One of the great things about my research is that I can explain it to anybody I meet.

Meet Dr Rachael Elder, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Rachael is also Faculty Director of Women in Engineering.


Watch: Our interview with Rachael

When I was at school, I always loved Maths, Chemistry and some bits of Physics. So I knew I wanted to do something Science-y when I went to University. Both my parents are Scientists and Engineers so I think they both really inspired me at home. So when I went to Uni, I started studying Natural Sciences and then I moved into Chemical Engineering in the second year as I realised what I enjoyed the most was the application of the science and not just the science itself.

After I graduated I had a year living in Sweden not doing engineering and I missed it. So I decided to come back and study a PhD - that was when I first came to Sheffield. My PhD looked at Hydrogen as an alternative fuel - this really appealed to me as it had a real-life application that I could explain to people what I was doing. Since then my research has developed into Carbon Dioxide utilisation. I’m looking a different thermochemical processes for how we recycle carbon dioxide to turn it into fuel and make it a useful product.

One of the great things about my research is that I can explain it to anybody I meet. Everyone understands that Carbon Dioxide is a problem in the atmosphere with global warming and greenhouse gases. If we can actually take that Carbon Dioxide, recycle it, produce fuel from it, then when you burn that fuel you produce Carbon Dioxide again creating a neutral cycle. In order to do it you need quite a lot of energy and so we’re looking at how you harness renewable energy to then make this neutral carbon cycle.

Since I became a Senior Lecturer just over a year ago, I also took on the Faculty Directorship for Women in Engineering. We have a big programme of activity within the Faculty to try and encourage more women into engineering. Our key goal is to be the first choice for women to study and to work in engineering in the UK. We do a lot of outreach work with primary and secondary school children to explain what engineering is. There’s a lot of myths out there - like the engineer is the guy who comes to fix the boiler when it breaks down, and actually engineering is so much more than that. There’s so much problem solving and real-world challenges that can only be solved by engineers.

We’re also looking at how we can get more female academics and researchers to come and work at the University to provide excellent role models for our students and to encourage them to strive to be the best that they can be.