Leading nuclear engineer appeals to girls to solve engineering challenges of the future

Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS will urge young women to take up a career in engineering to help address the world’s greatest challenges, when she gives the autumn term Principal’s Lecture at Cheltenham Ladies’ College on Saturday 12 October 2019.

In her final speech as Chair of the judging panel for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, Dame Sue will tell the inspiring story of geologist, suffragette and philanthropist Lady Rachel MacRobert, who attended Cheltenham Ladies College herself in the 1890s. Born in Massachusetts in the US, Rachel became the first woman to study at the Royal School of Mines, and the MacRobert Award – the most prestigious annual prize for UK engineering innovation – was founded in 1969 to reflect her lifelong love of science and engineering.

Only 12% of UK engineers are female and just 9% are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, but the UK has an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers. Dame Sue will highlight the benefits of engineering to society and share the achievements of some of the women engineers who have won the MacRobert Award.


Dame Sue hopes that this personal address will help inspire the students to find out more about engineering, how it works and how it impacts every aspect of our day-to-day lives.

She will also talk about her own career to date and how it challenges society’s widespread misconceptions about engineers and the profession among young people. Aged 16, with the support of a championing chemistry teacher, Dame Sue won a book on atomic energy as a prize for her O-level attainment in science, which encouraged her enthusiasm for the subject. After studying for a degree and PhD in Materials Science at Imperial College London she spent 27 years with British Nuclear Fuels Limited, rising to the position of Chief Technology Officer, and has held numerous national and international energy policy advisory roles. She is currently Honorary President of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear.

Dame Sue believes that by highlighting the variety of ways engineers shape the world around us – often unseen, taken for granted and unsung – she will help encourage more pupils from all backgrounds to consider a career in engineering.

This year, the MacRobert Award celebrated its 50th year and Dame Sue is stepping down from the position of chair of the panel judges after five years.

Dame Sue Ion said:

“I am passionate about engineering and the difference it makes to our daily lives. More and more women are realising what fantastic careers they can have and the wealth of areas in which they can work.

“The traditional image of an engineer as someone in a hard hat isn’t a reality. There are amazing opportunities for engineers affecting every aspect of our lives from manufacturing to transport to construction, fashion, food, healthcare, energy, cyber security and making the world a better place.  Nowhere is that so apparent as in the winners of the MacRobert Award over the last 50 years.

“I could never have dreamed how rewarding and exciting a time you can have with a background in engineering nor of the amazing and talented people I’d be lucky enough to work with and have as colleagues and friends.”

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