University of Sheffield engineer honoured for inspirational teaching and research

  • A nuclear engineer from the University of Sheffield has been honoured for her dedication to teaching and research
  • Dr Claire Corkhill has won the Pam Liversidge OBE Award for Engineering at the 2020 Inspirational Women of Sheffield Awards
  • Awards recognise prominent women who have made a difference to the lives of others through fields such as engineering, entertainment, science and sport
  • Maria de Souza from the University's Partnerships and Regional Engagement Team, who has played a fundamental role in bringing the UK's biggest literary festival to Sheffield, has also been honoured with the Sarah Nulty Award for Creativity

Dr Claire Corkhill stood in her lab

An inspirational engineer from the University of Sheffield has been honoured for her dedication to nuclear engineering and using her teaching and research to make a difference to the lives of others.

Dr Claire Corkhill, from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has won the Pam Liversidge OBE Award for Engineering at the 2020 Inspirational Women of Sheffield Awards.

Hosted by local media outlet the Sheffield Star, the Inspirational Women of Sheffield Awards are an opportunity for the public to nominate prominent women who have made a difference to the lives of others. There were 12 award categories that included engineering, entertainment, science and sport.

Dr Corkhill, an EPSRC Early Career Research Fellow, was recognised by the awards for her high quality research into nuclear waste. The University of Sheffield engineer examines methods for the long-term safe disposal of radioactive waste.

It was her work in reproducing the materials formed when the Fukushima nuclear power plant melted down that supported her win. This is in addition to being recognised at a government level where she sits on HM Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), working with experts to provide scrutiny and recommendations on the management and disposal of nuclear waste in the UK.

Dr Corkhill was also honoured for her passion for equality, having previously been instrumental in increasing the numbers of students studying Material Science at the University, and the proportion of females studying in the department. She is renowned at the institution for providing outstanding professional and personal support to both students and those who she directly supervises.

On winning the award, Dr Corkhill said: “Receiving the nomination for this award was a complete surprise, and I am extremely grateful that the judges felt that my research in nuclear engineering was worthy.

“At the very heart of any successful engineering accomplishment are the people who work together, and support each other, through each problem that requires solving. I am deeply proud of the team of young nuclear scientists and engineers, including a number of highly talented women, with whom I work to undertake research in support of the safe disposal of 70 years' worth of nuclear waste. I would like to dedicate this award to them, for their relentless enthusiasm when rising to new research challenges, for their commitment to the highest standards of research and for supporting me always without hesitation.

“When I was younger, I never thought I would be 'good enough' to be an engineer. I don't think of myself as particularly smart and, when it comes to maths, I'm certainly no Ada Lovelace. But I would like to encourage young women, particularly those studying sciences at school, to see engineers not only as people who invent, design, analyse and manufacture, but as people who also use their creative skills to shape people and ideas to solve the big challenges we face in society today and in the future.”

Dr Claire Corkhill and her research team

Dr Corkhill was unable to attend the awards as she was in the US performing nuclear waste engineering experiments, however her PhD students James Mansfield – who nominated Claire – and Hannah Smith accepted the award on her behalf.

James said: “Claire’s dedication and clear talent for explaining complex concepts to the public in an easy to digest, jargon-free, manner clearly makes her a worthy winner for this award.”

Among her fellow nominees were Professor Elizabeth Cross, EPSRC Innovation Fellow from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Hemanshi Galaiya, 1st Class Honours Chemical and Biological Engineering alumna, who are both highly commended and accomplished women in their field.

Aside from Dr Corkhill’s award, Maria de Souza from the University’s Partnerships and Regional Engagement Team has also been honoured for her inspiring dedication to creativity in Sheffield.

Maria has played a fundamental part in bringing the UK’s largest literary festival – Off the Shelf – to the city and creating its innovative, diverse, eclectic programme.

Maria has been involved in the festival for 28 of its 29 years from when it it started in 1991. She has played an instrumental role in bringing some of the biggest names in literature and the arts to Sheffield from Hilary Mantel and Stephen Fry to Benjamin Zephaniah and John Lydon. Off the Shelf has always been known for its creative approach to programming. Nick Hornby was persuaded to come when Maria sent him a valentine with an Arsenal Subbuteo player stuck to the front, (Hornby is of course a lifelong Arsenal supporter), signed 'from a city full of admirers'. Hornby admitted he couldn't resist coming to the festival once he'd received the card.

Maria was nominated for the award by Akeem Balogun, a long time volunteer with the festival. Now 28 and a writer, Akeem is releasing his first short story collection in October 2020 which, fittingly, Off the Shelf will be launching at its festival this year.

The festival has grown year after year and is now established as one of the highlights of the cultural calendar both in Sheffield and across the UK, thanks to the dedication of Maria and the team, in particular Lesley Webster who has been involved in Off the Shelf from its very beginning and has worked with Maria for more than 30 years.

Maria was presented with the Sarah Nulty Award for Creativity at the awards ceremony which coincided with International Women’s Day.

Maria de Souza with Lesley Webster and Akeem Balogun

Maria said: "It was an honour to win this award and I feel privileged to work on the Off the Shelf Festival. I am delighted that the festival is so well loved and enjoyed by readers in this city, the region and the country.

"It's wonderful that we can support local writers and groups and give a platform to new and emerging talent. It's also fantastic contributing to making Sheffield an exciting and vibrant place to live, bringing some of the best writers, thinkers and creative minds here.

"I am also very proud of the public art featuring text the festival has created that have become permanent beautiful features of our city - from Andrew Motion's poem on the walkway from the station to Jarvis Cocker's words on the side of student flats off London Road. I'm thrilled to have won the award but I'm only as good as the rest of the team of women I work with and they are all inspirational too!"

Additional information

Engineering at the University of Sheffield

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

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Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

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For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852