Meet our sustainability heroes who are researching and developing ways to ensure that businesses run more sustainably and that there will be enough resources – food, water, power – for future generations.

Not all the resources we need on Earth will last forever and this is why we all need to make sure we are making the best use of the resources we have and also researching ways to use alternative resources. This could mean installing solar panels on our homes to use power from the sun rather than electricity or gas, it could mean reducing our water usage by setting a timer when we have a shower, it could be using other reusable materials rather than plastics, which can hurt our ecosystem, or it could be investing in the skills of workers or new technologies that will ensure businesses are less damaging to the environment and working more efficiently.

Sustainability heroes

Dr MariCarmen Alamar
Dr Adriana Encinas-Oropesa
Dr Jack Hannam
Professor Ana Soares
Dr Rosina Watson

Hi everyone, I’m MariCarmen Alamar!

I research new ways to reduce food loss and waste. I mostly work with fruit and vegetables. Once they are harvested, they can easily go off if you don’t store them properly. I investigate how fruit and vegetables behave after harvest and I help to develop technologies that improve their storage so you can eat tasty and nutritious food for longer. I also study how we can use different sensors to predict food and vegetable quality.

In addition, I teach MSc students and supervise PhD researchers - so that they can become experts in the field of food loss and waste too.

My superpower is postharvest biology! If I know the changes that occur within the fruit and vegetables (biology) after they have been harvested (postharvest) or when a treatment is used, I can better decide which technology to use to maintain their quality.

Designing experiments and analysing data are two super STEM strengths in my job. Why? Well, it all starts with you trying to answer a question. For example, which treatment is the best to store your favourite fruit? As a scientist, you then need to design an experiment that allows you to find the answer to that question; you must decide how many fruits you are going to test, what you are going to measure and when, etc. Once you have finished your experiment you need to analyse the data, and it is very important that you do that correctly. What can happen if you don’t do it properly? You may end up getting the wrong conclusion and not using the best treatment possible to store your fruit.

Being collaborative, a problem solver and being positive are the skills that I bring to teamwork. When I am working on a project, things don’t always go as I have planned them; and although I have some good skills, I can’t be an expert on everything. What do I do? I use my teamwork skills, team-up with colleagues and keep a positive and open mind to solve the problems as they come along. You know what? I usually find a successful way around it!

My challenges are English not being my native language, and also understanding and memorising new things can be hard. I overcome my challenges by persevering. I might need more time than others to learn something new or get a piece of work written properly; but I don’t give up and ask for help when needed.

I am now working on an Innovate UK funded project that aims at developing a (decision support) tool to reduce an asparagus disease called tip rot. This tip rot can appear when we store asparagus; the tips of the spear become soft, then mussy, and smell and taste bad. In this project, there are many things that we are looking at, from growing asparagus under different conditions to using non-destructive sensors to predict tip rot before we can see the disease. We also want to find out which genes might be responsible for this disease. I work in collaboration with other colleagues at Cranfield University, Cardiff University, and JGHC Ltd. (an asparagus company). Each of us has their strengths and challenges, but together we want to solve the problem of asparagus being wasted because of tip rot.

My advice is that you should do what you enjoy and are curious about. It can be challenging but you shouldn’t give up. The journey can be difficult sometimes, but the reward and happiness of finding a solution after all is great!!! STEM subjects are not scary, they are full of secrets for you to solve!

Hi, I’m Super Sustainable Adriana!

I investigate processes to recover and reuse materials for extending their useful life whilst contributing to a sustainable impact. I think a lot about how materials we use every day like plastics, could generate less waste when produced or not end up in the oceans or landfills. But in my job, I think about how these materials can be used for much longer, for example, if they can be used for something else.

My superpower is to transform materials so that they do not contaminate our land and seas. If I understand how materials are manufactured and their properties, this will give me the power to think of a second use for a particular material. For example, the plastic used to make a hose can be transformed to make sandal soles.

