Article - Issue 84, September 2020

How I got here

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Andrea, Amy, Boyang and Richard

(l-r) Andrea, Amy, Boyang and Richard

2020 RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineers of the Year awards, supported by the Worshipful company of engineers. 

Ingenia spoke to four engineers who have won the 2020 RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineers of the Year awards about their engineering journeys. The award recognises the potential of young UK engineers who have demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career. Fifth award winner Sorin Popa, who was also awarded the Sir George Macfarlane Medal, speaks about his engineering innovation on page 43.

Dr Andrea De Luca is the Founder and CEO of Flusso. He developed the core technology behind the smallest flow sensor in the world. These sensors can be used in medical, consumer, environmental, automotive, and industrial settings, for example in breathalysers, drones and fire detectors.

Amy Wright is a senior civil infrastructure engineer at Design ID. She previously worked for Farrans Construction where she was a key member of the delivery team for the £118 million Northern Spire cable-stayed bridge. Amy has previously volunteered on development projects in Malawi and Kenya and has worked with the Institution of Civil Engineers since 2013 on outreach work, creating activities and working in schools. 

Dr Boyang Shen holds a Research Fellowship at Clare Hall and is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge. He has published 60 peer-reviewed journal articles. He made a significant contribution to the electromagnetic characteristics of high-temperature superconductors, and the design of medical imaging devices that help early detection of diseases that involve variations in human tissue.

Dr Richard Colchester is a Research Fellow at UCL, where he has been instrumental in developing all-optical ultrasound for minimally invasive medical devices. The devices that he is developing provide real-time imaging with structural and molecular contrast from within vessels, including coronary arteries to guide stent placements.

Why did you first become interested in engineering? 

Andrea: I always liked taking things apart and trying to understand how they worked. I started with my grandpa’s radio … he was not very happy. Engineering was a natural choice for me.

Amy: I wasn’t really aware of engineering as a career until I travelled to Lesotho when I was 17. Lesotho is at high altitude and when I was there it was very hot during the day and very cold at night, I saw people living in corrugated iron shelters and wondered why people would live in a material that conducts heat in a way that would make people uncomfortable (too hot during day and freezing at night). I thought that there must be a better solution to this that was cheap and could be locally produced. I went home and researched this and found that civil engineering is essentially solving problems like this.

Boyang: Physics and maths were my favourite courses when I was at secondary school. Engineering transforms these theories to real masterpieces, which have been revolutionary in making life better for every human.

Richard: I first got into engineering as a child. I grew up with my dad tinkering in the shed, fixing old tractors, and creating tools and machinery both for fun and a purpose. This inspired me to want to build, change and improve things too.

How did you get to where you are now? 

Andrea: Studying a lot first and working hard later on. I had an objective and did my best to achieve it. I guess in short, by being focused.

Amy: I haven’t had a straight path, but I have gained great experience learning from different companies and in different roles. I applied to work on the Northern Spire bridge, which is my proudest achievement. I worked as a senior engineer as part of the construction team, and was selected to be part of the panel that was responsible for choosing name options for the bridge, which was opened up to the public vote. I have just followed my instincts with regards to jobs and this has led to me working on some amazing projects and getting a wide range of experience that has given me insights into all aspects of civil engineering.

Boyang: I did my bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees in the UK (Cardiff University, Imperial College London and University of Cambridge), all in engineering topics. Therefore, it was fairly natural to carry on my research in engineering.

Richard: With the help, guidance, support, and inspiration of a lot of people. I’m very fortunate to have had excellent mentors.

What’s your favourite thing about being an engineer?

Andrea: I love the creation aspect. Having an idea and seeing it materialising gives me a nice rewarding feeling.

Amy: I am constantly building my skill set and gathering experience so I can be really useful in helping people. My ultimate aim is to have a long-term role in development engineering and each step I take is collecting ways to be most useful to a social enterprise or charity one day. Every problem I solve teaches me a lesson that I can add to my experience that will be useful in the future.

Boyang: Engineering is always inspiring and rewarding. Sometimes engineering is challenging, but when you solve the problems it can be great fun.

Richard: My favourite thing about engineering is that I get to play, build, and invent new things for a focused and worthwhile cause. It’s like Lego for adults, but with an end point that will hopefully improve the lives of other people.

What would be your advice to young people looking to pursue a career in engineering?

Andrea: Just do it. I am writing with a laptop, looking at a second screen, my mobile phone is at my left and I can hear noises from cars, airplanes and TVs … The work you will be doing might shape to world we all live in!

Amy: Get all the experience that you can, there is a wealth of opportunity out there and people who are happy to help or point you in the right direction. Be proactive and keen and people will see that you are interested and your enthusiasm will shine through. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – I have certainly made a few!

Boyang: Jobs in engineering are always in demand all over the world. Engineers benefit from jobs that pay well and are respected, and more importantly, engineering equips you with logical ways of thinking that are extremely valuable throughout life.

Richard: Go for it! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support and don’t be afraid to try new things, this is how breakthroughs are made. 

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