In brief



Charlotte and skateboard

Charlotte with her ‘Electrodeck’ prototype © Institution of Engineering and Technology

Charlotte Geary, aged 13, has invented a way to help skaters move faster and do more tricks without ever having to take their feet off the board.

As part of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)’s Sports of the Future competition, Charlotte from Bournemouth presented the ‘Electrodeck’ to judges including cycling champion Mark Cavendish MBE. The Electrodeck has a top speed of 9.5 miles per hour and is powered by a 24 V lithium ion battery and 400 W brushless hub motor. It is operated by a handheld bluetooth remote, allowing variable speed. Charlotte’s design won first place and her idea has been turned into a prototype as part of the prize. 

The IET’s competition challenged young people to come up with a new sport or an invention that makes an existing sport even better. Competitors from across the country showcased their creative talents by submitting innovative designs. Some entries were even inspired by social distancing restrictions, including the ‘Squennis Ball’ that allows you to play tennis without a partner, and social distancing trainers that light up if you’re within two metres of someone else. 

The judging panel, which also included IET President Dr Peter Bonfield OBE FREng and IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Ying Wan Loh, awarded second place to nine-year-old Isabella Watson-Gandy from London for ‘Boing Boots’ that would give her an extra spring in her step to play basketball with her older brother. The third spot went to nine-year-old Brunner Hahn, also from London, who designed a door that could be converted into a table tennis set.


Queensferry Crossing

Queensferry Crossing © Transport Scotland

The Queensferry Crossing has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Major Project Award.

The Queensferry Crossing was taken from inception to completion in just 10 years. Widely hailed as an all-round success, it broke engineering records while coming in 65% under its original budget. 

When the Forth Road Bridge began to deteriorate and was threatened with closure, it was vital to keep the Edinburgh–Fife trunk road open for the millions of journeys made each year. Any alternative would badly affect transport, the economy and local communities. At 2.7 kilometres long, the Queensferry Crossing is the world’s longest three-towered cable-stayed bridge, Britain’s tallest bridge, and Scotland’s largest construction project in the 21st century. Since completion it has delivered huge benefits for the economy, businesses and local people. 

The team members awarded were: Iain Murray, Executive Director of Operations at Jacobs; Mike Glover OBE FREng, Director at Arup; Peter Curran, Project Director at Ramboll; Richard Hornby, Director and Fellow at Arup; and Lawrence Shackman, Head of Rail Projects at Transport Scotland. 

To read more about the engineering involved, see Ingenia 71, ‘World record-breaking bridge’.


Five new Engineering Engagement Champions aim to inspire the public and introduce more members of underrepresented groups to engineering.

The champions are funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will undertake a variety of public engagement activities, ranging from developing podcasts and writing children’s storybooks to engaging with community groups.

The initiative aims to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the importance of investment in engineering research, with activities helping to ensure that EPSRC-funded research and innovation is informed by public concerns and values.

Professor Trevor Cox at the University of Salford will create Inventive, a podcast that showcases engineering and will explore different narrative approaches, interweaving factual interviews with engineers who have great stories to tell with fiction.

Dr Helen Bridle at Heriot-Watt University will work with engineers, film-makers, illustrators, storybook writers, musicians, teachers, public engagement specialists, and children to create resources, including hands-on experimental activities, for schools and nurseries.

Professor Sarah Bell at UCL is running the People’s Industrial Strategy, an engineering engagement programme that will bring together engineering researchers and grassroots community groups in London to identify community priorities for research in the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges.

Professor Lorna Dougan at the University of Leeds will create public engagement activities that allow young people and families to explore and discover innovation in materials design.

Dr Emiliano Renzi at Loughborough University will design activities to demonstrate the breadth and importance of engineering research to attract underrepresented groups to careers in engineering, and to facilitate stronger connections between schools and industry.


On 3 September, the four 2020 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation finalists pitched their innovations to a panel of judges and a live virtual audience, with Charlette N’Guessan, an Ivorian entrepreneur based in Ghana, selected as winner.She received £25,000, with £10,000 awarded to each of the runners-up.

Charlette N’Guessan

Charlette N’Guessan is the first ever woman to win the Africa Prize and the first winner from Ghana

Charlette N’Guessan is the inventor of BACE API, a software platform that uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) to remotely verify identities. The tech entrepreneur and her co-founders developed the software after their research revealed that Ghana’s banks have a significant problem with identity fraud and cybercrime, with approximately $400 million spent annually by Ghanaian financial institutions to identify their customers. 

