Engineering Heroes Stories

Film collection key messages to highlight:

  • The Royal Academy of Engineering has partnered with Becoming X and Amazon to celebrate pioneers in engineering and technology, with a new This is Engineering series to inspire the next generation to become engineers of the future.
  • The first three films of the series will be released as an ‘Engineering Heroes’ collection to coincide with INWED on 23 June, to raise the profile of women engineers and inspire more women to consider a career in engineering.
  • Engineering Heroes aims to challenge the traditional stereotypes associated with engineers, and show engineering as a fulfilling and exciting career for future generations.
  • The first three films are raw and powerful, with each protagonist sharing an immensely personal and inspiring story. They show that there is no single path into engineering, but drive and determination led each of them build a better world through a career based on solving problems.
  • These uplifting and empowering films show that engineers all have different stories. Their resilience and tenacity have led them to careers where they make a difference as engineering heroes.

Ursula Burns

Became first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company

Growing up in poverty and a single-parent household in Manhattan’s lower east side, Ursula Burns knew the value of hard work. After joining Xerox as an engineering intern in 1980, she worked her way up to becoming CEO in 2009. President Barack Obama asked her to lead the White House National STEM program, to improve student participation and performance. She also founded Change the Equation, a not-for-profit programme aiming to boost STEM education for young people, and remains an active campaigner for diversity in boardrooms.

Dame Stephanie Shirley CH

Became a pioneering technology entrepreneur, philanthropist and icon for gender equality

Growing up in poverty and a single-parent household in Manhattan’s lower east side, Ursula Burns knew the value of hard work. After joining Xerox as an engineering intern in 1980, she worked her way up to becoming CEO in 2009. President Barack Obama asked her to lead the White House National STEM program, to improve student participation and performance. She also founded Change the Equation, a not-for-profit programme aiming to boost STEM education for young people, and remains an active campaigner for diversity in boardrooms.

Professor Sue Black

Became a Professor of computer science and technology after leaving school at 16 and fleeing and unsafe home

Growing up in poverty and a single-parent household in Manhattan’s lower east side, Ursula Burns knew the value of hard work. After joining Xerox as an engineering intern in 1980, she worked her way up to becoming CEO in 2009. President Barack Obama asked her to lead the White House National STEM program, to improve student participation and performance. She also founded Change the Equation, a not-for-profit programme aiming to boost STEM education for young people, and remains an active campaigner for diversity in boardrooms.

Heroes stories

Heroes story

Since the start of the pandemic, Boeing teams across the UK have operated alongside the Armed Forces in the key role they have played to support the UK government’s COVID-19 response. Last year, the RAF Odiham Chinook Support Centre, a joint RAF and Boeing team, produced 3D-printed clips that made personal protective equipment (PPE) more comfortable for NHS workers. The Portal, Boeing’s state-of-the-art analysis, experimentation and engagement facility in Hampshire, was offered for mathematical modelling and data analysis. Our employees have volunteered in their local communities, donated supplies and produced 3D-printed items for the NHS. Furthermore, we’ve supported reservist colleagues called up to serve in the Armed Forces. In 2020, some of our team were deployed to get medical equipment, staff and patients to where they are needed most.

Heroes story

Scientists at Cranfield University, in collaboration with University of Liverpool and Lancaster University, invited local residents across Bedfordshire to get involved in a citizen science research project by growing lettuce in their gardens. Residents who got involved were sent lettuce-growing kits containing seeds, a logbook, a trowel, plant labels, markers, and sample collection kits.

Scientists are exploring whether growing more of our own food, particularly in urban areas, could lead to healthier lifestyles, improved wellbeing, and better access to healthy and nutritious food, especially during crises such as the current pandemic. Local residents who participate were asked to grow lettuces for eight weeks, collecting samples and completing a weekly questionnaire

“Lockdown Lettuce Beds” is part of the Rurban Revolution research project which brings together expertise in ecosystems, psychology, plant sciences, and supply chains from Lancaster University, Cranfield University and University of Liverpool. Over the two years, we will be building an interdisciplinary evidence base on how urban green spaces and growing potentially influences:

  • Healthy and sustainable diets by improving availability, access and consumption of fruit and vegetables.
  • Food production in terms of quantity, quality and safety and the resilience of the UK food system.
  • Ecosystem service delivery, both inside and outside cities. 

