Jeannette Heiligers, a PhD engineering student at the University of Strathclyde, has won a prestigious SET for Britain gold medal for her innovative earth observation research.

Her concept to improve observations of the Earth’s poles from space to enable better climate change monitoring impressed an expert panel of judges at the SET for Britain poster competition in the House of Commons on 12 March. The event aims to draw parliamentarians’ attention to the UK’s thriving science and engineering base as well as reward first-rate research being undertaken in UK universities.

Jeannette beat 60 shortlisted engineering researchers, whose projects varied from research on water impurity to mitigation of the hazards of improvised explosive devices, to win a gold medal and £3,000, which she plans to use to travel to the International Astronautical Congress in Naples.

Her ‘pole sitter’ concept involves a spacecraft which, instead of orbiting the Earth, remains stationary above one of the poles by using an onboard propulsion system to force the craft to deviate from its natural elliptical orbit.

Jeannette said: “The pole-sitter spacecraft is a novel concept to provide continuous and real time observations of the Poles of the Earth from space. These observations are important for ice-pack monitoring in order to provide insights into global climate change, but also for enhancing high-latitude weather forecasting, supporting oil and gas exploration, and providing telecommunications and ship navigation, especially with Arctic shipping routes opening up due to global warming.”

Simon Leigh, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick, won the silver engineering section medal and £2,000 prize for his research on 3D printing technology. His research has shown that it is possible to produce a wide range of structures by developing new materials and processes for 3D printing, such as sensors to measure fluid and gas flow, which can be printed out in 3D using a new magnetic composite material.

Simon said: "3D printing is revolutionising the way we think about manufacturing. My work is aimed at developing a toolbox of next-generation functional materials, such as conductive materials, for 3D printing. Using these materials, innovators both big and small will be able to carry out quite high-tech manufacturing processes in a digital production plant no larger than a home computer. This low cost and low risk approach to manufacturing will allow new high-tech innovations to reach the marketplace much faster."

Jonathan Dewsbury, a geotechnical engineer at Buro Happold, won the bronze medal and £1,000 for his research, comprising advanced numerical modelling to demonstrate the impact of using old foundations in building projects. The research was undertaken in collaboration with the University of Southampton. The numerical tool developed allows the building, foundations and soil to be modelled simultaneously. He believes that it will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviour of re-used old foundations on building movement and if old foundations are re-used, could lead to lower construction costs, a potential decrease in programme time and a reduction in CO2 emissions due to a decrease in the amount of concrete used.

Jonathan said: “The research is timely considering the current economic climate and the desire for efficient redevelopment of brown field sites.”

Addressing the young engineers and politicians at the event, Sir John Parker FREng, President of the Academy, said: “Engineering innovation, based on engineering research, is key to Britain’s economic revival and recovery. We are well placed to achieve this as Britain has a world-class engineering research base. As an Academy, we want to see more research in the UK contributing to the wealth of the nation through productive industry and we take seriously our role to improve the capacity of UK entrepreneurs and business to create more innovative products and services.

“As someone who has spent an entire career in industry, building on the valuable work done by researchers, I can honestly say I am extremely impressed by the high quality research on show at SET for Britain event and the researchers’ enthusiasm,” he added.

Notes for editors

  1. SET for Britain is run by The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee with a series of subject prizes offered in collaboration with The Royal Academy of Engineering, The Institute of Physics, the Society of Biology, The Royal Society of Chemistry, the Physiological Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Society of Chemical Industry, with financial support from BP, Airbus/EADS, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, AgChem Access, Oxford Instruments, IBMS and GE Hitachi.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Sarah Griffiths at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0655