In brief


Healthcare and lifestyle innovations vie for MacRobert Award DnaNudge’s DnaBand and mobile app allows consumers to scan products while they shop, with their DNA guiding them towards healthier choices © DnaNudge

Creo Medical, DnaNudge and PragmatIC Semiconductor have been announced as finalists for the 2021 MacRobert Award for world-leading UK engineering innovations that could help us all live healthier, more sustainable lives. 

As the most prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation, the MacRobert Award shortlist recognises engineering innovations that show how engineers and technologists are crucial to the UK’s recovery and future economic development. From more accurate cancer treatment and personalised medicine to new smart labels in pharmaceuticals and nutrition, each of these groundbreaking developments reflect the UK’s global leadership in engineering innovation and promise to unlock widespread societal and environmental benefits.

Creo Medical’s miniaturised surgical tools that assist highly targeted, minimally invasive endoscopic surgery © Creo Medical Creo Medical has developed advanced miniaturised surgical tools that uniquely integrate radio frequency and high-frequency microwave energy for highly targeted, minimally invasive endoscopic surgery. These tools dramatically improve patient outcomes for cancer care, while minimising the need for traditional surgical interventions, moving treatment out of the operating room. The tools promise to transform clinical outcomes for patients, reducing recovery times and avoiding the risks of open surgery. The new technology enables cost savings of up to £10,000 per procedure in NHS hospitals – a 50% saving on traditional surgery.

DnaNudge’s pioneering genetic testing technology enables consumers to shop more healthily – taking into account their DNA and lifestyle. Following a simple cheek swab, DnaNudge’s NudgeBox analyser maps the user’s genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol. Customers can then use their wearable DnaBand and mobile app to scan products while they shop and be guided by their DNA towards healthier choices. The technology has been rapidly adapted into a gold-standard, 90-minute lab-free RT-PCR test for COVID-19 and is now being used in NHS hospitals, care homes and supporting the return of the arts sector.

PragmatIC Semiconductor’s ultra-low-cost thin and flexible integrated circuits can be embedded in everyday objects from food and drink packaging to medical consumables © PragmatIC Semiconductor

PragmatIC Semiconductor’s electronic engineering innovation takes the silicon out of silicon chips, resulting in ultra-low-cost thin and flexible integrated circuits. These can be inexpensively embedded in everyday objects from food and drink packaging to medical consumables, a crucial step in achieving the Internet of Things and addressing a range of application sectors including the circular economy and digital healthcare. The technology reduces manufacturing cycle time from months to less than a day, allowing agile ‘just in time’ production of microchips and avoiding the risks and waste of global supply chains. In addition, traditional silicon chip fabrication methods have enormous carbon and water footprints, while the PragmatIC approach reduces this by more than 100-fold.

The winner of this year’s MacRobert Award will be announced in July. The winning team will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize. 

The MacRobert Award is run by the Royal Academy of Engineering with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers. Since 1969, it has recognised engineering achievements that demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.

Mathematician first woman to win Prince Philip Medal

Dr Gladys West in 2018 at her induction to the US Air Force Hall of Fame

 Dr Gladys West, whose mathematical modelling paved the way for the engineering innovation of GPS, has become the first woman to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Prince Philip Medal. 

As a pioneer in the use of complex mathematics and efficient programming to process early satellite data to generate accurate, repeatable and global models of the Earth’s geoid, her work underpinned the mapping functions of GPS and the study of global mean sea level. 

HRH The Princess Royal, Royal Fellow of the Academy, presented the gold medal via a virtual audience with Dr West at her home in the US.

Speaking from her home at Gatcombe Park, Dr West said: “It is hard for me to believe that I was a little Black girl on the farm who had a dream to get off the farm, get educated, and make enough money to take care of myself. And now, I have realised my dreams and reached a height beyond what I anticipated. I encourage young women to believe in yourself, find your passion, work hard and apply yourself, stay committed, find a mentor, participate in activities that relate to your passion, never give up, always keep setting new goals and continue to strive to reach them, and most of all – follow your dreams.”

Dr West is the first woman to win the Prince Philip Medal in the 30 years since it was presented for the first time in 1991 to Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, wartime pioneer and inventor of the jet engine.

Work begins on tunnels under London

London Power Tunnels’ New Cross site © National Grid

In May, work started on a 32.5 kilometre tunnelling project underneath London, which will see the rewiring of South London with a network of tunnels from Wimbledon to Crayford – works that are vital for the future of the city’s electricity supply.

London Power Tunnels is National Grid’s £1 billion flagship project and follows the original London Power Tunnels project, north of the Thames. Work began with the arrival of ‘Edith’, a tunnel boring machine (TBM) weighing around 140 tonnes, whose name was chosen to honour Edith Clarke, the first female electrical engineer and pioneer who used maths to improve our understanding of power transmission.

Alice Delahunty, President of Electricity Transmission at National Grid, said: “Our London Power Tunnels project is making sure electricity reaches homes and businesses in London safely, reliably and efficiently … A huge amount of work has gone into making this possible … Despite its challenges our engineers have been able to deliver this vital project and reach this milestone.”

Engaging future engineers

Dr Anna Ploszajski from Bedtime Stories for Very Young Engineers

 In April, the Royal Academy of Engineering announced 26 new Ingenious public engagement awards for projects that will engage the public with an exciting variety of engineering themes. The 26 awards focus on projects that will raise awareness of the impact of engineering among people of all ages and backgrounds and provide a focus on working with groups underrepresented in engineering. The projects are currently underway across the UK, from Edinburgh to Bristol, Bangor to Birmingham.

One of the projects is New Scots Connect, which will link engineers with new Scots, such as refugees and asylum seekers and those with diverse migration backgrounds in Scotland. Engineers will support the development of transferable skills and technical English language through creative engineering-themed activities. 

In Bedtime Stories for Very Young Engineers, engineers, parents and carers will learn about the skills, information and raw materials they need to create fun and engaging bedtime stories to introduce two- to five-year-olds to the world of making, improving and maintaining the human-made world around us. 

Many projects focus on environmental issues such as reducing plastic waste and the role of engineering in tackling climate change. In Engineering Sustainable Photographic Processes, an artist-photographer and engineers from the University of Birmingham will show participants how to create photographic prints, using materials engineering skills to build cameras and to create their own developers and emulsions. 

The scheme reopens for applications on 30 June, offering funding from £3,000 to £30,000 for public engagement projects that will excite and inform the public of the wonders of engineering, while providing engineers with skills and experience in public engagement.

The deadline for applications closes on 8 September 2021. To read a full list of current projects, find out more about Ingenious and to apply, please visit 

World’s first 3D-printed house

The house has printed concrete floors and a printed roof © Project Milestone

Residents have moved into Europe’s first 3D-printed concrete home: a two-bedroom bungalow in the Netherlands.

The house consists of 24 printed concrete elements, which were printed layer by layer at the printing plant in Eindhoven. The elements were transported by truck to the building site and placed on a foundation. The house was then given a roof and frames, and the finishing touches applied.

Concrete has been the most used building material in the world for decades. 3D-printed concrete has advantages, including the ability to lay concrete only where it is needed – traditionally poured concrete is solid and contains much more concrete than is needed, creating extra CO2 emissions. 3D printing also allows for printing different types, qualities and colours of concrete, all in one integrated product. 

This house is the first of five and the engineers plan to print the fifth on site.

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