Dr Sofia Kourmpetli, Lecturer in Plant Sciences at Cranfield University, said: “There is great potential to increase the amount of home-grown food particularly in urban areas. Engaging in food-growing activities has proven to have important health benefits. It could also increase a household’s sense of resilience and wellbeing during hard times, such as the COVID-19 lockdown. Lockdown Lettuce Beds will help us get a better understanding of these benefits and how we can encourage more people to ‘grow their own’.’’ 

Heroes story

The Spectris group of companies (HBK, Malvern Panalytical, Omega, Servomex, Red Lion, NDC, VI Grade, Concept Life Sciences and Particle Measuring Systems) all have engineering, science, and technology at their hearts. During the pandemic our employees have shown courage, caring and support for each other, our customers, and the wider community. Here are just a few examples of how our employees have been engineering heroes…

Supplying PPE

When Covid first hit back in March 2020, some of our employees in Malvern Panalytical in the UK and HBK in Portugal started to use their 3D printers to manufacture face shields for key workers. Our enterprising engineers even used their own printers at home so that they could maximise the output. The face shields were distributed to healthcare workers in hospitals, care homes and local surgeries. Malvern Panalytical were later recognised by the UK Chamber of Commerce with a Business Hero 2020 award.

Oxygen sensors for Ventilators

Our Servomex business supported GE Healthcare (‘GEHC’) to scale up the manufacture of life sustaining ventilators to help treat patients with COVID-19, through scaling up production of the Paracube Oxygen sensor at their facility in the UK. The technical innovations that Servomex and GEHC have worked on together as well as the ramp up of the existing manufacturing processes means that patients around the world had significantly more ventilators available.

Effective Drug Delivery Systems

Winter 2020/21 marked the first entry onto the market of ribonucleic acid (RNA) based vaccines. Delivery to the recipient’s immune system of messenger RNA (mRNA) coding for the SARS-CoV-2 ‘spike protein’ causes production of this protein, stimulating an immune response without risk of infection. The mRNA is generally delivered using lipid-based nanoparticles, with their physicochemical nature being key to the high efficacy of these vaccines.

The past year has seen the Malvern Panalytical products, Zetasizer Advance and NanoSight NS300, used extensively by vaccine developers and their supply chains, allowing them to optimize the delivery of mRNA and hence the efficacy of the vaccine. Through concentration calculation, these technologies also monitor the yield/dosage at different steps of the nanoparticle development process. The importance of timely and predictable manufacture of vaccines at a time like this cannot be overstated, and this data has helped developers design, scale up and control their manufacturing processes with the required rapidity.

Supporting Women in Engineering

Omega was founded by Betty Ruth Hollander, back in 1962. A time when women in STEM, let alone women owned businesses were incredibly rare. Omega maintains a strong legacy in supporting women in STEM and for their 2020 global day of giving campaign, they supported the Girls Science Technology Engineering Art and Maths (‘S.T.E.A.M.’) Institute. The Institute’s goal is to provide a framework and platform that informs, inspires, and empowers young girls to explore entrepreneurial opportunities that can change the world through S.T.E.A.M.

Helping Deaf People Feel the Music

The Musical Vibrations project (, aims to demonstrate the potential of using vibrotactile feedback – in other words, sound presented as vibration that is felt via the skin. The basic concept is that any musical performance can effectively be turned into a computer-controlled amplified performance where the sound from each instrument is taken to a mixing desk and sent back as a vibration signal to be presented to the body of the musician. In a study by the University of Liverpool Acoustics Research Unit, children from the Royal School for the Deaf Derby were invited to see how the vibrotactile approach would work in an educational setting. Vibrotactile equipment was set up in the classroom to see if it improved the children’s ability to understand music. The children were asked to play different electrical instruments while simultaneously placing their hands or bare feet on small LDS shakers from HBK and feel the sound. So instead of the music being delivered through vibrations in the ear, vibrations through the skin allow the children to perceive music. Along with a greater access to sound the research also found that additional educational value was evident in behavioural changes with increased teamwork and social interaction between pupils.

