Professor Sarah Hainsworth OBE FREng is Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean for the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston University.
“My forensic engineering expertise allowed me to contribute to understanding how King Richard III died, by examining the injuries on his skull and relating these to the weapons that were likely to have caused them. ”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I lead the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston University, which has around 3,800 students and 350 staff. I set the strategy for the school, ensure that the courses we offer are well-taught and attractive to students, and work to ensure that our researchers have the facilities and support they need to be among the best in the world. I continue to do some research of my own, currently on the development of safer knives for domestic use that would not be as dangerous if used inappropriately as weapons.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I studied materials science and engineering at university. I was introduced to materials by a polymer chemist who talked about the way that aligning the polymer chains in a material influences its properties. I was fascinated by how the mechanical, chemical, electrical, magnetic and thermal properties of engineering components and structures could be controlled by both the types and mix of atoms within them, and how these atoms were arranged to form the microstructure. The link between the microstructure, properties and performance continues to fascinate me.
Please describe your first job in engineering.
After I finished my doctorate, my first job in engineering was as a researcher working on nanoindentation. Nanoindentation is a technique used to measure the mechanical properties of materials by controlled indentation with a diamond. It was exciting to develop our understanding of how, for example, thin, hard coatings used on car engine components can be developed for improved performance.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
I love the fact that my job is always changing and always different. I am continually enthused by the developments and research progress that we make in advancing knowledge in different fields and how business and industry apply this to innovate new products. I am enthusiastic about educating and training future engineers and I am inspired by seeing students that I have taught going on to great, interesting and varied careers in engineering.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
My career has been both in conventional materials engineering and also in forensic engineering science, where I apply my materials expertise in an interdisciplinary way to research tool marks in bone and forces required for stabbing. This forensic engineering expertise allowed me to contribute to understanding how King Richard III died, by examining the injuries on his skull and relating these to the weapons that were likely to have caused them (see ‘Solving a historical mystery’ in issue 71 of Ingenia).
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the profession?
There are more women in leadership positions and the diversity of engineers is improving. We still have a lot of work to do to get to 50/50, but it is much more the ‘norm’ for women to be in senior roles than when I first started.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
We need more talented and creative engineers, both male and female. I have had wonderful opportunities to work on exciting projects and travel the world, and would encourage anyone interested to seize the opportunities that a career in engineering presents.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Balance for Better’. How can engineers contribute to a gender-balanced world?
We need to continually show people outside of engineering what we contribute to society, and show young girls that there are no barriers to them succeeding at the highest levels in engineering. We need to inspire girls so that they can contribute to engineering, and to a brighter future for both our planet and themselves.
This profile was created for International Women’s Day in March 2019. All information was correct at time of publication