UCL’s IEP Showcase and Awards Show: Highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of engineering
In October, UCL hosted a showcase and awards event to recognise the students of its Integrated Engineering Programme (IEP), now in its third year. The program hopes to instil the broader range of useful skills in its graduates that industry has said it is desperate for. Students from all branches of engineering used different media to illustrate their work. The presentations highlighted the varied subjects (and skills) that the students had needed to implement (and learn) to succeed. In particular, instead of playing to the experts in their field, the students were expected to reach a wider audience. In an industry that can be buried in jargon at times, the event reflects an increasing drive over recent years to introduce interdisciplinarity into engineering programmes. To this end, focus was placed on the communication of ideas, enabling teams of people with different expertise to work together.
The showcase presentations, in which students outlined projects they had undertaken, emphasized this broader approach. Students from the biomedical engineering department (Marina Melero Bernal, Madeline Lok and Lucia Albelda Gimeno) talked about work they had done designing and printing a 3D bone model and developing an app capable of measuring heartbeats. A presentation from Chemical Engineering students (Amir Bin Abu Hassan, Onyeka Efese, Elliot Fricker, Angertdev Gurmel Singh, Sanghoon Kim and Melvin Ting) explained that the team produced a technical report to justify their piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs), but they also created a video aimed at secondary-school students describing the purpose of P&IDs. Biochemical Engineering students (Amandeep Varia, Izzaty Hisham Badrol, Stefani Trepekli, Jessi Lui, Radha Patel and Hanna Mahal) presented their work on the development of a blended biofuel. Finally, students from across the faculty—Mujavid Bukhari, Hatem Chahine, Violet (Xianrong) Liu, Harrison (Chenxu) Zhang, Muhammad Osama, Arzu Imanli and Diaa Abdelbary—came together to create a video explaining their concept, WaveMotion, which aims to integrate sustainable solar energy into Singapore’s energy grid.
Among the prizes up for grabs at the event, first-year students were hoping to get their hands on the award for Best Explanatory Video. A runner-up video, by Rohan Muirhead, described the process of nuclear fission by using the handiest available analog of atomic nuclei: marshmallows! In another of the videos that came close, Danielle Luxton took a moment to learn about moments. Videos from other finalists (Julien Nahum, Fania Christodoulides, Quentin Lau and Ming-Wei Wei) covered a range of topics, including nuclear fusion, the Doppler effect and Newton’s laws. The winning video, by Fania Christodoulides, concisely and compellingly explains catalysts: what they are, how they work and where they’re useful.
Explanatory Video Winner: Fania Christodoulides
Technical presentations covering a broad cross-section of engineering were also judged at the event. Alessandro Scaglia, a mechanical engineer, was awarded Best Technical Communicator for his presentation, in which he discussed the development of competing transparent solar panels and their potential to become ubiquitous as a future energy source. Jenny Luo—another mechanical engineer—won the award for Best Technical Presentation for her coverage of the potential for 3D bioprinting to overcome the shortfall of transplantable organs. Presentations were also given on oncolytic viruses (by Ahmed Salem), the Google autonomous car (by Desislava Koleva), reducing the aviation industry’s negative environmental impact (by Danielle Luxton) and the impact that self-driving cars may have on our future (by Zheng Chuah).
Best Technical Communicator: Alessandro Scaglia
Best Technical Presentation: Jenny Luo
Historically, it has been the case that academics and students working in different departments operate independently from one another. Indeed, researchers working within the same field are often compartmentalised by specialism, creating voids that exist even within departments. As a student at such a university, this separation is visible. Students of different disciplines rarely share classes and lecturers largely work with specialists in their respective fields. This environment creates a status quo in which communication between these spheres isn’t explicitly encouraged or made room for. As a result, the sharing of ideas, skills and knowledge is made more difficult.
UCL is hoping to change this. Engineering comprises a wide range of fields and possible applications—from creating operating systems to inventing biomedical devices, and from building bridges to developing solar farms—and expertise is an absolutely vital component for the ongoing development of tools that will help to create a more sustainable future. However, the IEP is working to develop graduates who are also able to understand the relevance of their skills in a wider context, and to explain their work in terms that a range of people, with different levels of expertise (e.g., funding bodies, project leaders, and consumers), can understand. Dr. Rhys Morgan, a director at the Royal Academy of Engineering and one of the judges of the event, believes in the importance of this. “As the future engineers of our country and ambassadors for engineering, to be able to communicate is very important,” he said, particularly highlighting the importance of getting messages across to the younger generation.
As the awards show illustrated, the IEP enables students to work cooperatively on projects that require a spectrum of abilities. By working alongside others from a wide range disciplines, students are encouraged to seek advice from one another and to see another perspective. The Chemical Engineering students spoke to the efficacy of this approach in their presentation. “Working with different teams gave us insight into the different ways people work and how we can best work with them.” Caroline Samberger (a technical adviser at KBR, and a judge for the competition) echoed this, saying that in her line of work—oil and gas—it is vital that everyone in the team (i.e., the piping, mechanical and civil engineers) understand each other in order for the final design to be successful.
To make a change in the world, then—particularly in the field of engineering—you need more than just the ability to operate within the bubble of your own discipline, among other people that work within the same narrow scope as you do. Dr. Sunny Bains, Editorial Director of ENGins and a Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL, highlights the importance of this in relation to helping students get their own ideas across. “The most challenging thing to teach both students and professional engineers is that it is the audience that matters. Communication is not about showing off everything you know, but finding out what the person reading or listening needs or wants to know, and then explaining it in a way they can understand.”
The IEP also hope to foster the development of new ideas by encouraging students to take minors in subjects that are at the periphery of their field, or perhaps not generally thought to be relevant. ENGins, another UCL project involved with the showcase, operates in a similar vein: it developed to enable students and academics to learn about research that may interest them from a range of different sectors. By tailoring an individual feed that matches their own area of focus, users are looped into news about research and developments that may not otherwise have been on their radar. The website also operates as a portal for undergraduates who may be overwhelmed by the technical language of published papers to learn about the latest research, thereby encouraging them to become engaged earlier.
At the end of the evening, Dr. Jon Machtynger (an executive IT specialist at IBM, who was also a judge) again affirmed the importance for engineers to become great communicators. “It isn’t often good enough for you to be excellent at physics and maths—to be able to change the world, you have to be able to compel someone to buy into your vision, and to be seen to be awesome and compelling. And we saw quite a lot of that today,” he said.
To encourage an ethical and environmentally sustainable future, it is vital that young engineers are encouraged to engage with the world beyond their own textbook. Programmes like the one at UCL may be key to achieving this.