Heroes story

2020 demonstrated that there is a hero in all of us. Covid-19 caused us to care for and protect our communities to a greater extent than ever before. Dornan’s UCLE Marshgate project team embodied the ‘engineering and community hero’, alongside project partners Mace by helping vulnerable children, who needed ongoing support throughout the pandemic.

In November 2020, Dornan and Mace worked with AAA (Ambition, Aspire, Achieve). AAA focuses on and supports children and young people most in need, including those with disabilities or additional needs. Dornan provided help with the project management, QA & product procurement in delivering a garden, playground area, a new greenhouse, and chicken shed.

Dornan continues to recognise the importance of early engagement opportunities by working with apprentices and securing a more diverse team and, in turn, is delighted to use their engineering skills to benefit a community, which is local to some of these female team members.

Heroes story

Given the nature of our work, we’ve previously spent nearly all our work time in our offices. This meant that when COVID appeared, none of the normal HR and finance apps that employees use day to day could be accessed at home, even on our corporate devices. Enter our Engineering Heroes, in the form of a freshly created set of development teams, led by Fran as Product Owner – with a task to break new ground and provide the new apps our people needed, in a secure and accessible way, ASAP!

During this awesome effort, Fran and the teams involved needed to move at pace to change policy and help understand and drive security principles, designing and implementing solutions while adapting to changing business priorities. But within weeks the effort had provided apps that enabled key functions such as time recording, expenses and a phonebook for thousands of our people, wherever they were working. The diversity across the teams helps them to come up with innovative solutions to these new problems. Since then, they’ve been continuing to deliver great products, and are helping the organisation go through a cultural shift, as well as providing the immediate tactical response.

Heroes story

Flt Lt Elizabeth Clark, Royal Air Force Engineering Officer

As serving member of the RAF for the past 20 years, Clark currently works as an Engineering Officer (Communications and Electronics).  Her focus last year throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic was to enhance her engineering skillset meeting the requirements for a MSc degree in Safety Critical Systems Engineering with distinction.

Her research project was based on a thorough review and evaluation of safety culture and risk management theory and methodology considering the societal and engineering safety implications of home working and the Pandemic. 

The content of the project was pertinent for the present moment during a time of National crisis.  It offers a handrail to identify risk, issues and safety vulnerabilities associated with operating in a changeable, uncertain and isolating work environment.  The project also offers a holistic approach towards the identification, measurement and control of risk factors that may degrade operational safeguards and engineering safety culture.  It focuses on working remotely within a displaced, uncertain and changeable environment that the Pandemic caused; the research found that a plethora of personal, societal and professional pressures has been created that degrades safety engineering safeguards.

The project examined the indirect effects of COVID-19 and the effect that it has had on individuals working in a remote working environment.  As a response to the pressures (both organisational and personal) a bespoke Risk Assessment Tool (RA) for the RAF was created to identify the hazards and risk factors associated with remote working that may create safety vulnerabilities for staff and the organisation.  The result of the RA would assist towards determining and prioritising organisational and environmental mitigations to eliminate the hazards or control the risks to safety culture.  Alongside the tool, Clark developed a Desk-Top Booklet that aims to raise awareness of the risks associated with remote working and to provide high-level guidance as to how the issues can be addressed.  The engineering artefacts that have been created offer excellent guidance for those working remotely, or for displaced managers responsible for personnel operating away from their place of work.

