Heba Bevan, OBE is CEO and founder of UtterBerry, a smart sensor system, and STEM ambassador in primary and secondary schools.
My parents wanted me to be a doctor but I can’t stand the sight of blood, so I chose engineering instead. I think a lot of smart girls end up in medicine or law, but I’ve never regretted choosing engineering; there’s a new problem to solve every day. And I like being able to make a difference – I think many women are driven by this.
UtterBerry is wireless smart sensor system that monitors infrastructure. It’s the smallest sensor in the world that has built-in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The sensor collects information – such as temperature, humidity, and displacement – to provide informed data about what could affect a structure. I patented it during my PhD and it’s now being used in major infrastructure in the UK, including London’s Crossrail, Thames Tideway, and Greenwich Pumping Station, as well as internationally in Singapore. Getting an OBE for services to innovation, technology and STEM education was one of my proudest moments, but I’m also incredibly proud of forming my own company to bring UtterBerry to market.
Engineering harvests ideas from all of science in one subject. I’m currently working on a sensor that could help detect prostate cancer and infection at a very early stage. We are trying to find a way of making it more affordable so it has the potential for use at home instead of just a hospital setting. Another project is a sensor on trains that detects faults in the line or railway system. With this diversity of work in engineering, it’s really important the people we attract are diverse, too.
New discoveries in digital and electronics are changing our lives, and it’s our duty to show the younger generation how exciting the digital sector can be. That’s why it’s so important we have good teachers at all stages of education. I was fortunate to have Professor David Howard during my undergraduate. He is one of those people who brings a subject to life and inspires students.
I’m a mother and I’d love my daughter to get into STEM. I do a lot of work in schools to promote STEM subjects, and at UtterBerry we invite school pupils to come in and play around with sensors. It’s about encouraging their creativity and innovation. I think toy manufacturers need to think more about this, too – particularly for girls. As a child I had a massive box of Lego, and my sister and I would build extraordinary things (she’s an engineer now, too). These days, you can’t build anything other than what’s on the picture on the box. Our children’s toys need to encourage problem solving at young age.