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Meet undergraduate Amy Livingstone who is head of electronics for The Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) team. 

Using SOLIDWORKS and supported by NT CADCAM, CUER is a 60-strong group of students who are designing, building and racing a solar powered car to take part in the World Solar Challenge - a 3000km drive across the Australian outback, using just 3 sqm of solar panels.

Having always had an interest in maths and physics, Amy explains her dreams for the future, how she became involved in the CUER project and why she’s having too much fun to worry about being a woman in an engineering world. 

Q: What made you interested in engineering?

My earliest memory is of watching those crazy inventors on TV and I guess I liked the idea of being one too.  Being able to make stuff, which could improve the world, improve peoples’ lives and help society towards a better future, was something that interested me.

I’ve always been quite good at Physics and Maths, so my natural inclination was towards the sciences – but it wasn’t until I did an A Level in Electronics, designing circuits and learning about components that I found something that really interested me.

Q: What did you study?

I did five A Levels. Maths, Physics, Advanced Maths, Computing and Electronics.  I then took a Year In Industry placement with Knorr-Bremse, a leading manufacturer of braking systems for trains, working in their R&D department. The experience cemented my dream to work in this industry. Now I’m in my second year at Cambridge studying general engineering and I hope to specialise in electrical engineering and information sciences. 

Q: Was there anyone who inspired you to become an engineer? 

My mum inspired me to do Physics. Once my brother and I were old enough, she went back to university herself to do a Physics degree and I remember how interesting she made it all sound. She went on to work as a publishing editor for the Institute of Physics. 

The other mentor was my supervisor Paul Hoy at Knorr-Bremse. He was so enthusiastic about engineering and everything you can do with it, that it was infectious. For 13 months I got to do practical, hands-on electronics, which was invaluable before going into a more theoretical course at Cambridge. 

Q: What things have you made or would you like to make?

Right now I am involved in the Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) team. As head of the Electrical team, we are building the car’s circuitry so that it will be as efficient as possible without giving off too much heat, and sustain the solar power to last the course. 

In the future I like the idea of developing driverless cars, and of course robots. Everyone loves robots!

Q: How did you get involved in CUER?

My course at Cambridge is very theoretical, so there are lots of practical projects you can get involved in. There’s the Cambridge Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (CAUV) group who’s long term goal is to design and build a submarine that could inspect the underside of pancake ice flows in the artic; Cambridge University Spaceflight (CUSF) society who aim to launch a rocket into space for under £1,000 and our Formula 1 Student team, Full Blue Racing.  I liked the idea of CUER because it’s a big team effort and it was the only society going out to Australia!

Q: Do you use CAD in your electrical designs for the car?

Up until now we had been using pieces of paper and pen (and string in fact) for the cable layouts and placement in the car.   We have access to Altium for individual circuit layouts.  But we’ve just got SOLIDWORKS Electrical to do the cable layouts for the car.  We’ve had an on-site demonstration from NT CADCAM and I‘m really looking forward to using it over the summer holidays.

Q: How did you get chosen to be a CUER test driver?

The car was designed to be as aerodynamic as possible which meant the cockpit could only accommodate people 5ft 6 ins only.  So for once being a woman helped here!  So far we have two test drivers, me and another male student. We are currently looking for a driver for the race in October. Unfortunately I can’t do it because it is in term time.  At the moment I haven’t driven it above 55km/h. Although it’s designed to go between 100 and 110 km/h, going at 55 feels really fast because you are quite close to the road and it is very noisy; Dampening the sound isn’t a priority.

Q: How many women are in the CUER team?

In the Electrical side of things, we have 3 girls out of roughly 7 or 8 players. While out of the five leadership roles, two out of five are women.  I’ve never felt that I am in the minority. Here we aren’t judged for being women, it more like “it’s great you are in engineering.” It is a very accepting environment, I like the people involved and everyone is passionate about what they do.

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