The research and engineering artefacts support the lives and livelihoods of remote and displaced workers during the Pandemic.  As many organisations, including the RAF move forwards towards a ‘blended’ approach to working remotely and in the office environment, the research formalises a way of working to ensure the safety and safeguards of personnel, and the RAF’s operational output.

During 2020, Clark was determined to complete her studies despite her personal circumstances, where she was fighting a debilitating bowel disease.  During the period of study, she spent months collectively in hospital and had three major surgeries including the removal and reconstruction of vital organs.  She recognised a problem and dared to continue in her research endeavours exhaustively until she could provide a solution.  She has since made a full recovery and is thoroughly enjoying her role at Air Command, High Wycombe as a specialist Safety Engineer within the Battlespace Management Front Line Command where she employs the academic skills she attained through her studies.

Heroes story

Squadron Leader Wilde, Royal Air Force Engineering Officer

WHAT inspires someone to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) at school and university and then join the Royal Air Force as an Engineering Officer? 

Sqn Ldr Steph Wilde is the Senior Engineering Officer on IX(B) Squadron, and is deployed with 121 Expeditionary Air Wing, leading the engineering team that is ensuring the RAF Typhoons are safe to fly and meet their NATO Air Policing mission in Romania. In this 6 minute video Sqn Ldr Wilde shares her story; what inspired her to join the RAF, her experiences in the RAF after 13 years of service and why studying STEM was and continues to be such an important part of her life.

Heroes story

Squadron Leader Helen McNab, Royal Air Force Engineering Officer

Sqn Ldr Helen McNab has served as an RAF Engineering Officer (Aerosystems) for over 15 years. During this period she has managed over 400 RAF Engineering personnel in a wide variety of military engineering settings. As a Junior Engineer Officer she completed multiple tours in support of the Tornado GR4 and Typhoon aircraft. In addition, she was selected as specialist engineer on a Board of Inquiry and has completed 2 tours on Operation HERRICK in Afghanistan.

As a Senior Engineer Officer, she acted as the Avionics and Electrical Engineering Authority on the Sentinel R1 fleet,  Officer Commanding Forward Engineering Squadron at RAF Coningsby and is now serving on 6 Flying Training School , RAF Cranwell where she is responsible for assuring all contractor-led engineering activities on the fleet of 91 Grob Tutors.  In this role she has worked closely with the contractor to ensure that the training of pilots, a key defence output, could continue safely within COVID restrictions, alongside engineering maintenance activity. In her spare time she has volunteered as a steward at her local COVID vaccination site. 

Heroes story

Squadron Leader Georgie Hobson, Royal Air Force Senior Engineering Officer

An Interview with Sqn Ldr Georgie Hobson, Senior Engineering Officer (SEngO) 47 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton

  • What made you want to become an Engineer? I originally started training to become an Architect but quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. Whilst at school, I had attended a residential engineering week for girls at the University of Bristol which I had enjoyed and when contemplating my options, I decided that engineering offered a better balance of the aspects I enjoyed from architecture with more technical detail. I opted to do a Mechanical Engineering Master’s degree at the University of Bath as it would still leave my options quite open.


  • Why did you want to work for the RAF? At university one of my friends decided to apply to join the University Air Squadron and she persuaded me to go along to the stand at Freshers fair. Hearing what they had to offer I thought it sounded interesting and fun. After two years on the Air Squadron and having visited lots of stations, attended numerous social events, undertaken Adventurous Training expeditions and flown in various aircraft (including a B-52 over Jersey!) I decided that it was what I enjoyed most at university and therefore I wanted to join the RAF. I applied for sponsorship, which I got for my last two years of study and joined the RAF immediately after graduating in 2009.


  • What is the best part of your job? The best part of the job is definitely the people, I’ve been privileged enough to work with a large number of highly talented technicians and engineers and it is the people that I work with who make the job enjoyable. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted this rather a lot with more working from home which is less personal, it has also significantly limited social events. There are some other pretty cool parts of the job and I’ve been lucky enough to experience things such as, travelling to Melbourne for the RAAF Air Show, flying in an USMC Osprey over Afghanistan, representing the RAF Rowing Team in a competition in San Diego, and being part of the team when HRH The Duke of Cambridge opened the STEM centre at RAF Coningsby.   