While facial recognition software isn’t new, BACE API specifically uses live images or short videos taken on phone cameras to detect whether the image is of a real person, or a photo of an existing image. In contrast to global AI systems, it has been developed specifically to identify Africans. She is the first woman to win the prize, and the first winner from Ghana.

The three other finalists come from Nigeria and Uganda. Aisha Raheem, from Nigeria, developed Farmz2U, a digital platform that reduces food waste by helping farmers plan their crops. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the disruption of traditional distribution channels has driven farmers and the rest of the agricultural supply chain online. Farmz2U has used support from the Africa Prize and the Academy’s Project CARE (COVID Africa Rapid Entrepreneurs) to ensure that it is well positioned to respond to the increased demand for its services.

In Uganda, Remot is helping Ugandan schools, businesses and solar companies manage off-grid power systems more effectively. Created by David Tusubira and his colleagues, Remot examines the power system itself for inefficiencies and potential problems, monitoring the condition and performance of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations.

Also from Uganda, Dr William Wasswa’s PapsAI speeds up cervical cancer screening, diagnosis and patient record management, making it more affordable and reliable. PapsAI’s digital microscope slide scanner quickly scans high-resolution cervical cell images from pap smears. An accompanying analytical tool can diagnose and classify the images, and the software assesses the likelihood of a patient contracting cervical cancer given their risk factors.

The finalists were selected from a shortlist of 15 African innovators effecting positive change in their communities, who have all received eight months of training and support through the Africa Prize. All four finalists have developed innovative ways to solve global problems and are developing their ideas into businesses that can benefit entire communities.

The Africa Prize supports the brightest minds across the continent, equipping them with skills to reshape and rethink their businesses. It is the continent’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering. To date, the 86 Africa Prize alumni businesses have raised more than $14 million in grants and equity and created more than 1,500 new jobs, with over 50% of these going to women and a significant proportion to people with disabilities and younger people.


Dame Julia Higgins

Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FREng FRS © Institute of Physics

Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FREng FRS has been awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Sir Frank Whittle Medal for her sustained excellence in polymer engineering, a field that designs, analyses, and modifies polymer materials. She is internationally recognised as one of the pre-eminent polymer engineers of her generation. 

A major aspect of polymer materials design and processing involves polymer blends. Dame Julia turned her attention to these important systems in the late 1980s and has worked on them ever since. She has contributed a huge amount to this research field, making a big impact on our ability to process and use polymer blends and vastly improving the design of polymer processing operations. To read more about Dame Julia and her work, see Ingenia 32, ‘Prolific professor’.

Named after Britain’s jet engine genius, the Sir Frank Whittle Medal is awarded to an engineer resident in the UK whose outstanding and sustained achievements have had a profound impact on their engineering discipline.


3D-printed dental impants

3D printed dental implants © Renishaw

A study from the European Patent Office (EPO) has shown that the UK is a leading European country in additive manufacturing (AM) innovation, also known as 3D printing. 

The UK accounts for 5% of AM patent applications at the EPO, putting it in second place behind Germany with 19%. Europe is a global leader in 3D printing, with European inventors and businesses accounting for almost half of patent applications filed with the EPO between 2010 and 2018. The biggest sectors for 3D printing patent applications were health, energy and transportation, and Rolls-Royce, Renishaw and BAE Systems are the top three patent applicants from the UK. 

“The surge in AM is part of the broader, rapid rise of digital technologies overall, confirming that the digital transformation of the economy is fully reflected in patent applications reaching the EPO,” said EPO President António Campinos. “Europe has become a global hub for innovation in fast-growing digital fields, including AM technologies. This strength is clearly reflected in the list of top additive manufacturing applicants, with European inventors and businesses submitting almost half of the patent applications in the past decade.”


In August, the Royal Academy of Engineering awarded 19 individuals and teams of engineers with the President’s Special Awards for Pandemic Service. These were awarded for exceptional engineering achievements in tackling COVID-19 throughout the UK. The winners are: 

The Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium, an initiative led by Dick Elsy CBE to combine the knowledge and skills of 33 UK technology and engineering businesses across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors, to produce more than 13,000 Smiths and Penlon ventilator devices for the NHS. 

