Royal Academy of Engineering selects first female president

The Royal Academy of Engineering is set to appoint its first female president after nominating Cambridge University’s Prof Dame Anne Dowling.

Dowling, who is head of engineering at Cambridge and an expert in combustion and acoustics, will now go through the formal election process by Academy fellows and, as the only nominated candidate, will likely take up the post in September for a five-year term.

A mathematician and mechanical engineer by background, Dowling leads research on efficient, low emission combustion for aero and industrial gas turbines and low noise vehicles, particularly aircraft and cars. Last year, she was nominated as one of the 100 most powerful women in the country by BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour.

In 2006, she led the Cambridge MIT Silent Aircraft project, which published designs for an innovative ‘single-wing’ aircraft, the SAX-40, with the aim of raising aerospace industry aspirations.

She also chaired the 2004 Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering report Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties, published in 2004, which highlighted the need for responsible regulation and research around the use of nanomaterials.

In a statement, Dowling said she was ‘honoured to be nominated … at a crucial time when it is generally acknowledged that many more engineers will be required to help the country benefit from the knowledge economy of the future’.

Dowling began her career studying for a PhD in engineering acoustics with Prof John Ffowcs Williams, who led pioneering noise-reduction research on Concorde. She became a Cambridge research fellow in 1977 and the university’s first female engineering professor in 1993.

Following visiting research posts at MIT in 1999 and Caltech in 2001, she has become a non-executive director of BP and a panel chair for the Research Excellence Framework.

She received a CBE for services to mechanical engineering in 2002 and became a Dame in for services to science. In 2011, she was awarded a UK Resource Centre award for her ‘Inspiration and Leadership in Academia and Research’.

Current Academy president Sir John Parker said in a statement: ‘Her wide research and policy expertise and her leadership of the engineering department of one of the world’s top universities will be a great asset to the Academy in the years to come.’

You can read Dame Ann’s thoughts on the need for more women in engineering in our 2011 feature.