I have a set of STEM strengths: problem-solving, independent thinking, design thinking, science, creativity, critical analysis, being inquisitive, teamwork, taking initiative. These strengths help me to identify key materials-related problems that need to be transformed to be more sustainable. These strengths help me to think of possible solutions and to develop them to become tangible.

Problem-solving, organisational and planning skills, communication, listening, and being supportive are my teamwork skills. Engineering and design are multidisciplinary by nature, therefore, when I am working with my colleagues trying to sort out a problem, I use my teamwork skills to get the team to succeed in the job.

For me, a challenge is that it sometimes takes me a lot of time to write, for example, a report or a paper. To overcome this, I plan ahead, to allow myself time to write a draft, read it and make changes. Sometimes, I also ask a friend to proofread my work.

Single-use plastic products can end up in the oceans and harm living species. Recently, I led a project with the aim to make an environmentally friendly material able to substitute plastic used in single-use products. I used my STEM strengths like problem-solving, design thinking, materials science, and creativity to think of possible solutions. I put together a multidisciplinary team with very clever people to study, make and test a series of environmentally friendly materials. We created a material to make single-use products that, if they get to the ocean, the material will dissolve in the water.

My advice is to be inquisitive (ask questions) and be observant of things, people, and your own environment. Do not be afraid of following a crazy idea. Make your own experiments. Follow the facts, what are these telling you? Do not be discouraged if things go wrong, as this is how you know how to go forward. Above all: have fun!

Hi! Dr Jack Hannam….

My job is all about researching how soil is crucial for a healthy planet and life on earth. It involves digging, data and detective work! I do fieldwork and use soil data, mapping and models to ‘see into the soil’ to understand how it changes from one place and another, and over time. This reveals how soil responds to climate change or to different land management approaches, and how this might affect our ability to grow food and regulate the environment. I work together with other scientists, people in government and farmers.

My superpower is environmental science! Soil is at the centre of our environment (just look under your feet!) yet it is one of the most complex and undervalued systems. A rounded understanding of the environment and the connection between chemistry, biology and physics is needed to understand the soil system. This will tell us how best it can grow food, host a vast array of organisms, and regulate the water cycle and the atmosphere. This information is useful for policy makers and land managers so they can best manage soil for a sustainable future.

My STEM strengths are recognising patterns and understanding why a change in one thing can cause a change in another. Sometimes not all patterns and trends in data are straightforward! Putting the context behind any scientific findings is crucial to finding out how and why things might change. For example, what happens to the soil and it’s other benefits like flood prevention or soil biology when we change the types of plants that are growing in it? This can help us to make decisions about how we manage soils so that they can continue to provide important benefits to people and the environment. These skills are not just important for soil science but can be applied to everyday life to understand the impact of our actions on the environment.

Being a good communicator and recognising that everyone has an important contribution are my key teamwork skills. Communicating is not just about talking but also listening and responding to others. Communication is key to exchanging knowledge of science within work teams but also to non-specialists, including the public through outreach and public engagement. All the research projects I work on are in teams and these comprise individuals with different perspectives, personalities, and roles in the project. Everyone is different and has different strengths and weaknesses. Recognising the different skills of team members helps to build effective and diverse teams that can deliver successful outcomes.

A challenge for me is not always paying attention to detail. I also have rheumatoid arthritis which affects my joints making it difficult to be mobile. When I need to concentrate on something detailed and specific, I give myself time to do this (turn off the phone, email and other distractions). Because I always work in teams that have different skills, we can often compensate for some of the things we are not so good at. I might take a ‘big picture’ approach to the project and others are more comfortable working on the details. Arthritis can make work (especially fieldwork) challenging. It is managed by medication, but there are good and bad days, and I’ve learnt it’s OK telling people that.,

Currently, we are using data from our national soil archive to produce a new map of peat areas in Wales. Why is this important? Peat is a type of soil that has lots of organic matter and stores a huge amount of carbon, so is really important in the fight against climate change. We are developing this new map with policy makers in the Welsh Government so that they can use it to locate the peat soils and monitor their condition. Peat that is drained or in poor condition can release its carbon into the atmosphere as CO2, which can increase the effects of climate change.