University College London-Ventura continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) breathing aids, developed by a team led by Professor Rebecca Shipley and Professor Tim Baker working with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. The team manufactured 10,000 breathing aids for use in UK hospitals and shared the designs with organisations from 105 other countries at no cost.

University of Cambridge Open Ventilator System Initiative team led by Dr Tashiv Ramsander, who developed a high-performance ventilator for manufacture in low- and middle-income countries. It became the first intensive-care-quality ventilator to be manufactured in Africa.

University of Southampton for PeRSo, a respirator for healthcare workers providing a much higher level of protection than surgical masks.

Babcock International Group Plc for the rapid development and manufacture of a new medical ventilator product, Zephyr Plus, coordinated across several major companies in the UK and Germany, with 39 suppliers and MoD logistics. 

prototype ventilator

Jean Morris’s prototype ventilator © 2020

Jean Morris and a team of young engineers from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) who took a central role in building and testing prototype ventilators against a developing Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) specification.

Dr Antony Robotham at the University of Plymouth for his design of an environmentally friendly face shield, manufactured from recycled materials that are compostable or recyclable at the end of life. 

Dr Dominic Pimenta, a cardiology registrar at one of London’s busiest hospitals, who led the design and manufacture of face shields with the team at Makerversity for frontline NHS and care home staff. His charity, HEROES, has produced 100,000 reusable face shields as well as thousands of reusable gowns and scrubs.

A team at the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge, who helped local hospitals make the best use of their resources by streamlining logistics for sourcing and storing vital personal protective equipment (PPE), informing decision-making on emergency demand, and developing a ventilator sharing system to be used in emergencies.

Tharsus for Bump, a social-distancing system providing real-time alerts when wearers get too close. Led by CEO Brian Palmer FREng and CTO Dave Swan, the technology’s smart data insights inform rapid decision-making, allowing employers to maximise workplace capacity and providing data on team contact in the event of an outbreak.

Dr Ravi Solanki and Raymond Siems, volunteers for the charity HEROES, who, with their team, turned an idea into a platform with genuine impact in less than two days. They developed a secure website through which more than 543,000 items of much-needed support have been provided to NHS workers, from sustainable PPE to counselling services and childcare.

Professor Chris Toumazou FREng FRS FMedSci of Imperial College London for developing a rapid, affordable COVID-19 test based on a lab-in-a-cartridge technology that provides test results in just over an hour. The NHS is now deploying 5.8 million tests in preparation for the flu season.

Oxford team

The University of Oxford team that developed a rapid COVID-19 test, l–r: Dr Hong Chang, Professor Zhanfeng Cui FREng, Professor Wei Huang, Dr Hui Wang © 2020

Professor Zhanfeng Cui FREng and his team from the University of Oxford for the Oxford rapid viral RNA test for COVID-19. It can detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in 30 minutes and could be invaluable in developing countries because no specialist equipment is needed.

Professor Harris Makatsoris from King’s College London for developing a ‘factory-in-a-box’ that allows the rapid manufacture of synthetic RNA vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and minimises the space required for high-volume vaccine production.

Professor Catherine Noakes from the University of Leeds, recognised for her role in advising the NHS and the government at the highest level during the pandemic, shaping life-saving guidance based on her expertise in environmental and engineering controls. 

Sewers4COVID from the University of Exeter: a team led by Professor Dragan Savic FREng that applied machine learning to sewer epidemiology to estimate the number of infected people in a certain geographical area to track the spread of infection.

BOC Customer Engineering Services, which maintained the oxygen supplies to treat COVID-19 patients across the UK. BOC engineers set up oxygen systems at six Nightingale centres, including the largest medical oxygen system ever installed.

Matt Benson, Elliot Dervish and Jonathan Parker of Teledyne-e2v, who developed and manufactured the Handy Hook for frontline NHS staff across Essex and London, to limit their interaction with surfaces carrying the virus.

Martyn Frackelton and Ian Watkins from Mott MacDonald for project managing both NHS Nightingale London and NHS Nightingale North West, enabling the massive field hospitals to care for patients within two weeks of being announced.

In announcing the awards, Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering expertise and innovation has been central to the global fight to save lives and protect livelihoods. I am also incredibly proud of engineers everywhere who have worked round the clock to maintain essential services, critical supply chains and infrastructure in unprecedented circumstances, using their training and skills to find innovative solutions to a host of problems and to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives.”

To read more about the awards and winners, please visit

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