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Our inspiring female engineers leading the way for progress

2 March 2018
Meet our female leaders making engineering breakthroughs
International Women’s Day on 8 March is a chance to celebrate the achievements of women and discuss what further steps can be taken to press for progress in gender equality.

Female researchers and academics at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies are at the top of their fields, advancing technologies and research breakthroughs to make people’s lives better, as well as fostering and nurturing female talent in their fields.

Here are just a few of the many inspiring women in engineering and IT shaping our future.

Professor Branka Vucetic

ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of the Centre of Excellence for IoT and Telecommunications

Professor Branka Vucetic, Laureate Professor from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, researches wireless communications, digital communication theory and error control coding. In particular she looks at wireless networks for the Internet of Things, where devices are connected through the internet, such as smart phones, ATMs, washing machines, headphones and wearable devices.

The demands for wireless technologies that can carry big data in a reliable and secure way continues to grow. Professor Vucetic is working on developing a theoretical framework and advanced signal processing and network protocols for mmWave systems, a higher frequency band which could lead to next revolution in wireless communications.

In the global telecommunication industry women account for less than 40% of the workforce, however Professor Vucetic believes greater gender parity is essential.

“Research has revealed that companies with a gender-diverse workforce are better able to innovate and outperform competition. To address this, we need more programs by companies, universities and governments which attract and promote female talent in STEMM (Science Technology Engineering Math and Medicine) and in particular telecommunications.

“In the future many jobs in administration, manufacturing and mining will be lost to automation, however there will be a growing demand for STEMM skills. It’s an exciting field with great career prospects.”

Professor Hala Zreiqat

Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Head of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Research Unit

Millions of people around the world suffer bone loss due to injury, infection, disease or abnormal skeletal development, and treatment often requires the regeneration of new bone. As each patient has a limited amount of bone available for grafting, the demand for synthetic bone substitutes is high.

Through her biomedical engineering research, Professor Hala Zreiqat has developed a unique ceramic material that acts as a scaffold for the body to use to regenerate new bone and which gradually degrades as it is replaced by natural bone. The bone substitute resembles the architecture, strength and porosity of natural bone. It’s strong enough to withstand the weight of a person and contains pores that allow blood and nutrients to flow through.

With a long list of fellowships, awards and accolades, including being named the 2018 NSW Premier's Woman of the Year, Professor Zreiqat is an inspiring female engineer who is passionate about attracting women to STEMM, as well as promoting inclusion and diversity in academia through the IDEAL society network.

Professor Zreiqat believes we need a greater number of women in key leadership and policy roles. “I would like to see more women on boards contributing to STEMM decisions. I would also like to see greater public recognition of women for their outstanding achievements.

“I am a strong believer in mentoring at all levels. I often visit high schools to talk to students about engineering and share my experiences with them. Seeing what other women in STEMM have achieved first-hand is important.”

Professor Xiaoke Yi

SOAR Fellow
QEII Fellow
Institute of Photonics and Optical Science
School of Electrical and Information Engineering

Professor Xiaoke Yi’s research in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering focuses on nanophotonics, which is the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, and also integrated microwave photonics, where radio frequency signals are processed using photonic techniques.

This research has the potential to lead to breakthroughs that will meet our ever-increasing demand for information and communication systems that can process high-frequency and bandwidth signals at lightning speed. Her work is likely to bring about improved changes in fields like communications, defence and healthcare delivery.

Professor Yi’s research in photonic signal processing and sensing has led to the recent development of a revolutionary breath testing device that detects deadly ketones for diabetic patents, potentially putting an end to the invasive finger prick blood test.

Like Professor Zreiqat, Professor Yi believes that in order for more women to pursue careers in engineering there needs to be a greater amount of women in leadership positions. “This would be a clear message to women that the field is wide open to them.”

For women with an interest in STEM, Professor Yi encourages them “to not be afraid to try something new. Deliberately jump out your comfort zone and exploring new areas; you’re bound to find some nice surprises.”

Professor Fariba Dehghani

Director of ARC Food Processing Training Centre
Director of Bioengineering Research
School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Professor Fariba Dehghani leads a multidisciplinary bioengineering research team comprising engineers, scientists, clinicians and molecular biologists focused on developing technologies for nutritional food products and biomaterials, with emphasis on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Last year, Professor Dehghani was the recipient of the Award of Excellence in Chemical Engineering Research. Her approach to research and innovation is based on developing pragmatic, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable solutions to a range of issues, from reducing the impact of waste on the planet, to developing materials for the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and infections.

She has been highly commended at a global level for her chemical engineering research to improve people’s lives. This includes leading research into food waste such as orange peels as a natural cancer inhibitor.

Having established collaborations within the biotech, biomed and food industries and acquired funding from national and international funding agencies, Professor Fariba’s research has also led to the establishment of a start-up in 2015 that received $1.5M in funding from a private investor.

Professor Dehghani would like young women who are aspiring to pursue a career in STEMM to "be brave, and have the self-confidence to pursue a successful career in STEMM." She believes that more women entering the STEMM industries can only have a positive effect. "It will open an avenue to educate a new generation of women to understand they can do as good as well as men in this career, if not better. More women will lead to a larger impact, with a stronger collective and supportive voice in the industry."

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