Interview with Prof Danielle George

We chat with Prof Danielle George about her 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES 'Sparks will fly: How to hack your home'.

  • Prof Danielle George

    Prof Danielle George 

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson

Who are you, what’s your background?

I work for The University of Manchester as an Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and as Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering working in the Microwave and Communications Systems research group. My first degree was in Astrophysics, followed by a Masters in Radio Astronomy at The Victoria University of Manchester and then a PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with UMIST. I was a Senior Electrical Engineer at Jodrell Bank Observatory until 2006 and then I took up a lectureship post in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

I’m the middle of three sisters and I grew up in Fenham, a suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne where my parents still live, and I went to Kenton School.

When did you first become interested in science and engineering?

When I was eight years old I was given a telescope by my parents and I was fascinated – I would get up in the middle of the night to watch lunar eclipses. It was the first time I realised how mathematics and physics could be used in a practical and useful way and I knew immediately that this kind of hands-on investigation was what I wanted to do in life.

Can you tell us about your research?

My research at The University of Manchester involves designing, testing and constructing instrumentation used in radio frequency and microwave communications systems. What this means is that I help to design systems and devices that can transmit and receive huge volumes of information using radio waves, which is how mobile phones operate, or the much shorter microwaves, which is how satellite and deep space communications work. Engineers in this field are always looking for ways to adapt and improve these systems and devices, for example, can they operate wirelessly? Can they operate efficiently over long periods with minimal energy expenditure? Can we make them more compact, lighter or cheaper to make?

One of the things I love most about my research is the extraordinary variety of ways it can be applied to solve real life problems and challenges. For example, my speciality is working on ultra low noise receivers for Space and Aerospace applications and I am the UK lead for amplifiers in the $1B astronomical instrument, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the $1B Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope. I’ve worked on highly sensitive instrumentation for NASA physicists searching for the fundamental answers to the universe but I’ve also worked with agriculturists to develop devices to accurately measure usage of one of the world’s most precious resources, water, and with Rolls Royce on its industrial gas turbine engines. And this is only scratching the surface of the potential this field of work holds for all industries!

How do you feel about presenting the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES?

When I first received an email asking if I might be interested in presenting the lectures I thought it must have been sent to me by mistake so I ignored it. But then I received a second email a few days later which convinced me that maybe it really was a genuine request and not spam after all! After I submitted my proposal and did a screen test, I became glued to my mobile for days hoping to receive a call with good news. I was over the moon when I found out I had been chosen! Now that the preparation is well underway I am getting even more excited.  

Michael Faraday’s findings in the field of electromagnetism nearly 200 years ago are integral to my field of work today, so I’m honoured to have the opportunity to present in the very same lecture theatre he stood in and to demonstrate how his discoveries are still of fundamental importance to the cutting-edge research taking place in engineering today. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to highlight to such a large audience how ingenious, creative and innovative engineering can be and to encourage and inspire more young people to take up this exciting and challenging profession.

What will the 2014 CHRISTMAS LECTURES be about?

In 'Sparks will fly: How to hack your home', we will take three great British inventions – the light bulb which was developed by Geordie inventor Joseph Swan, the telephone by Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell and a motor which was first demonstrated by the Royal Institution’s very own Michael Faraday in 1822 – and show viewers how to adapt, transform and ‘hack’ them to do extraordinary things. It’s tinkering for the twenty-first century, using the full array of cutting edge devices that we can lay our hands on: 3D printers, new materials, online collaboration and controlling devices through coding. I want to use the lectures to announce the new rules of invention.

What would you like viewers to take away from the lectures?

Today’s generation of young people are in a truly unique position. They have never been more equipped to be creative and innovative. I want young people to realise that they have the power to change the world from their own bedroom, kitchen table or garden shed. If we all take control of the technology around us and think creatively, then solving some of the world’s greatest challenges is only a small step away. I believe everyone has the potential to be an inventor!

Follow Danielle on Twitter at @EngineerDG and search for #xmaslectures for all the latest news and behind the scenes updates.

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