University of Sheffield engineer honoured for inspirational teaching and research

An inspirational engineer from the University of Sheffield has been honoured for her dedication to nuclear engineering and using her teaching and research to make a difference to the lives of others.

Dr Claire Corkhill, from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has won the Pam Liversidge OBE Award for Engineering at the 2020 Inspirational Women of Sheffield Awards.

Hosted by local media outlet the Sheffield Star, the Inspirational Women of Sheffield Awards are an opportunity for the public to nominate prominent women who have made a difference to the lives of others. There were 12 award categories that included engineering, entertainment, science and sport.

Dr Corkhill, an EPSRC Early Career Research Fellow, was recognised by the awards for her high quality research into nuclear waste. The University of Sheffield engineer examines methods for the long-term safe disposal of radioactive waste.

It was her work in reproducing the materials formed when the Fukushima nuclear power plant melted down that supported her win. This is in addition to being recognised at a government level where she sits on HM Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), working with experts to provide scrutiny and recommendations on the management and disposal of nuclear waste in the UK..

Dr Corkhill was also honoured for her passion for equality, having previously been instrumental in increasing the numbers of students studying Material Science at the University, and the proportion of females studying in the department. She is renowned at the institution for providing outstanding professional and personal support to both students and those who she directly supervises.

On winning the award, Dr Corkhill said: “Receiving the nomination for this award was a complete surprise, and I am extremely grateful that the judges felt that my research in nuclear engineering was worthy.

“At the very heart of any successful engineering accomplishment are the people who work together, and support each other, through each problem that requires solving. I am deeply proud of the team of young nuclear scientists and engineers, including a number of highly talented women, with whom I work to undertake research in support of the safe disposal of 70 years’ worth of nuclear waste. I would like to dedicate this award to them, for their relentless enthusiasm when rising to new research challenges, for their commitment to the highest standards of research and for supporting me always without hesitation.

“When I was younger, I never thought I would be ‘good enough’ to be an engineer. I don’t think of myself as particularly smart and, when it comes to maths, I’m certainly no Ada Lovelace. But I would like to encourage young women, particularly those studying sciences at school, to see engineers not only as people who invent, design, analyse and manufacture, but as people who also use their creative skills to shape people and ideas to solve the big challenges we face in society today and in the future.”

Dr Corkhill was unable to attend the awards as she was in the US performing nuclear waste engineering experiments, however her PhD students James Mansfield – who nominated Claire – and Hannah Smith accepted the award on her behalf.

James said: “Claire’s dedication and clear talent for explaining complex concepts to the public in an easy to digest, jargon-free, manner clearly makes her a worthy winner for this award.” 

Among her fellow nominees were Professor Elizabeth Cross, EPSRC Innovation Fellow from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Hemanshi Galaiya, 1st Class Honours Chemical and Biological Engineering alumna, who are both highly commended and accomplished women in their field.

Dr Corkhill is also part of the University of Sheffield Energy Institute, which is finding low-carbon solutions to some of the world’s biggest energy challenges.

The Energy Institute carries out energy research across a wide spectrum of fields, including renewable, nuclear and conventional energy generation, energy storage, energy use and carbon capture, utilisation and storage technology. Its multi- and interdisciplinary research teams work with industry and government on sustainable solutions.

Research into nuclear energy is one of the institute’s strengths, with its academics conducting world leading research to ensure nuclear power can generate electricity safely, securely and sustainably.


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