Cranfield University has achieved national award success with two engineers being named as winners in the 2021 Top 50 Women in Engineering (WE50) and two others reaching the final 100 of the annual awards.

Professor Jane Rickson, Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation, and Dr Natalia Falagán, Lecturer in Food Science and Technology, were selected as Top 50 winners.

Dr Irene Moulitsas, Senior Lecturer in Scientific Computing, and Eva Peláez Álvarez, PhD researcher in the Enhanced Composites and Structures Centre, are among the 100 highly commended finalists.

The WE50 awards are backed by the Women’s Engineering Society. It is a UK event linked to International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), the celebration of women in engineering that takes place on 23 June each year.

This year the awards are celebrating Engineering Heroes: the best, brightest and bravest women in engineering who have recognised a problem, then dared to be part of the solution, undertaking everyday ‘heroics’ as much as emergency ones.

Top 50 double

Professor Rickson has over 30 years’ experience of research, consultancy and teaching in soil and water engineering and specialises in soil degradation processes and sustainable land management, working closely with industry to address both the climate and biodiversity emergencies. She was also the first female president of the Institution of Agricultural Engineers in its 80-year history.

Professor Rickson said:

“I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this accolade. I hope I can show by example that engineering is an exciting and rewarding career choice for young women (and men).

“We need to continue to break the often stereotypical image of ‘the engineer’, so that the profession is seen to be much more inclusive, diverse and welcoming to anyone with an interest in designing, building, testing and improving the world around us.”

Dr Falagán is an early career academic (under 35 years old) who has achieved a level of national and international recognition unusual for her career stage. She works towards reducing food loss and waste by developing innovative technologies to ensure food security and has been instrumental in establishing the first Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain.

Dr Falagán said:

“I’m thrilled to have been selected as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering 2021. I think it’s really important to show people that women have prominent roles in engineering.

“This award helps increase the visibility of women and reminds us all about the importance of diversity, inclusion and equality. I hope I can be a role model for young people who want to make a positive impact.”

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, chief executive and vice-chancellor of Cranfield University, said:

“We’re very proud of Jane and Natalia, and Irene and Eva, and congratulate them on this significant achievement.

“They are outstanding role models and their recognition across a range of specialisms is testament to the variety of engineering research at Cranfield and impact that it has across society and around the world.”

Professor Jane Rickson Image Cranfield University
Dr Natalia Falagán Image Cranfield University

Highly commended finalists

Dr Irene Moulitsas was selected as a WE50 highly commended finalist for her work at the crossroads of mathematics, computer science and engineering. She uses high performance computing to solve problems that are typically too large for a desktop computer or would take too long.

Dr Moulitsas said:

“Being nominated for a WE50 award really meant a lot to me because I could see the recognition from my colleagues. I think it’s important to recognise people and I believe by celebrating women in engineering we can help to make diversity a real asset in STEM.”

Eva Peláez Álvarez also reached the final 100 of this year’s awards, gaining recognition for her work during the COVID-19 pandemic with leading high-quality medical glove manufacturer Meditech Gloves, and her research to develop sustainable medical glove manufacturing.

Eva said:

“I’m truly honoured to be recognised as a finalist in the 2021 WE50. I’m still a PhD student so having this recognition at such a young age is really encouraging – all of the hard work seems to have paid off and I’m proud to be contributing to an issue relevant to today’s society and the pandemic with my medical gloves research.”

Showcasing the engineering heroes of the future

To coincide with INWED this year, Cranfield University also launched an engineering heroes activity, inviting children aged 4-14 to take part and join hero squads focused on climate change, future transport, sustainability and international alliances highlighting the work of Cranfield’s industry partners.

Entries received from the activity have been organised into an online engineering heroes exhibition.

Dr Irene Moulitsas Image Cranfield University
Eva Peláez Álvarez Image Cranfield University