International recognition: IET Achievement Awards 2012

30 November 2012
By Kate Parker
Achievement Awards logo

Prestigious IET medals honour the exceptional contributions made by outstanding engineers.

The IET Achievement Awards recognise individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of engineering and technology either through research and development or through their leadership of an enterprise.

This year’s recipients are no exception, with the list of achievers including the pioneering creator of MPEG technology, the man who spearheaded a daring and unique aeronautical restoration project, and one of the seven most trusted Internet security key holders in the world.

Member News caught up with some of this year’s medal winners to find out their views and thoughts on being involved with this year’s awards:

Mountbatten Medal

This year’s Mountbatten Medal is awarded to IET Fellow Professor Vincent Fusco of Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB), for his outstanding, dedicated, lifetime leadership in establishing the field of active antenna technology for advanced wireless applications.
Member News: How does it feel to be the 2012 recipient of the Mountbatten Medal?
Vincent Fusco: I am honoured to be awarded this medal. It is really exciting to be in the technology push that is helping to make mobile microwave wireless communications ubiquitous. This award is really a team effort, and I’d like to thank my colleagues in the High Frequency Laboratories at QUB past and present for their support and creativity.
MN: How important is the interface between universities and industry? Do you think a greater link between the two would lead to more wealth creation?
VF: My academic career has always involved collaboration with industry so it is natural for me to see the two as being in an important partnership. With suitable technology pull from industry, applied academic research can be made to be a highly positive economic driver without compromise to high quality research.

Coales Medal for Transport

Dr Robert Pleming MIET is this year’s Coales Medal for Transport recipient. Since 1997, Dr Pleming has led a small team restoring and safely operating Avro Vulcan XH558, the last flying representative embodying Britain’s 1940s jet aircraft leadership. Since 2008, the sight and sound of XH558 has inspired a new generation of the young in aviation and engineering.
Member News: Were you always interested in engineering/technology or was there a defining moment or an influential person that inspired you?
Robert Pleming: Along the way there have been several people who have inspired me: my grandfather was a civil engineer – he built the sugar railway in Trinidad – and he had a workshop full of machine tools where he and I built various things. A friend of my father got me interested in electronics, and I turned into the 1960’s version of a geek: I had passed my Radio Amateurs Exam by the age of 14 and was into building valve-based systems shortly afterwards. When I was 18, my maths teacher at school booked time on an Elliott 803 computer on a Sunday afternoon for me and another boy to programme – and that’s what got me into IT!
MN: The Vulcan Project was a spectacular success and is a very visual way of engaging the public with the fruits of engineering endeavour. How important is it to communicate the work of engineers in wider society?
RP: People don’t generally realise that everything we touch in today’s society has had some engineering input; our clothes, furniture, buildings, food, everything, are the result of some process that has been thought about and implemented by engineers and technicians. Without engineers, society will go backwards. We must become better at promoting engineering and technical activities and contribution, and so bring more people into the profession.
MN: What do you think is most important to the engineering and technology community?
RP: Doing things for the benefit of society, but also being seen to do those beneficial things. I think that the contribution that engineers, technicians and technologist make is worthy of greater visibility and recognition than it is today. So many people have made significant advances and game-changing innovations over the years, but who knows their names?

Heaviside Medal

The Heaviside Medal for Achievement in Control is given to IET Fellow Professor Ramesh Agarwal, USA, for the pioneering development of computational fluid dynamics methods and industrial grade codes and their ingenious applications to the analysis and design of flying air and space vehicles.
Member News: What led you onto your particular career path?
Ramesh Agarwal: Since childhood I have been excited about space. It led me to study aerospace engineering and pursue a career in aerospace. I have worked in various technologies related to aerospace namely aerodynamics, flight mechanics and control and multidisciplinary design and optimisation both in industry (16 years at McDonnell Douglas) and 17 years in academia.
MN: What's the most exciting part of your job?
RA: To see the application of my research in actual real-world flying vehicles and training next generation of engineers/leaders.
MN: What do you think is most important to the engineering and technology community?
RA: To engage in solving problems that can improve the quality of life for all people on the planet by providing technological solutions to problems of health, energy and environment, clean water and poverty.

