Women in Science: Problems are the root of invention
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 02:49 GMT
In the UK alone more than a thousand people die from falls on the stairs each year, and falls in older people cost the NHS over £1 billion per year. For me these figures were truly shocking. At the age of 16 after my teachers father suffered a stroke and was unable to use his stairs, my eyes were opened to the big issues of stairs and the limiting effect it can have on someone’s life if they are not used. For me this was the spark that got me interested in science and engineering. A journey that has enabled me to create a product, have a patent and run my own business.
I have always used the word inventor with a bit of caution it tends to bring to people’s minds thoughts of old men in sheds blowing up things (a figure like Doc from ‘back to the future’) in fact I was15 when I first started on the StairSteady, working on my GCSE resistant materials project, and unfortunately I haven’t yet blown anything up while designing the StairSteady. So you can see my hesitation to use the word inventor when describing myself.
Now I’m going to be very blunt and discuss the whole women in STEM thing. This debate has nothing to do with whether women are capable in any of these topics; there is more than enough evidence to prove that we are good at this. This debate has more to do with do with the images that we put out there and the work life balance that we allow. Firstly, I’ll address the image part. I’m sure many of you saw the ’science: it’s a girl thing’ EU advert, and if you didn’t you probably thought it was the latest Maybelline advert. I am the first person to admit I am very girly. It’s not a bad thing. I love shoes, fashion and makeup and do not hide it; however, the STEM image in the media seems to have two extremes- drab or overly glamorised with no actual substance. If you want to see real women in science then come down to Soapbox Science at the Southbank and see real women in science talk.
Next we have the work life balance aspect, STEM careers aren’t easy when you want to have children, I have a way to go and I’m hoping by then things with have changed. There are those helping to change this, a few weeks ago I attended the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards, recognising the achievements of four women by awarding them £15,000 to support them in any area they wish. They could spend this money on child care, a new fridge, interns, anything that makes there life easier. We need to be encouraging these women to stay in their careers. Rant over!
Back to the topic of invention, what I actually do is ‘create and make happen’. I also have a love for business and these two go hand in hand, I love coming up with an idea, a product or project and making it happen- then making money from it is always good. Now this ‘create and make happen’ thing is very much rooted in science and from that engineering, because science is the theory and engineering is putting it into practice. One without the other just doesn’t work. I tend to start off with a theory or research, so friction is very important with the StairSteady, I then worked out how to make something practical with that e.g. a locking mechanism say, and then using more research into materials improve on that system to create an even better locking system. Each time the science feeds the engineering, often there is some practicality to consider, maybe the way that it is made or the way it will be fitted. This limitation often means that I can’t use the theory directly and so requires me to do a little problem solving.
I love problem solving; it’s a big part of what I do in business. Science is crucial to this, if I need to have a really powerful adhesive, then I need to know that this has been created and tested by the best. I then work out the best way to incorporate this into my product using engineering. Advances in the science mean advances in the engineering and so hopefully more products made and sold more efficiently, hopefully equating in more profit for the company. I know that earlier soapbox science blogs have mentioned the link between science and the economy and it’s something that I would like to echo, science and engineering is one key way in which we can improve the economy.
As I mentioned at the beginning I was inspired to create because of an everyday problem. The best science and engineering comes from problem solving. I love the excitement of thinking that I can create something that will affect people’s everyday life in a positive way. For me it’s a kind of philanthropic need to make the world a better place than before I joined it, a quest that I will be well and truly doing in my heels.