With the generous support of the Worshipful Company of Engineers, the Academy 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 (defined as less than ten years since graduation from their first degree in engineering or equivalent qualification on the day of the submission deadline).
From these five awardees, the Academy’s Awards Committee will select an overall winner who, in addition to their cash award, will receive the Academy’s Sir George Macfarlane Medal.
The achievements of this year's winners range from a biotechnology breakthrough and enhancing structural design tools to pushing the boundaries of optical computing.
Professor Harrison Steel
Associate Professor of Engineering Science, University of Oxford
Winner of the Sir George Macfarlane Medal
Professor Steel 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.
Dr Jiaqi Chu
Principal Researcher, 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.
Offshore 400kV Senior Authorised Person, SSE Renewables
Joseph 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, 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.
CEO of Inspiritus Health; Innovation Fellow at Oxford University Hospital, research assistant at the University of Oxford
Mihir 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, 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, although her work is 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.
Winner of the Sir George Macfarlane Medal
George Imafidon is a performance engineer working with Sir Lewis Hamilton HonFREng’s Team X44 electric racing team. The team draws attention to environmental issues by racing in the world’s most remote locations affected by the climate crisis. George is also CEO and co-founder of Motivez, a platform and community that has directly supported over 8,000 young people aged 14 – 25 from underrepresented backgrounds to access personalised opportunities, particularly within science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
George’s commitment to giving a platform to underrepresented voices was further evidenced by his appointment in September 2020 to the Board of Commissioners for Sir Lewis Hamilton’s Commission, set up jointly with the Royal Academy of Engineering to address the underrepresentation of Black people in UK motorsport. As a young Black engineer, George was able to advise and guide the Commission’s work, introduce the research team to key stakeholders and young engineers for interviews and shape the final report, which attracted high public and political attention.
Dr Robert Hammond
Dr Robert Hammond is Lecturer in Infection and Global Health at the University of St Andrews. He has developed a tool to rapidly identify which antibiotics are effective against a particular infection - giving a result in as little as 37 seconds compared to 12-48 hours for present techniques. This has led to a spinout company, employing more than 25 people, which could transform care and potentially change the course of the antimicrobial resistance pandemic by reducing the use of inappropriate antibiotics.
Dr Fragkoulis Kanavaris
Dr Fragkoulis Kanavaris is Arup’s leading concrete materials specialist. He is a world-renowned authority on concrete decarbonisation, durability, cracking and technology and is currently materials lead on the High Speed 2 rail project.
Concrete’s unique properties make it vital to many engineering endeavours but the material is not known for its green credentials. Fragkoulis is changing this through shaping UK and global technical standards and helping deliver huge carbon savings for clients. He also identifies ways to reduce waste, such as by converting HS2's excavated London clay into supplementary cementitious to reduce the volume sent to landfill by about 30% and cut the proportion of Portland cement used by up to 70%.
Dr Matthew Marson
Dr Matthew Marson, Global Market Sector Director at Arcadis, has spearheaded the advance of smart buildings and cities with a portfolio including NEOM’s Industrial City, 22 Bishopsgate, The Dock in Dublin, Paddington Square and San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower.
Matthew has pioneered new techniques, using intelligent building technologies to help the industry become more sustainable and make progress towards net zero carbon. For example, he led a team to extract the data from several building management systems across a 3 million square foot technology company campus in Bangalore. He created an analytics application that analysed around 50,000 data points per minute to help optimise energy conservation measures, making a significant contribution to their net zero carbon target.
Dr Beatriz Mingo
Dr Beatriz Mingo is a materials engineer and Presidential Fellow at the University of Manchester, whose research focuses on environmentally friendly surface treatments for light alloys. As an Academy Research Fellow, she is developing high-performance smart materials that can release corrosion inhibitors in response to the change in pH that accompanies the start of the corrosion process. Her research could extend the lifetime of lightweight components used in transport, which will help to create energy-efficient vehicles and support sustainable consumption of resources.