Nuffield Silver Medal

This year’s Nuffield Silver Medal for Achievement in Design & Production goes to Dick Philbrick who has established and run a highly profitable export-led engineering company. Specialising in foundry machinery, he started Clansman Dynamics in 1994, converting it three years ago into an employee-owned business.
Member News: In 2009 you sold Clansman Dynamics to its employees. How important to you was its ownership staying with the people who had helped build the company? What were the benefits to long-term engineering development?
Dick Philbrick: By 2008, with white hairs replacing grey, the engineers were beginning to question the future for what was by now a very successful Clansman Dynamics. I had long been convinced that the best way to keep the jobs in Scotland, to continue the regime of solid, German-like, long-term organic growth, to reward engineers for years of hard work, was to make a generous deal and sell the company to the employees. Ninety per cent of the employees bought shares in the company and the founder shareholders have got their investment back already. Profits have doubled and turnover has increased by 60 per cent since the change. We don’t have investor pressure for short-term profit growth, but they have grown anyway!
I think it is a great solution for Clansman. Employee ownership in general is a way of beginning to change the climate for engineers. Lawyers and accountants seek to be partners – we can do something similar for engineers and change the perception of the way in which a career in engineering is regarded.
MN: What do you think is most important to the engineering and technology community?
DP: We have terrific engineers in this country, but our economy lacks the benefits of those marvellous Gerrman Mittelstand companies who commercialise their engineering so successfully. The basis of our business is to make the ‘best machines’ in our sector. The design reviews always focus on what is the very best engineering solution. I will not be popular for saying it, but there have been three key factors in our success beyond engineering excellence.
We can speak to customers in three languages and for me this is vital for British engineering. Our competitors can do this, so we have to. Most, by their passivity on this point, seem to disagree. Our products can best be sold by engineers who speak a foreign language or two.
None of our components, repeat none, (cylinders, valves, pumps, motors, bearings, PLCs, encoders, potentiometers, etc.) are made in the UK. So we telephoned OEMs and were asked to specify volumes, which were not impressive. They insisted we buy from local distributors – luckily we doggedly refused, put on our best suits and demanded to negotiate. Prices are 50 per cent less and materials are anyway 50 per cent of the costs of the machines we sell. How many small engineering companies die in infancy because they don’t get beyond the distributor?
And from day one we operated as if Birmingham, Brno and Beijing were equidistant from Scotland and tried, against all advice, to export worldwide. Now we have sales in 40 countries.

Sir Monty Finniston Award

Dr Meyya Meyyappan of the NASA Ames Research Center, USA, is this year’s Sir Monty Finniston Award for Engineering and Technology recipient for his achievements and leadership in nanotechnology and contributions to nanotechnology education.
Member News: What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Meyya Meyyappan: I work in the field of nanotechnology which a lot of people think as the technology of the 21st century. I get to be a part of a lot of new discoveries on nano materials, sensors, electronics and many other applications.
MN: Of all the things you’ve achieved, what do you personally feel has made the biggest difference?
MM: We have made nano sensors for gas and vapour sensing using nanomaterials which is being used in NASA applications. I also spend a great deal of time speaking to high school and undergraduate students about science and engineering education, which is a very satisfying and rewarding endeavour since you get to make a positive impact on someone's career.
MN: What advice would you give your younger self?
MM: Pick a subject or career path you like regardless of how much money you will like; then work hard to be the best in that field, but along the way, remember there is more to life than just work, and so remember to have some fun.

Mike Sargeant Career Award

The Mike Sargeant Career Achievement Award for Young Professionals is awarded to Dr Chris Dent MIET, School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, Durham University. Chris entered power systems engineering in 2006 from a background in mathematics, becoming one of the leading academic power engineers in the UK within just five years, and has established a true worldwide reputation. He has also made a particular contribution in promoting engineering problems within the mathematical sciences community.
Member News: How does it feel to be the 2012 recipient of the Mike Sargeant Career Achievement Award?
Chris Dent: It is very gratifying to be rewarded in this way by my profession - it is particularly satisfying that my work on the maths-engineering boundary has been recognised by the engineering community in this way.
MN: You’ve made a particular contribution in promoting engineering problems within the mathematical sciences community. Is it important to you to promote working creatively across disciplines like this? Do you think a lack of creativity, or thinking outside the box, stifles the ability to be innovative?
CD: I think that power systems engineering increasingly requires skills from other disciplines, whether this be mathematics and statistics (my own speciality), or economics, social sciences, meteorology. This is partly due to the need to integrate new technologies (particularly renewables and storage), and partly due to the constant drive to find more efficient ways of planning and operating systems.
One of the great challenges we face is integrating very powerful new methods from these other disciplines into industrial power systems practices, when these methods have not traditionally formed part of a power systems education. From the other side, power systems is a very important area to society which presents a great many technically interesting problems for mathematicians and other scientific and social science disciplines.

