First woman elected president of Royal Academy of Engineering

16 September 2014
By Tereza Pultarova
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Cambridge University Professor Dame Ann Dowling has been appointed the first female President of the Royal Academy of Engineering

Cambridge University Professor Dame Ann Dowling has been appointed the first female President of the Royal Academy of Engineering

Combustion and acoustics expert Professor Dame Ann Dowling has been elected the first female president of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Succeeding Sir John Parker, who served in the role since 2011, Dame Ann was elected by academy fellows at the 2014 Annual General Meeting last night.  

“Being elected to lead the Royal Academy of Engineering is a great honour,” Dame Ann said. “There is a growing recognition of the vital importance of engineering in addressing the many challenges that face society. But there is much work to be done to ensure that UK engineering is in a position to make its optimal contribution, including the need to address our looming engineering skills gap and crucially to pursue a strategy of efficient and sustainable growth in a rebalanced economy.”

Dame Ann’s career spans nearly four decades and multiple world-leading universities and research centres including the UK’s Cambridge University and the USA’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

A graduated mathematician, Dame Ann completed her PhD in engineering acoustics at the University of Cambridge in 1978 with Prof John Fowcs Williams, who led pioneering noise-reduction research on Concorde.

With the exception of several overseas research stays, Cambridge University remained her professional home throughout her career. In 1993, she became the first ever female Professor at the university’s Department of Engineering and in 2009 she became the department’s head, a role she has been serving ever since.

During a 1999 research stay at the MIT, Dame Ann led the Silent Silent Aircraft project, which published its radical new design concept SAX-40 in 2006 with the aim of raising aircraft industry aspirations. She now leads research on efficient, low-emission combustion for aero and industrial gas turbines and low-noise vehicles, particularly aircraft.

Dame Ann’s contribution to mechanical engineering was recognised by the Queen who awarded her a CBE in 2002 and a DBE in 2007. In 2011, she was awarded a UK Resource Centre award for her 'Inspiration and Leadership in Academia and Research'.

Her work in aeronautics and energy has been recognised by fellowships of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, as well as foreign associate membership of both the US National Academy of Engineering and the French Academy of Sciences.

Dame Ann is a non-executive director of BP, a non-executive member of the board of BIS, a panel chair for the Research Excellence Framework and was nominated in BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour power list 2013 as one of the 100 most influential women in the country.

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