Thursday, February 20 is Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day. It's a day with two main goals.
First to let young girls know that they belong as future engineers as much as boys do. And second? To educate everyone about what it is that an engineer actually does!
To help us understand, we interviewed Samantha Stuart. She's a 23-year-old Canadian engineer-in-training who is also an Ambassador for the 2020 Canada-Wide Science Fair, happening May 13 – 15, 2020, in Edmonton. She had a lot to say about engineering and why it matters!
Speaking with Samantha
OWLconnected: If you could describe engineering as simply as possible, you would say…
Samantha Stuart: My favourite definition is:"Engineering is the process of designing the human-made world." Engineering touches quite literally every part of our existence in the human-made world.
OC: Describe what you do at work as an engineer.
SS: I'm a product manager and a materials engineer-in-training at deutraMed Inc. We supply customers with specialty ingredients made of heavy hydrogen (also known as deuterium—it's hydrogen with an extra neutron!).
Engineering takes all kinds of shapes and forms. I create system requirements for new research and development projects based on listening to our customer needs. I also help lead materials engineering investigations to understand our important components—we want to know what they are made of, and how they might work or fail in the future. There are other engineers at my company that spend most of their day designing and simulating new parts on the computer.
OC: Why are you outspoken about being an engineer?
SS: Because many young people grow up with outdated stereotypes of the job. Most of the engineering students I know needed an engineer parent, family friend, or mentor to explain what it is about, and convince them to consider it. The general public are not exposed to the role engineers play in society.
In view of the global challenges on our horizon, I believe it is an engineer's responsibility to put their own story out there! To inspire, mentor, and help bring the next generation up to speed. I even did a talk about it!
OC: 'Materials engineering' does sound super cool—can you talk a little about what happens in that field?
SS: If you're interested in atoms and what they do (which was what drew me in) materials engineering is a fascinating path. It's about designing the human made world from the atomic scale—the smallest parts of our observable world—all the way up to what we see and interact with every day. This includes:
- Making new materials in the lab: such as the conductive polymers in the flexible roll-up OLED TVs released by LG, new metals that can withstand the extreme conditions required to travel into space, or new 3D printed ceramic bone implants!
- Doing a forensic engineering analysis (think CSI Engineering!) to find out why a product failed
- Simulating never-before-seen materials from scratch using advanced codes, machine learning, or quantum computing via Microsoft,
- Improving design so that it doesn't fail in a way that hurts people (literally, roller coaster safety engineering).
OC: Were you always into science, engineering, math, and invention as a young kid?
SS: Not always. I wasn't the type to pull things apart and rebuild them, or get my hands dirty as a young kid. I was very interested in new technologies, animation, and computers. I wanted to be a technical animator at Pixar for many years. (I did grow up reading Chickadee and OWL magazine, however!)
My interest in computers led me to pursue social media-based projects at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in high school, which helped me eventually find my way to engineering. I also had the help of my engineering mentor—my dad, a chemical engineer—who introduced me to the world of engineering and how it worked with my interests in creating new things. It turns out that animation and engineering go together very nicely in the fields of simulation and computer-aided-design!
OC: You won gold at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in 2013 and now you’re an ambassador for the 2020 fair! Tell us about what this means to you.
SS: This is my third time being an Ambassador at the Canada-Wide Science Fair! It is a massive honour to even be invited to the CWSF—and incredibly fun to spend a week with hundreds of other like-minded students from across the country.
I can honestly say that being involved in STEM outreach has changed my life. As a result of my science fair gold medal in high school, I won a full scholarship to study engineering at the University of Toronto (U of T). I figured the best thing I could do was to pay that forward for the next generation by supporting STEM outreach in any way I could.
It is massively fulfilling to help youth discover their passions for STEM and incredibly inspiring to meet people from all edges of the country—from Nunavut to Nova Scotia and BC. It makes you feel a part of something much larger than yourself.
OC: Thursday, February 20 is Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day. How would you let girls know that your field is excited to have them?
SS: I would say Hello, Welcome, and thank goodness you're here! Engineering needs you!
Engineering teams that are both diverse and inclusive are the most productive and innovative. If we, as a society, are going to tackle the challenges in renewable energy, and increasing demands on the Earth's resources, we need as many creative and diverse minds as we can get. Your design is only as good as your team of designers.
Thanks for talking engineering with us, Samantha! So how will you be celebrating Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day, readers? Leave a comment below!