International Women’s Day on 8 March is a chance to celebrate the achievements of women and discuss what further steps can be taken to progress gender equity.
Female researchers and academics at Sydney University’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies are at the top of their fields, working on revolutionary technologies and research breakthroughs to improve our everyday lives.
To mark this important day, we wanted to acknowledge just a few of the many inspiring women in engineering and IT shaping our future.
MSc PhD Belgrade, MIEEE FIEAust MAAEE
Director of the Centre of Excellence in Telecommunications
Professor Branka Vucetic, Laureate Professor from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, researches wireless communications, digital communication theory and error control coding. In particular she looks at wireless networks for the Internet of Things, where devices are connected through the internet, such as smart phones, ATMs, washing machines, headphones and wearable devices.
The demands for wireless technologies that can carry big data in a reliable and secure way continues to grow. Professor Vucetic is working on developing a theoretical framework and advanced signal processing and network protocols for mmWave systems, a higher frequency band which could lead to next revolution in wireless communications.
In the global telecommunication industry women account for less than 40% of the workforce, however Professor Vucetic believes greater gender parity is essential.
“Research has revealed that companies with a gender-diverse workforce are better able to innovate and outperform competition. To address this we need more programs by companies, universities and governments which attract and promote female talent in STEMM, and in particular telecommunications.
“In the future many jobs in administration, manufacturing and mining will be lost to automation, however there will be a growing demand for STEMM skills. It’s an exciting field with great career prospects.”
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Head of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Research Unit
Millions of people around the world suffer bone loss due to injury, infection, disease or abnormal skeletal development, and treatment often requires the regeneration of new bone. As each patient has a limited amount of bone available for grafting, the demand for synthetic bone substitutes is high.
Through her biomedical engineering research, Professor Hala Zreiqat has developed a unique ceramic material that acts as a scaffold for the body to use to regenerate new bone and which gradually degrades as it is replaced by natural bone. The bone substitute resembles the architecture, strength and porosity of natural bone. It’s strong enough to withstand the weight of a person and contains pores that allow blood and nutrients to flow through.
With a long list of fellowships, awards and accolades, Professor Zreiqat is an inspiring female engineer who is passionate about attracting women to STEMM.
Professor Zreiqat believes we need a greater number of women in key leadership and policy roles. “I would like to see more women on boards contributing to STEMM decisions. I would also like to see greater public recognition of women for their outstanding achievements.
“I am a strong believer in mentoring at all levels. I often visit high schools to talk to students about engineering and share my experiences with them. Seeing what other women in STEMM have achieved first-hand is important.”
Institute of Photonics and Optical Science
Professor Xiaoke Yi’s research in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering focuses on nanophotonics, which is the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, and also integrated microwave photonics, where radio frequency signals are processed using photonic techniques.
This research has the potential to lead to breakthroughs that will meet our ever-increasing demand for information and communication systems that can process high-frequency and bandwidth signals at lightning speed. Her work is likely to bring about improved changes in fields like communications, defence and healthcare delivery.
Professor Yi’s research in photonic signal processing and sensing has led to the recent development of a revolutionary breath testing device that detects deadly ketones for diabetic patents, potentially putting an end to the invasive finger prick blood test.
Like Professor Zreiqat, Professor Yi believes that in order for more women to pursue careers in engineering there needs to be a greater amount of women in leadership positions. “This would be a clear message to women that the field is wide open to them.”
For women with an interest in STEM, Professor Yi encourages them “to not be afraid to try something new. Deliberately jump out your comfort zone and exploring new areas; you’re bound to find some nice surprises.”
School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering (AMME)
Anastasia Volkova, current PhD candidate, is researching ways to teach drones to self-navigate and make in-flight decisions the way human pilots do. There is a growing demand for unmanned aerial systems for autonomous surveillance, exploration and remote sensing solutions. The problem is developing these systems so that drones can navigate without relying on global navigation satellite systems.
Anastasia’s field of interest, aeronautical engineering, has become more important with the accessibility of drone technology, GPS signals in phones and the acceleration of commercial air travel and there’s a greater demand for women in this field of engineering.
“Aerospace would see greater successes with more female perspectives in the mix, as the skills required are well suited to women.
“It’s an exciting field to research in, with new discoveries every day and access to cutting edge technologies which push the boundaries.”
Her current research follows the success of her team winning the Inventing the Future challenge late last year, where they developed an imaging system for crop health using nanosatellites. She has taken this idea, developed through a university challenge, to create her own startup business, FluroSat which has already received investor interest.
Five outstanding female researchers, including Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Branka Vucetic, mentored promising engineering undergraduates at this week’s Georgina Sweet Fellowship event.