.

What I’m currently working on – in my computational fluid dynamics course, I was given the problem of finding the optimal location to place two wind turbines within a specific area. I learned how to use some computer software to run simulations to find out how the air would flow in that place. There was an initially obvious choice of placing the two turbines at the point where the air flowed the fastest. However, I studied the mathematical impact of having one turbine too close to another and it showed that it would actually be better to have them located further apart where the air was slower.

My top tip! Although I'm now studying a master's degree in engineering, my first degree was in maths. I loved maths at school, but when I first went to university I found the step-up in level extremely hard. I really struggled during the first term. Over the Christmas holidays I dreaded going back and I thought I might fail my course. But then in the second term I started to get used to the new maths and things started to click ‐ and I found my love for maths again. I worked really hard and finished my degree with a first class. So just because there's a bump in the road, it doesn’t mean that you're not good at something!

Hi everyone, I’m Dr Joy Sumner!

I’m a materials scientist and metallurgist: I test metals to learn why they fail in aggressive industrial environments. At Cranfield University, I’m called the ‘Senior Lecturer in Energy Materials’. What this means is that I study how materials (in particular, metals) work in extreme environments, and I do this through a number of different research projects.

To get these projects, I talk to my partners in industry and at other universities and we come up with an idea (a research proposal). With this idea, we apply for funding, either to research councils, or directly to industry, depending on how complicated the idea is. When a proposal is won, my team and the teams of my collaborators carry out the research; this typically involves a mixture of laboratory work and computer simulations. I usually have a collection of small and large projects running in parallel looking at different, but related, topics. I have to be quite organised to stay on top of this, but it does mean that there’s always something interesting going on!

We also share our findings with other researchers, government advisors and/or industry leaders. This can either be done in small project meetings, or at large international conferences, where lots of researchers come together to share their ideas. It was quite intimidating the first time I stood up in front of a large group of ‘experts’, but you quickly get used to it and it can be great fun and very inspirational. As part of the ‘sharing ideas’ process, I often write short articles for other scientists to read in scientific journals, and I read their articles too. Using what I have learned, I also teach the next generation of scientists: these are my PhD and MSc students.

My superpower is metallography – I understand how metals work and why. Industrial processes are really important: we need to make the components of our society (from electricity to recycled plastics) as cheaply, reliably and in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible. Unfortunately, this often puts the materials that these industrial plants are built from at the extremes of their performance. If these materials fail (through corrosion, for example) then the whole plant could be damaged, which is dangerous and expensive. To stop this from occurring, materials scientists like me study how specific metals (or other materials, for example coatings) respond to these industrial environments. In my work, this includes recreating (as near as we can!) the industrial environment in the lab, studying how the material samples respond to this environment (often using advanced electron microscopes to look at the samples afterwards), and then making recommendations on whether something is safe (or whether new materials need to be created).

STEM strengths that I have are recreating extreme environments in labs: microscopy, metallurgy, and thoroughness. I use my metallurgy (metals) knowledge and my experience with microscopes to solve problems for industry; in particular, looking at how to build a plant that will last for a long time. Lots of plants contain challenging environments.

As an example, gas turbines make electricity, normally by burning natural gas at high temperatures. If the gas isn’t clean, it can cause ‘hot corrosion’ problems for the parts of the gas turbines that are at high temperatures, and this must be understood and minimised.

A second example is about changing fuels for power generation. Due to environmental concerns about carbon dioxide, there is interest in burning other, environmentally friendly gases, like hydrogen, in gas turbines. However, this change in fuel can alter how the hottest parts of the gas turbine fail, and this may mean that changes are needed in the metals used to build the gas turbine.

A third example is for a plant used to recycle plastics. A large number of the plastics that we use can contain small amounts of elements that cause corrosion in metal. This can affect the lifetime of the plant. Testing in the laboratory can help to ensure that the correct metal alloy is selected so that the plant lasts for a long time.

Finally, all of this work must be carried out thoroughly. It is very important to record everything clearly and to note any important findings so that our results are as helpful as possible to engineers, plant manufacturers and anyone else who wants to use them. Being thorough and consistent are amongst the most important strengths than any engineer or scientist can have.

Being collaborative, listening to other people’s thoughts, and persuasion are my teamwork skills. Collaboration and teamwork are absolutely the heart-blood of scientific advancement! Lots of the tests I run are very complicated. I need to get key things from lots of different people. This includes getting samples of special metals from manufacturers; understanding in detail the extreme environments with industry people; talking to my students and technicians about how we will carry out the tests; and showing my results to other scientists and engineers so that we can build the best possible future together.

My challenge is showing people how creative and fascinating science is. When you work in the sciences, it can be really easy to get drawn into performing for our peers, the other scientists around us (remember how important I said networking is!), and because of this we maybe sometimes give the (wrong!) impression that science is full of complicated jargon and arcane equations. However, this isn't the main part of science. You really don’t have to be Einstein to do well in science ‐ what you do need is to want to understand how things work and to just want to understand one little part of the whole wide universe, and then to try and understand that part better. There are so many interesting things that it can show us about the world around us!

One of my projects at the moment is called 'Plastic Recycling Technology and Outputs: Enhancing Material Longevity and Product Quality towards Commercialisation'. This is a larger project and I work with people in industry (Recycling Technologies Ltd) and scientists at two other universities (Surrey and Birmingham). My work involves applying my materials degradation know-how to this practical application, helping Recycling Technologies as they design and construct plant for recycling plastics into usable products.

In another project, called 'Investigating Corrosion in Supercritical Fluids', I am studying how a potential new power generation cycle, which will be very efficient, affects the materials that the plant is made from. This involves simulating the expected test environment, and then studying samples of representative materials using microscopy-based techniques to make recommendations for the plant construction.

My top tips! What I do is part of a broader area called ‘materials science and engineering’. It’s really good fun with lots of real-world problems to solve. If anyone wants to do this, I’d suggest that you take science and mathematics subjects in school. There are different routes you can take through university or work but ultimately, the most important thing is to find an area which is interesting to you and that you enjoy finding out more about!

Hello, I’m Michelle Watiki!

I research new ways of creating 'green' energy as a chemical engineer. My job involves creating new and improved processes for making energy and predicting how well they would work in the future.

My superpower is mathematics. Mathematics is the language of engineering! It helps me solve real-life problems.

Critical thinking, chemistry, teamwork, innovative ideas, and physics are my STEM strengths. These are important in my job because engineering is all about using science and maths to find new ways of fixing current problems.

My teamwork skills are being organised, listening to others, being friendly, and solving problems. These help me because my job involves a lot of group work and working collaboratively so that we can come up with the best possible solutions.

I'm not very good at multitasking and can get overwhelmed with all the work that I have to complete. Engineering involves covering a lot of topics at once which can be tricky, especially when you're a perfectionist like me! I try my best to manage my time while also giving myself a day off during the week to reflect. On this day, I journal what I've achieved so far, what I need to do, and where I can improve myself as a young engineer.

I recently completed a group project where I had to design a new process for making fuels using nuclear energy. This technology doesn't exist yet, so it included forming a lot of ideas from scratch while also pulling ideas from previous projects.

I highly recommend that you study mathematics and become good at the subject as it makes your life a lot easier down the line. Also, STEM subjects aren't just about the sciences and maths, it stretches across to IT, computer science, graphic design and even art. Don't be afraid to choose non-traditional subjects!