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Annual Higginson Lecture 2018 - 'From Silent Aircraft to Noisy Engineers'

(6 August 2018)

The prestigious 2018 Annual Higginson Lecture, organised by the Department of Engineering, will take place on Monday, 15 October, 6pm-7pm, in the Arnold Wolfendale Lecture Theatre, Calman Learning Centre. Each year a leading engineer is selected to make a presentation, from their own perspective, on a topical issue in engineering. This year, the lecture will be given by Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Cambridge. Refreshments will be served from 5.30pm.

The series was set up in recognition of Sir Gordon Robert Higginson DL DEng FREng, who in 1965 was appointed to a chair in Civil Engineering in what is now the Department of Engineering.

Sir Gordon gave the inaugural lecture himself in 1997. He then attended all of the lectures until 2009, 2 years before his death.

As a student, Ann Dowling was inspired to a career in engineering and aeroacoustics by a then topical problem of the noise generated by Concorde, the British/French supersonic passenger aircraft. Her research opened the door to collaborations with the UK defence agency on improving the signal-to-noise ratio of submarines’ sonar systems, with car and tyre manufacturers on tyre-road interaction, and with Rolls-Royce and the power industry on low emission combustion and active and adaptive combustion control. She came back to aeroacoustics to lead the Silent Aircraft Initiative, a large-scale collaborative project between Cambridge and MIT with an ambitious goal and an innovative organisational structure, which has developed a concept aircraft which could take 215 passengers from London to Los Angeles with less fuel and significantly reduced noise levels.

In this talk, Ann will summarise her research at the interface of academia and business and discuss how the lessons she learnt through it have influenced her priorities as President of the UK Royal Academy of Engineering. These include the vital importance of the interface between academia and business and the huge contribution better models of collaboration can make to the outcome of joint research; the role that grand challenges can play as drivers of transformative research; the need for more and better international research co-operation to meet our shared challenges; the requirement for engineers to do more to showcase the impact of their work; and the strong conviction that anyone, no matter what their gender, social or ethnic background, should be able to follow their passion into an engineering career.

Speaker Biography:

Ann Dowling is President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and is also a Deputy Vice Chancellor and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cambridge, where she was Head of the Department of Engineering 2009-14. Professor Dowling’s research is on efficient, low emission combustion for aero and industrial gas turbines and low noise vehicles, especially aircraft and cars. She led the Silent Aircraft Initiative, a research collaboration between Cambridge and MIT, and ran the University Gas Turbine Partnership with Rolls-Royce 2001-14. She has held visiting posts at MIT and at Caltech. 

Ann is a Fellow of the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and is a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Engineering and of the French Academy of Sciences. She is a member of the Prime-Minister’s Council for Science and Technology and a non-executive director of BP plc.

She was appointed CBE for services to Mechanical Engineering in 2002, DBE for services to Science in 2007 and was appointed to the Order of Merit by the Queen in December 2015.

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