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Female metallurgist from University of Leicester tkaes up Presidency of Engineering Professors

Engineering Professors Council : 12 April, 2011  (Company News)
Professor Helen Atkinson FREng, Head of the Mechanics of Materials Group in the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester, will be the first ever woman to become President of the Engineering Professors
Helen Atkinson is an internationally renowned engineer in the area of metallurgy with an outstanding record of achievement in industrially relevant research in the area of metals technology and manufacture.

In 2010 she was named as one of the UK Resource Centre’s Women of Outstanding Achievement for her leadership and inspiration in the fields of Science, Engineering and Technology (SET).

She is passionate about engineering education and its quality, and works hard to encourage more women into a profession that is traditionally seen as a man’s world.

She commented: “Engineering is a wonderful career for women to go into, with good earning power and potential for career progression. Engineering is behind everything our life depends on – hospital equipment, mobile phones, laptop computers and the systems that run buildings and save energy.

“We can’t function as a society without engineering and a lot of women don’t realise how intensely creative it is and how much it’s a people-orientated career.”
A mother of three, her own career amply demonstrates that it is possible to combine family responsibilities with work as an engineer and still reach the top of the profession.

In 2007 Atkinson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, one of only 29 women among more than 1400 men. She is also a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Fellow of the Institution of Materials, Minerals and Mining.

Speaking of her delight at being elected President of the EPC, Professor Atkinson commented: “I feel incredibly honoured and privileged to be elected to serve for two years as President of the EPC at a critical time for engineering in higher education in the UK.”

The out-going President, Professor Barry Clarke of the University of Leeds commented: “I am very pleased to be passing on the baton of leading the Engineering Professors Council to Professor Helen Atkinson. Not only will she be the first women President since the EPC was formed over fifty years ago, but Helen is also an eminent engineer who has shown through her work in a variety of sectors that she is true leader of engineering and that leadership is essential in these challenging times.”

Atkinson’s interest in science manifested itself from an early age and she was the first member of her family to go to university. She graduated from Girton College, Cambridge with a first class degree in Metallurgy and Materials Science and then went to work for the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell in Oxfordshire.
Whilst at Harwell, she gained her PhD on the transmission electron microscopy of grain growth in oxide scales from Imperial College of Science and Technology and also acted as technical assistant to the Director for Nuclear Power on strategic business planning.

Atkinson’s first university post was with Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University) where she taught a range of materials courses from access level, OND and HND through to degree level. She subsequently moved to Engineering Materials at Sheffield University where she established a leading reputation in the area of semi-solid processing of metallic alloys.

In 2002 she was appointed to a Chair in Metals Processing in the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester and is currently the Head of the Mechanics of Materials Research Group.

In 2007 she led a national study on behalf of the Engineering Professors’ Council and the then Engineering Technology Board on the costs of undergraduate engineering education which gained wide publicity. The study showed that there was increasing financial pressure on engineering university departments across the UK, with the pressure being redoubled by the need for departments to constantly innovate to ensure that what engineers are teaching is fully up to date with evolving technology and social and environmental needs.

As a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Atkinson was one of only 29 women out of just over 1400 men when she was elected in 2007. She is also a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Fellow of the Institution of Materials, Minerals and Mining.
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