“I'm an ambitious, stubborn bookworm who aspires to see the Earth from space,” remarks The University of Sheffield's Claire Corkhill.
Claire was appointed as the University of Sheffield’s Vice Chancellor's Fellow in March 2014, undertaking a project to enhance the safety of nuclear waste disposal.
“In the UK, we have enough nuclear waste to half-fill Wembley stadium. This material is extremely radioactive and hazardous, and will be for more than 10,000 years. “I'm developing new types of materials that are long-lived, extremely durable and radiation-resistant, so we can engineer safe waste disposal options,” explains Claire.
The University of Sheffield is a hub for talented females in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) professions. “I'm in the very lucky position to work at the interface between science and engineering. This means that I can use my insatiable desire to find out how and why processes occur (that’s the science bit) and use the knowledge I have gained through scientific analysis to solve challenging problems through creativity and innovative solutions (that’s the engineering bit). I also find it extremely satisfying to work with younger scientists and engineers; my academic training is in geology, so while I try and teach my team new skills, I also learn a lot from them.”
The importance of strong role models
Claire became interested in how the earth works listening to her Grandfather, a civil engineer, recount stories working on buildings on the bank of the river Thames in London. “He would explain how deep the clay was, and how far down you had to drill to reach the rock - this got me interested in the earth and how it all works,” says Claire.
Claire went on to study geology at the University of Manchester. “I fell in love with the complexity of minerals and the processes used to extract the precious metals from within them, so undertook a PhD to try and understand how arsenic was leached from mine waste minerals into the environment. When I came to the University of Sheffield in 2010, I began to work on radioactive minerals and materials, which led me to the fascinating topic of nuclear waste. Early in my career, it was all about how to dissolve minerals, now it’s all about how to build better materials.”
While Claire was inspired by her Grandfather to consider a career in engineering, she recognises there isn't enough information out there for young women considering their options. “I think engineering is often misrepresented in the media and in society - it’s not just the stereotypical man in a suit or overalls. If you’re a problem solver, then you’re an engineer - male or female - it’s really that simple. So I would say, ignore the stereotypes and do what you enjoy.”
The University of Sheffield offers a supportive environment and excellent employment practice for women working in science, engineering and technology in higher education and research - both in academic and operational roles. Research more here about the excellent career opportunities available.
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