On Thursday 25 May we welcomed current and past awardees, Fellows and friends to Belfast, Glasgow, London, Sheffield and online for the inaugural event of the Awardee Excellence Community.
This was the first time the Academy had hosted an event of this nature - held simultaneously in different locations as well as online. And it was fitting that we were doing so to launch the Awardee Excellence Community, created to bring together all the exceptional and talented individuals from across the UK and internationally who are current and former awardees and alumni of our different programmes, prizes and medals.
Our aim is for this to become a powerful, vibrant, connected and diverse community of engineering leaders.
Discover content from the event below, including recordings from our keynote talk and provocation talks. You can also read about the other speakers who took part in the day as well as the workshop topics discussed.
Billy Boyle MBE FREng
Billy Boyle MBE FREng has a vision to change the way we currently diagnose and monitor serious disease. He is the co-founder and CEO of Owlstone Inc., whose mission is to become the global leader in the non-invasive detection of cancer, infectious diseases and inflammatory diseases – in the process saving 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs.
Billy received the Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal and was a winner of the 2018 MacRobert Award; he was then made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2020 and an MBE in 2021. Billy sits on the CRUK Early Detection and Diagnosis Research Committee and was previously a judge for the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Pioneer award and a trustee of the Linacre Institute. He likes to combine a love of running with raising money for charities such as CRUK.
Dr Christina Biggs
Daphne Jackson Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Energy Safety Research Institute, Swansea University
Spoke in London
Green hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water is currently very expensive, but is needed to replace the “grey” hydrogen currently made from fossil fuels. Part of this expense is the need for a commercially-produced gas-separation membrane which prevents the hydrogen and oxygen from recombining whilst conducting the ions necessary for electrolysis. Current membraneless designs are intricate and small scale; Christina has designed and demonstrated a proof of concept for a simple and inexpensive membraneless electrolyser, using natural estuarine mud from the Bristol Channel to make a viscous ion-conducting electrolyte to successfully separate the hydrogen from the oxygen.
Professor Jon Cooper FREng FRSE
Wolfson Chair of Bioengineering at University of Glasgow
We are developing low cost DNA diagnostics for sensitive infectious disease tests with a focus on schistosomiasis and malaria in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Data is collected on mobile phones and displayed on digital dashboards, in collaboration with regional healthcare providers as we as the countries’ Ministries of Health. Our aim is to be able to provide new tools that can readily visualise changes in prevalence in rural under-served communities. The work is highly multidisciplinary and involves bringing together teams of clinicians, healthcare professionals, computer scientists and engineers, based in-country and from the UK.
Elspeth Finch MBE FREng
Spoke in London
Elspeth Finch MBE FREng is best described as a successful engineering entrepreneur and business leader. From her background as a transport planner, she has founded two technology start-ups, been a senior leader within the engineering consultancy Atkins and, alongside her current business IAND, she sits on several advisory boards, contributing her expertise to enhance and transform engineering. Her early impact was recognised with the award of an Academy Silver Medal (2013) and since then she has made an ongoing contribution to the Academy. She continues to have wider impact through membership of bodies such as the Innovation Expert Group, providing advice on driving up UK productivity through innovation.
Dr Ifeyinwa Kanu
Founder and CEO, IntelliDigest Ltd
Food is a basic human need. The way we grow, distribute and consume food has a massive impact on the entire ecosystem. If we are to feed over 10 billion people by 2050, we need to act now to achieve a sustainable food system.
Globally, one-third of the food grown for human consumption is wasted while over 900 million people are hungry. By applying cutting edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Enzyme Engineering, green chemistry, blockchain and quantum computing, our robotic bio-upcyclers are enhancing the recovery of bio-nutrients from food waste to improve local food production.
Professor Colin McInnes MBE FREng FRSE
James Watt Chair, Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Glasgow
Spoke in Glasgow
Our programme of research on in-space manufacturing will be presented, from concept through to laboratory-scale development and now plans for in-space technology demonstration. This process has required the integration of a range of stakeholders to deliver our goals. These include the Royal Academy of Engineering to support initial concept development and institutional Knowledge Exchange support to build our technology demonstration package. A Royal Academy of Engineering Proof of Concept Award is currently supporting collaboration between our research team, our institutional IP team, an external commercialisation consultant and our launch vehicle provider. The importance of integrating key stakeholders’ expertise to achieve ambitious goals will be discussed.
Senior Technical Fellow, Spirit AeroSystems Belfast
Spoke in Belfast
The development of a new aircraft composite wing design, adopting an innovative manufacturing process that starts with the receipt of raw material and delivers a complete, integrated wing assembly, is a significant achievement for Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast. This was recognized by the Royal Academy of Engineering through the 50th Anniversary MacRobert Award in 2019. The presentation will discuss some of the more significant engineering challenges that were faced, and the creative approach taken to reach solutions that have been independently assessed to set the standard for future aircraft development programmes across the industry.
Professor Rachel Williams FREng
Professor of Ophthalmic Bioengineering, University of Liverpool
Spoke in Sheffield and pre-recorded
Retinal detachment is an acute and severe eye condition which, if left untreated, results in certain blindness. Tamponade agents are used to treat retinal detachments and for complex cases to provide a long-term solution silicone oils are used. We brought together a multidisciplinary team of biomaterial and fluid engineers, colloid scientists, clinical ophthalmologists and medical device manufactures to develop novel silicone oils leading to new products to improve patient outcomes.
Expand to read more about the topics discussed across the events.
Circular economy - How can we embed the principles of a circular economy into our practice?
Treating waste as waste is obscene: valuable raw materials buried in landfill or burned in incinerators, while we mine and drill the earth for those very same resources. With rising environmental awareness about the costs of this - and rising demand for the critical minerals needed to power the ecological transition - governments around the world are on the lookout for solutions that improve the recycling and reuse of waste materials. What can the Academy do to support this?
Energy systems - What does the electricity grid of 2050 need to look like?
The way we generate, distribute and use energy is undergoing an unprecedented shift. Net zero targets are shifting us from fossil fuels and nuclear to increasingly cheap - but intermittent - renewables. Electrifying heat and mobility means both increased demand and changing patterns of demand. Against this background of disruptive change, what should the Academy be doing to shape the electricity systems of 2050?
Entrepreneurship - How can The Academy support engineers in overcoming barriers to entrepreneurship?
Innovation is the engine that drives growth and a catalyst for solving problems. But without entrepreneurs, where is the innovation? Supporting, accelerating and upskilling innovators, as well as opening up opportunities so everyone can take part, will be key for meeting the sustainable development goals. What objectives should the Academy have for the world of entrepreneurship - and what should it be doing to support it?
Health - What role should The Academy play in supporting engineers in preparing our lines of defence for the next pandemic?
The world is still reeling from Covid-19, but the spread of bird flu is a constant reminder that the risk of the next pandemic is ever present. Through the pandemic response, engineering came front and centre - from non-pharmaceutical interventions including ventilation, masks; through computer modelling and predictions; to the creation and testing of new treatment protocols and drugs. As attention shifts to preventing or mitigating the next pandemic, what role for the Academy in setting up our lines of defence?
WASH - How can we engineer clean, sustainable water systems in an age of climate disruption?
We all depend on water every day, but access to clean, affordable and abundant water is not a reality everywhere, particularly across the global south. And as powerful trends in urbanisation, land use change and climate change build momentum, the challenge of providing water and sanitation grows. What can the Academy do to support access to clean water for everyone, everywhere?