My top tips! Be curious and find something that interests you on a personal level. I got into soil science through a passion for the environment, being outdoors and even art. Science is about the journey of discovery. The process of finding out is exciting, we don’t always find the answer to our original questions but discover many other fantastic things along the way. This often needs other perspectives from art, philosophy, and sociology to answer some of the biggest science questions.

Hello everyone, I’m Ana Soares!

I research the superpowers of bacteria, especially when converting wastes into useful things. I do experiments with different types of microorganisms to understand what makes them grow and enhance their most desired abilities. Most microorganisms are friendly, very adaptable, but they have strong personalities, so getting to know them well is important. I especially enjoy working in large reactors and developing new processes that can be applied by industry.

My top skill is my ability to combine engineering and microbiology. Engineering is about problem solving to improve our quality of life, the environment, and the world around us. When combined with microbiology, I can come up with the cheaper and most environmentally friendly solutions.

Maths, spotting details that link together and being a good communicator are my STEM strengths. I absolutely love the engineering part of my job, so maths and the ability to do calculations is important for designing reactors and developing new processes. I use maths on a daily basis, and it is about understanding, not memorising. No matter what your future job is, always keep asking questions and don't underestimate the power of good communication!

I like to work in multidisciplinary and diverse teams to boost my research. I learn a lot when working with people with different skills, backgrounds, and abilities. The end result is often much better, and it helps to capture different points of view that would otherwise be lost. It is a great way to improve communication skills too.

My challenge is that I tend to be late as I work better under pressure. Sometimes, the end result could be/ improved. To overcome this, I set myself "fictitious" deadlines and I disconnect my e-mail when needed.

I am currently working on ways to recovery energy and nutrients from wastewater (yes, you got it right, this is poo, pee, toilet paper and the water from the dishwasher, all combined together - and it does stink!).

The truth is that we dispose of many valuable things with our wastewater. If we are able to clean the stuff in wastewater properly, we can make electricity, jet fuels, fertilisers, chemicals and even bioplastics. All with the great help from friendly bacteria that do the hard job for us and don't mind living in a messy and smelly place, they actually love it!

My top tip? There is always a first for everything (even an A+) and it is never too late. I started enjoying maths quite late in my school years, after being a frequently weak student. Read a lot, research, discuss with others and grown-ups, try and experiment. We all learn in different ways but trying and practicing are key to success.

Hi, I’m Dr Rosina Watson!

I teach managers how to run their businesses more sustainably. When people come to Cranfield University to learn about being good business managers, I help them to understand that businesses can't be successful without a healthy planet which provides them with the materials and energy they need, and healthy people to work in their companies and buy their products. Instead of just thinking about profit, they also need to think about our planet and people.

My superpower is being good with numbers but also at telling stories. It helps persuade people that business can be a force for good in the world, and to unleash their own superpowers to drive positive change where they work.

My STEM strengths are maths and finance. These are important in my job because it can help make the case for businesses being sustainable in a language which they can understand i.e., finance. It also helps to try and make people think about the value of all the things the planet gives us for free e.g., clean water, and insects to pollinate our crops.

My teamwork skills are listening to other people, learning from other people's experience to look at problems differently, and being enthusiastic. It’s tiring teaching big groups of people, especially online - so enthusiasm is key! Looking for sustainable solutions involves listening to other people's ideas and learning from them - no one has all the answers on their own.

Sometimes I try to do too many things at once. I can be impatient when people don't understand things as quickly as I do. These are my challenges, but I have got more patient as I’ve got older and have had three children. I also do and teach yoga which helps me to stay calm and positive.

At the moment, I am working on launching a new course on sustainability which has lots of different people contributing to it. I have had to persuade lots of people it’s a good idea and persuade businesses to send people on the course.

My top tips! I love maths and numbers are such a good way to make a case for doing something in business, as well as being so important in science and everyday life. But don't forget that being able to read and tell stories is really important too because it's how humans communicate with each other.