Sir Henry Royce Medal

This year’s two recipients of the Sir Henry Royce Medal for Young Professionals are Douglas Ramsay MIET, for exceptional enthusiasm, leadership and technical innovation in developing electrical design concepts for future Round 3 renewable offshore wind farms; and John Collins, Ove Arup & Partners, Leeds, for his role in developing a solution to the highly complex problem of replacing Bearings on the Humber Bridge. Here, Member News talks to John Collins:
Member News: What’s the most exciting part of your job?
John Collins: The most exciting part of being a bridge engineer for me is developing a very detailed understanding of a structure’s behaviour through calculation. This might not sound particularly exciting, but when you visit the bridge you are working on, the sense of satisfaction that you know the inner workings of the structure perhaps better than anyone else is very rewarding. Taking this understanding to develop options or undertake detailed design and then successfully communicating complex methods and proposals is challenging and exciting.
My employer, Arup, has offered me many opportunities to undertake this type of technically demanding work. The most exciting project I have worked on is my main current one – the replacement of the main span A-frame rocker bearings of the Humber Bridge. I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to develop a detailed understanding of the bridge, crawled all over it undertaking inspections, monitoring and testing and then consolidated all this knowledge to determine how best to approach works to the structure. The replacement scheme developed would have been difficult to explain to others using conventional civil engineering tools. We therefore made extensive use of 3D modelling techniques perhaps more commonly encountered within the realms of mechanical engineering. The process of calculation, design and communication is extremely interesting, exciting and rewarding.
MN: There is such an obvious social context to your job, literally building bridges and connecting people! How important is it to communicate the work of engineers in wider society?
JC: Very – as a broader discipline, engineering should be more widely communicated given the critical role it plays in everyday life. With regards to civil engineering, I feel that well thought through, efficient and sustainable infrastructure is paramount to people’s quality of life. Why not tell the wider society about what we do?
MN: What do you think is most important to the engineering and technology community?
JC: Sustainable engineering – not just environmental, but economically and socially as well. With material resources tightening, long-term fiscal pressures and the importance of supporting a diverse society, the sustainable agenda should permeate through all work that engineers undertake. At the risk of over-generalising, if an engineering project isn’t sustainable, we shouldn’t do it!

Paul Fletcher Award

The Paul Fletcher Award for outstanding achievement in contributing to IET activities goes to Rhys Phillips MIET. Many IET members may already be familiar with Rhys’ endeavours, such as his weekly science radio show ‘Pythagoras’ Trousers’ which has grown in popularity, evolving into ‘The Pythagorean Cabaret’ a science variety night which has now been performed across the UK.
Member News
: What’s the most fulfilling aspect of what you do?
Rhys Phillips: I work in research so one of the exciting aspects of my job is finding out new things and knowing that what I am working on will one day end up being used in real life. Time spent witnessing tests in the lightning lab are also great fun! I also find public engagement, particularly to school children, is one of my favourite parts of the job – knowing that you’ve inspired a child to study a STEM subject or dispelled the myths about science and engineering being boring subjects is a very rewarding experience.
MN: You approach your IET activities very creatively. How important is it to be able to think ‘outside the box’ in order to harness originality and innovation?
RP: Engineers are interesting people. Every engineer or scientist will have something else they do in their spare time. As everything in the world around us relies on science and engineering, then these other things that fill the spare time of engineers will have some science or engineering link behind them. I find that by finding topics that people don’t expect to be linked to science/engineering and then using performance (music, comedy, magic, broadcasting) to communicate the topics, you can easily come up with new and exciting ideas.
MN: You’re a prolific IET member, involved in and organising many activities. What’s the key to a successful IET Network?
RP: Passion, organisation and enjoyment. If you have a group of well organised people that are passionate about engineering and enjoy working together to put on events, network and learn new skills, then you have the foundation for a successful IET Network.

Additional Achievement Award winners are as follows:

Dr Leonardo Chiariglione
, Italy, is this year’s Faraday Medallist, awarded for his pioneering contribution to the standardisation of the digital compression and encoding technique known as MPEG (Movie Picture Expert Group).

Paul Kane is the 2012 recipient of the Ambrose Fleming Medal for Information and Communications. Chairman and CEO of CommunityDNS and immediate past president of the BCS, the Chartered Institute of IT, Paul was selected by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in 2010 as one of the seven key holders worldwide, each holding a portion of the Internet ROOT Zone's Domain Name System security recovery key. This is the fundamental technology that empowers global Internet security systems to validate legitimate, and identify bogus, operators on the Internet.

Linda Deleay, IET awards and prizes manager, said: “These medals are awarded to individuals who have been nominated by their peers for their distinguished contributions to the world of engineering and technology. The judging panel look for outstanding and sustained excellence. This year’s award recipients should feel rightly proud of their success.”

2013 Awards

The IET calls for nominations for outstanding women and men from around the world. Entry will open in January 2013 and the deadline will be 31 May 2013. Further details can be found at www.theiet.org/achievement

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