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Meet Some of Sugru's Women in STEM

to talk chemical engineering, equal opportunities and home-made perfumes

Inspired not only by last week’s international Women’s Day but also this week’s British Science Week, we decided to knock on R&D’s door here at Sugru HQ and have a quick chat with three of our most talented members of the team. 

Meet Winnie, Priti and Vivian – three young women working at the scientific end of Sugru and enjoying every minute.

Q: So what are you currently working on?

Vivian: I’m a formulation chemist which basically means it’s my job to test new materials that might help improve our current version of Sugru. It’s great because I get to meet up with people from other organisations who are also doing really interesting work.

Priti: My role as  a new product development scientist is to take experimental formulations to another level by devising new processes and improving the existing ones. Best bit of the job? Working with other departments at Sugru on new ideas about how to improve its performance.

Winnie: As the Lab Technician and Research Assistant I execute routine testing. It’s incredibly satisfying when we make changes to the formulation and run tests to see if the changes have affected the mechanical properties of the product. I then analyse and present the data so that the rest of the team can plan the next experiments accordingly. I am also undertaking my own project involving highly accelerated life testing. 

Q: How much fun can you really have in a lab :)?

Winnie: Plenty. At the beginning of my placement, I was used to tried and tested experiments conducted in the labs at University where the outcomes were expected. So when I wasn’t getting the results I expected here it took some getting used to. Unexpected results provoke serious thinking but it's worth it because when things go your way and you get to break exciting news to the rest of the team, it feels awesome.

Q: Has science always been your thing?

Vivian: Ever since I was a child I kind of looked for the science behind everything. I remember my first formulation trials with my sister. She was five and I was nine and we were making home-made perfumes at our family summer house in Arta, Greece. It was Easter and the garden was full of blossoms and plants that smelled amazing so we started making our own mixtures by extracting the fragrances from the flowers in jars with alcohol. The results were mixed to say the least and I think my mum threw away all of the jars after a week but it was great fun and gave me a first taste of actually making something. 

Q: Were you encouraged to follow your interest in science?

Priti: My dad is an engineer and I believe he was the one who introduced me to science for the first time and supported me in studying Chemical Engineering. There are also several medical doctors in my family so I think it was kind of expected in a way.  

Q: How do you feel about the imbalance of women in STEM?

Priti: It’s definitely disappointing to see that there is still such a huge gender imbalance in STEM. It seems obvious that talented people from all walks of life should receive the same opportunities and it’s the responsibility of employers to create a level playing field. This will only really be possible once there’s a gender balance at the top and new norms are set. 

Q: How would you inspire young women who have an interest in science? 

Winnie: Definitely become a member of a society. I’m with the Royal Society of Chemistry and I’m kept up to date with articles and events and obviously get to meet people who have similar interests and aspirations.

Q: Who and what has been an inspiration to you?

Vivian: C: My high school maths teacher  was a very bright and dynamic character and taught me never to give up. I’ve also always been slightly fascinated by an ancient alchemist called Miriam the Jewess. One of her inventions was the bain-marie (water-bath), a method still used in chemistry and our kitchens to this day - amazing!

Q: So any tips for somebody looking to get stuck into science?

Vivian: Find yourself a mentor by taking advantage of apprenticeships, courses and work experience opportunities in STEM industries and universities.

Priti: Lose yourself in a science event like the Big Bang Fair. It’s a combination of exciting theatre shows, interactive workshops and exhibits for people aged between 7 and 19. The Festival of Stuff is also incredible. 

Winnie: Read up on the science behind something you love. For foodies it could be Chemistry in your Kitchen by Matthew Hartings. Or people who love art Bright Earth by Philip Ball is brilliant.

And if that's not enough to get you reaching for the nearest chemistry set, here are a handful of inspirational quotes to get you on your way.

  • “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated."  Rosalind Franklin (chemist and X-ray crystallographer)

  • "I hadn't been aware that there were doors closed to me until I started knocking on them." Gertrude B. Elion (biochemist and pharmacologist)

  • “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” Marie Curie (Physicist and Chemist)