University of Sheffield chemical engineering postgraduate student Amber Keegan has been awarded this year’s Ashok Kumar Fellowship and as part of the scheme, will work alongside advisers in the Houses of Parliament to inform the work of MPs and Peers.
Jointly funded by Middlesbrough-based Materials Processing Institute and the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), the fellowship was established in memory of Ashok Kumar, the former Teesside MP.
Amber is completing a PhD in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at the university, where she is researching the formation pathway of bio-inspired silica, a method of producing silica nanomaterial which is more sustainable than current methods of manufacture.
The Fellowship scheme is open to engineers who have completed a degree at undergraduate Masters level or above, or have equivalent industry experience. It funds a three-month placement with the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), where the post-holder will produce a briefing or contribute to an area of public policy related to science and engineering.
Amber said: “I am so excited to be awarded the Ashok Kumar Fellowship – I literally jumped for joy! My motivation for applying for the Fellowship was the same for pursuing chemical engineering initially; I wanted to use my scientific and engineering research to help solve real-world issues. I was born in Scunthorpe, a steel town, so the dedication Ashok Kumar had for steel research and promotion of chemical engineer makes the award so special.
“Policy, like engineering, is a method by which we can take scientific and engineering advances and use them to improve people’s lives. This Fellowship will be a great opportunity to apply skills I have learned from my chemical engineering studies and research, like technical understanding and problem-solving, to a completely new area.”
Chris McDonald, Chief Executive of the Materials Processing Institute, said: “Amber is a deserving recipient of the Fellowship, having displayed a passion and an undoubted ability to contribute to the transformation of this country’s industrial landscape.
“Historically, STEM careers have been male dominated, so it’s fantastic to see Amber setting an example to other women and people from diverse backgrounds that science and engineering is open to all and is a hugely rewarding career.”
Alexandra Meldrum, IChemE Vice President Learned Society, said: “Amber really impressed us with her aptitude and experience of effectively, succinctly and impartially communicating complex science and engineering research to different audiences. Her chemical engineering research, skills and her enthusiasm for this Fellowship will stand her in great stead during her time with policy makers and her future career, whether that be in academia, industry, or policy.
“I look forward to learning from her when she shares her knowledge and experience of the Ashok Kumar Fellowship with IChemE members and the wider engineering profession in due course.”
Alongside her chemical engineering studies, Amber has written for Absolute Zero, a Sheffield-based STEM magazine for primary school children and has also volunteered at Kyniska Advocacy, an organisation advocating for progressive policies in women’s sport.
She is also committed to pursuing her ambition to swim at international level. In 2018 she was hit by a car while cycling to lectures and suffered a torn hamstring and shoulder injury, resulting in her missing the Commonwealth Games trials.
However, it was a measure of her determination that she quickly returned to training and won multiple golds in the British University and College Sport races for the University of Sheffield.
Dr Kumar, who was Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, was the only chemical engineer serving in Parliament at the time of his sudden death in 2010 at the age of 53.
The Ashok Kumar Fellowship was launched shortly afterwards. Dr Kumar, who was a Fellow of IChemE, worked as a research scientist for British Steel Corporation, a forerunner of the Materials Processing Institute, from 1985 to 1997.