  • What are the challenges you face in your career (and how do you overcome them)?  One of the biggest challenges is that my role typically changes every two to three years and involves having to learn a completely different role, different aircraft types and get to know new colleagues. For example, as the SEngO on 47 Sqn, I’ve had to learn the complexities of multiple systems from avionics to hydraulics to enable me to make airworthiness decisions on allowing an aircraft to fly. Fortunately, I have a team of 250 engineers and technicians including industry to support me with their additional in-depth knowledge and experience on the aircraft. In contrast, my previous role included certification work for bringing the P-8A into service in the RAF and I worked in a small team of only three engineers. This can be challenging but is one of the reasons why a job as an engineer in the RAF is full of variety and remains exciting.  


  • What would you say to young girls all over the world who are considering what subjects they want to choose? Keep your options open. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, tried it, and then changed my mind, so I was glad that I had kept my options open through my subject choices.  


  • Do you have any advice to girls wanting to become engineers? Go out and see what jobs are out there, do some work experience to see what options are available. Even if you don’t think that something is exactly what you are interested in, it might change your mind or open it up to other ideas.  Also, get involved in STEM groups or look at other organisations such as the Air Cadets, which give you the opportunity experience different roles.

Heroes story

During the first months of the pandemic, a small group of Mercedes-AMG Petronas’ designers and engineers started work on a new design for a ventilation shield. Named the Zephyr, the purpose of the system was to enable surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses to care for patients and at the same time be protected from respiratory diseases carried in the air, liquids or blood. Due to the increased number of COVID patients being seen by the NHS, the team working on the Zephyr received numerous emails from doctors seeking to put the system into use in their hospitals.

With the help of a healthcare consultant and a number of doctors, the Zephyr team have now received fast track approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), such that the system may now be used on the wards. The team are now working at double the planned rate of production to manufacture the Zephyr systems and deliver them to hospitals.​

Heroes story

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged UK society in many ways. The Academy is recognising the contributions that the engineering community has made in helping society address those challenges by making a number of President’s Special Awards for Pandemic Service. These are just two of the award winners.
​Only six months into her career at National Physical Laboratory (NPL), engineer Jean Morris instigated and played an important role in developing a programme to build and test prototype ventilators.

A large part of the work was undertaken by three graduates of the NPL apprentice programme, Joshua Bayfield, Joshua Schofield and Arthur Vie. Jean Morris and her team designed a fan-based ventilator with a portable and lightweight design that costs approximately a tenth of the cost of a commercial unit, and all parts are either made with common machine tools or easily sourced.

University College London-Ventura CPAP breathing aids were developed by a team led by Professor Rebecca Shipley and Professor Tim Baker working with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. The team manufactured 10,000 breathing aids for use in UK hospitals and shared the designs with organisations from 105 other countries at no cost. Clinical data from UCLH shows that half of patients treated with CPAP do not progress to invasive ventilation.

Heroes story

At V12, we are proud to have been a key contributor to keeping women in the industry safe, helping to ensure they get home safe every day, by giving them the right footwear. In the last year, we have been the proud supplier of footwear to thousands of women and although we do not know every person wearing V12’s, we can be sure that those in our footwear have stepped up to ensure that the industry continues to run smoothly. Our mission of keeping them safe and comfortable means their full time and attention is focused on getting the job done.

Key workers, maintaining and building infrastructure, still go out to work each day, whilst many of us are able to accomplish our jobs remotely, from the safety of our homes. And although our contribution only extends to keeping people booted, we are very proud of the people who wear our shoes. We have been able to supply footwear to a number of workers within the Nightingale projects, working at speed to fulfil and deliver over 200 pairs of boots in under 3 hours, a position we were grateful for – supporting critical workers to stay safe whilst saving lives.

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