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Women in science

Women in engineering

International Women in Engineering Day 2020

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics saves lives – we see that more than ever in this COVID-19 crisis. The world is relying on scientists, technologists and engineers to come up with solutions to improve health and survival rates. Our engineers are essential contributors and leading figures in various fields. NPL is pleased to support Women in Engineering Day. Jean Morris is a Research Scientist at NPL, and is just one example…

From forum post to a game-changing product

Jean Morris joined NPL in October 2019, little did she know that 6 months later she would be the instigator of one of NPL’s most ambitious and important projects. Along with a rapidly assembled team from all disciplines, she used Microsoft Teams to create an agile and responsive group of scientists and engineers that pushed the boundaries of product design to address the UK’s Ventilator Challenge.

Jean has a master’s degree in physics at Lancaster University and worked at Airbus on their satellite and space activities. Now based in NPL’s Instruments Group, her work has ranged from the redefinition of the SI to atomic clocks, applying electromagnetism, low temperature expertise, electronics, programming and modelling. “I have learnt new skills and applied my knowledge in different ways, in such a short space of time (at NPL) my job and work has had so much variety to it!”

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis the government launched the UK Ventilator Challenge to encourage manufacturers to re-purpose their assembly lines to produce ventilators and support new designs. Jean posed a question on NPL’s internal communications network about NPL’s knowledge or ideas about ventilators. Within days suggestions were posted, discussed, evaluated and improved. The resulting multidisciplinary team of engineers and scientists pursued several innovative designs for delivering oxygen to patients in low-income and remote parts of the world. The ventilators were designed to run on battery, solar panels, wind turbines or mains power, as well as being simple to use and made from widely available parts.

Three low-cost, robust and simple ventilators emerged as the front runners and NPL produced prototypes of each.  These were then evaluated against the required specification, which had changed as the team’s knowledge increased of how patients were responding.  The project team then voted on the best design for making an effective ventilator available to as many people as possible, and Jean’s design proved to be the winner. “I was so impressed by the speed and the agility in working. It was great that we were encouraged to give this project as much time as required, which gave us the freedom to explore new ways of working as a team.”

Jean Morris

There were obviously problems and hurdles to overcome, but the team were completely focused on the end goal. “All members of the project team had read the specification from government and were thinking about safety implications. Working via Microsoft Teams meant that we had live documents which everybody could read and comment on. The remote nature of the team meant that we had to document the project at the same time as developing the design which is a much better working practice – so virtual working helped this project.”

“We met virtually every day and set out goals for the next 24 hours,” explains Jean. “This new, way of working was exciting and a productive way to run a project”. As we slowly return to a new normal, we will draw on these fresh working practices, as well as bring the buzz of energy and creativity, and apply it to new challenges.  

Women in science, engineering and technology

NPL celebrates the achievements of women at NPL, and recognises the critical role they play in the science and engineering community.

Women in science

Advice to young women interested in engineering

Francesca Gandolfo

Francesca Gandolfo

“Don't give up, be driven, self-motivated and ask for help. It is amazing what asking for help can do. Most people love to be asked and they will open a lot of doors and support, so don't think you have to do it all by yourself. Never listen to people who put you down or those who put themselves up. Just go for it!”





Alissa Silva

Alissa Silva“Explore. Go for it. I'm not sure what their qualms are but they shouldn't feel held back and this advice I give is for the parents too. My dad is an engineer and I just admired what he did with his life and he was completely supportive and didn't try to box me into anything.”




Hannah Collingwood 

“I never planned to end up here, I just did. I can’t say exactly what you need to do, but my advice is to just do what you enjoy and see where you end up, which may not be engineering but could be science or maths. Just go for it.”





Perdi Williams

Perdi Williams“Definitely go to open days and have a look around science labs because you’re taught that you’ll be working in a lab coat with a Bunsen burner the whole time, but in reality it’s very different. The stereotypes are still out there and as science isn’t the most open field, because it’s so commercially sensitive, you wouldn’t know what a science lab looks like or an engineering workshop. Research the career more too, I originally wanted to become a forensic scientist and did two weeks' work experience in a forensics lab and hated it. Try everything, because even if you’ve got an interest in science but don’t want to be a scientist, there are lots of other options around a scientific field.”



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