Five young engineers have each won a prestigious award and a £3,000 prize from the Royal Academy of Engineering to recognise incredible contributions to their respective fields in their careers. They are all winners of the RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year competition, awarded by the Academy with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers, and will receive their prizes at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 13 July 2023.
The overall winner, biotechnology researcher and entrepreneur Professor Harrison Steel, will also receive the Sir George Macfarlane Medal. Named after a wartime radar pioneer, the award recognises the potential of engineers working in the UK who have demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career.
Professor Harrison Steel, Associate Professor of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, leads a research group developing biotechnologies that facilitate solutions to challenges in biomedicine and the climate crisis. For example, his team repurposes natural bacteria to turn waste products into biodegradable plastics.
To make his experiments more time-efficient, he invented a robotic system to grow bacteria and measure their activity automatically. This prototype became the Chi.Bio bioreactor platform, which is now used internationally for R&D in academia and industry to develop everything from artificial meat to carbon capture technologies.
The affordable device costs less than 5% of the price of commercial bioreactors, making it accessible to startups and researchers in the developing world, and its plans are open source, so researchers can even build one themselves.
The four other RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineers of the Year are:
Dr Jiaqi Chu, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research
Dr Chu is working on novel optical storage and optical computing technologies to tackle the hardest infrastructure challenges facing cloud providers due to the slowdown of Moore’s Law. This predicted continued growth in the capacity and speed of silicon-based computing and has been the guiding principle that has driven the computer chip industry.
She developed a technique to read and write data as holograms into crystal and experimentally demonstrated the highest density of holographic optical data storage achieved to date, as well as quantifying the energy efficiency of such storage and the theoretical limits of its capacity. Her work not only advances scientific understanding in the field but shows a path towards energy-efficient holographic optical storage in the cloud, which has the potential to lower storage costs.
Dr Chu is currently developing a noise-tolerant optical computer that could have a significant impact on the economic and environmental sustainability of AI and optimisation workloads.
Joseph Harvey, Offshore 400kV Senior Authorised Person, SSE Renewables
Harvey currently works offshore to support safe project delivery on the Dogger Bank Project, which once operational will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, while inspiring future leaders and environmental activists with his extensive voluntary work.
He has ‘earned and learned’ since leaving secondary school, benefiting from two apprenticeships, first as a marine engineer with Southern Electronics (UK) and then as a substation engineer at National Grid. He has become an ambassador for apprenticeships through his work for the Science Museum’s Technicians Gallery and within his local community.
Outside his current role at SSE Renewables, Harvey has developed systems to improve substation operations and support sustainable development. He shares his passion for the environment as one of the first members of the UK Young Academy, which was established to help tackle local and global issues and promote meaningful change and was formerly the National Grid Future Business Leader on EY’s Climate Change Business Forum.
Mihir Sheth, CEO of Inspiritus Health, Innovation Fellow at Oxford University Hospital, research assistant at the University of Oxford
Sheth is developing the StimSprit device with the aim of reducing the length of time patients spend on ventilators.
Having spent time in a district hospital in Senegal understanding the context of ventilation, he began developing the non-invasive electrical muscle stimulator designed to prevent diaphragm atrophy. He engaged more than 50 clinicians when designing the product to ensure it could slot into the existing clinical workflow.
As an Innovation Fellow, he has worked alongside healthcare professionals to co-develop and implemented three innovations within the NHS in the last two years, including a novel method using a sponge to make it easier to cannulate babies in the neonatal ICU and a simplified process to better track urinary catheters and reduce the time and risk of catheter-associated urinary tract infections with the hospital team. As a research assistant, Sheth is also involved in two clinical studies to improve the oxygenation of patients with chronic respiratory diseases using a nanobubble drink.
He mentors and teaches students and healthcare professionals about innovation and discusses engineering entrepreneurship with students.
Dr Fiona Walport, Research Fellow at Imperial College London
Dr Walport is developing an accurate and efficient advanced structural design framework that capitalises on advances in computing power and emerging digital technologies.
By enabling the true behaviour of structures to be represented more accurately, her method allows structural engineers to use materials such as stainless steel more efficiently, which has sustainability and cost benefits. A number of elements from her research findings have already been incorporated into the major European and American stainless steel design standards to facilitate more efficient use of the material, with work ongoing.
A STEM ambassador for a number of years, Dr Walport is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has recently been appointed a member of the first cohort of the UK Young Academy.
Professor Bashir M. Al-Hashimi CBE FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Committee, says: “I congratulate all our Young Engineers of the Year. They may be at the beginning of their careers, but they are already pushing the boundaries of engineering knowledge and pioneering innovations to benefit society by solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges. They are fantastic role models for the next generation and showcase the breadth of opportunities that a career in engineering offers.”
RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year award: with the generous support of the Worshipful Company of Engineers, the Royal Academy of Engineering makes five awards of £3,000 each year to UK engineers in full-time higher education, research or industrial employment, who have demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career (less than ten years since graduation from their first degree in engineering or equivalent qualification).
From these five awardees, the Academy’s Awards Committee select an overall winner who, in addition to their cash award, receives the Sir George Macfarlane Medal, which is named after Sir George Macfarlane, a Founder Fellow of the Fellowship of Engineering, later the Royal Academy of Engineering. His groundbreaking work during the Second World War enabled the introduction of radar for guiding bombers and spotting U-boats. After the war he was instrumental in guiding government research and overseeing the introduction of optical fibre and digital technology into telecommunications. His work with the Academy focused on engineering education and links between universities and industry.
Past winners of the Sir George Macfarlane Medal include George Imafidon, a performance engineer working with Sir Lewis Hamilton HonFREng’s Team X44 electric racing team, and Dr Ben Fletcher, a physical design engineer at Graphcore Ltd, who was responsible for the physical design of several key components on their flagship ‘Colossus’ series of processors to deal with accelerating AI workloads.
Annual Awards Dinner 2023: This year’s Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Dinner takes place in London on Thursday 13 July. Along with the announcement of the winner of this year’s MacRobert Award, the event will also celebrate the winners of other awards and prizes including the Major Project Award, The Princess Royal Silver Medals, the President’s Medal, the Rooke Award and the RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year.
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