Royal Academy awards celebrate engineering pioneers

Engineers behind innovations in fields ranging from polymer research to medical devices have been honoured with a series of awards from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

royal academy awards winners
Sorin Popa, CEO of Pathfinder Medical, winner of the Sir George Macfarlane medal

Amongst the winners of the academy’s annual array of trophies are Professor Dame Julia Higgins  – a senior research fellow at Imperial College London – who has received the Sir Frank Whittle Medal for her sustained excellence in designing, analysing and modifying polymer materials.

Prof Higgins is internationally recognised as one of the preeminent polymer engineers of her generation, and her work has provided some of the tools to help design processes and control properties for these difficult to mix materials.  Her work is also very relevant to the current problems of recycling plastics and why so much effort has been put into separating the different plastic materials in our waste bins.

The awards also honour the contributions made by engineers nearer the start of their careers, and this year’s Sir George Macfarlane Medal – a trophy established to celebrate just that – went to Sorin Popa, CEO of Pathfinder Medical, for the development of  a novel device that allows haemodialysis and even arterial bypasses to be performed without invasive surgery.

The awards also single out some of the UK’s most exciting and impressive engineering projects.

A team from Reaction Engines, led by Dr Helen Webber, won the Colin Campbell Mitchell Award for its successful completion of high-temperature tests of a unique precooler system for the SABRE engine project.

This technology hybrid jet/rocket engine is designed to power a single-stage fully reusable launch vehicle able to take off and land horizontally on an airfield, and could be a key breakthrough in making space travel more affordable and could also have important applications closer to Earth.

The Queensferry crossing – Scotland’s biggest 21st Century infrastructure project

Meanwhile, the academy’s Major Project Award went to the team behind the Queensferry Crossing – the 2.7 km long three-tower cable-stayed road bridge (the longest of its kind in the world) which, since it opened in 2017 has carried traffic across the Firth of Forth between Edinburgh and Fife.

A full list of this year’s winners is in the box below.

Commenting on this year’s winners, the chair of the Academy’s Awards Committee Professor Raffaella Ocone said: “Engineering underpins our daily lives, and these awards acknowledge and celebrate engineers and engineering achievements that are often hidden from public view. These engineers help to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges in fields spanning medical, civil, digital, and materials, and deserve to be celebrated for the work they do.”

Full list of the RAE’s 2020 awards winners

President’s Medal

Dervilla Mitchell CBE FREng, UKIMEA Chair, Arup

Prince Philip Medal

Bob Stuart, Founder, MQA Ltd

Silver Medals

Dr Marko Bacic, Engineering Associate Fellow – Control Systems & Gas Turbine Functionality, Rolls-Royce
Michael Bronstein, Chair in Machine Learning and Pattern Recognition, Imperial College London & Head of Graph Learning Research, Twitter
Esther Rodriguez-Villegas, Professor of Low Power Electronics, Imperial College London
Jamie Shotton, Partner Director of Science, Microsoft

Colin Campbell Mitchell Award

The team from Reaction Engines for the hot heat exchanger test programme for the SABRE engine

Rooke Award, awarded for the public promotion of engineering

Susan Scurlock MBE, CEO and Founder, Primary Engineer

Major Project Award

For the Queensferry Crossing: Iain Murray, Managing Director BEAR Scotland, Jacobs; Peter Curran, Project Director, Ramboll; Mike Glover OBE FREng and Richard Hornby, Directors, Arup; and Lawrence Shackman, Head of Rail Projects, Transport Scotland

Sir Frank Whittle Medal, awarded for outstanding and sustained achievement in any engineering discipline

Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FREng FRS, Senior Research Fellow, Imperial College London

Sir George Macfarlane Medal, awarded to a UK engineer who has demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career

Sorin Popa, CEO, Pathfinder Medical

RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineers of the Year

Andrea De Luca, CEO, Flusso
Dr Richard Colchester, Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow, University College London
Sorin Popa, CEO, Pathfinder Medical
Dr Boyang Shen, Research Fellow, University of Cambridge
Amy Wright, Senior Civil Infrastructure Engineer, Design ID