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Dr Fleur Loveridge, a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow and lecturer in Geomechanics

Published: 1 March 2016
Dr Fleur Loveridge
Dr Fleur Loveridge, Research Fellow within Engineering and the Environment

"People often don’t understand that engineering is actually a very creative discipline involving the whole process of design and innovation. If girls at school realised that it might be more attractive to them".

Fleur's research focuses on improving the efficiency of ground heat exchange technologies, which harness the low-grade heat stored in the earth to heat or cool buildings and can greatly reduce energy requirements and carbon emissions. A Chartered Engineer and Chartered Geologist, Fleur worked in industry as a geotechnical engineer on a range of infrastructure projects before joining Engineering and the Environment in 2009.

Tell us more about your research

One way we can reduce the amount of energy we use to heat or cool our buildings is through the use of ground source heat pump systems. These systems work by extracting or injecting energy into the ground, and to do that they use a ground heat exchanger. Traditionally, ground heat exchangers have been purpose-built constructions, but every time we build a structure with foundations there’s an opportunity to create foundations that have a dual use, for heating (and/or cooling) as well as structural stability.

My research looks at the energy efficiency of these novel types of ground heat exchanger, and investigates the processes in the ground surrounding them. The overall aim is to improve our ability to estimate how much energy they can supply as well as improving their efficiency; all with a view to increasing their use and ultimately reducing carbon emissions.

Do you collaborate with industry in your research?

Working with industry is essential as it’s important to make sure the things we’re proposing will be workable in practice. I have worked with companies such as GI Energy, a renewable energy contractor, as well as large consultancy firms such as Mott MacDonald and Arup. I’ve also done a lot of work with building foundations contractor Cementation Skanska and groundwater specialists WJ Groundwater.

What inspired you to go into engineering?

I always enjoyed maths and science subjects and was good at them at school. I think credit is due to my parents for bringing me up in an environment where I felt I could do anything I wanted to do, and therefore my interest in science was encouraged. No doors were closed to me. I don’t think everybody has that luxury.

How did your career develop?

My first degree, at the University of Oxford, was in earth sciences. The course was quite pure in science terms and while I found it fascinating, I wanted to be able to apply that knowledge in the real world. So I went on to do a masters course in engineering geology at the University of Leeds and really enjoyed its practical nature.

I then worked as a geotechnical engineer for civil engineering consultancies, including seven years at Mott MacDonald. My roles involved looking at real-world problems to do with our built environment and how we build and maintain the critical infrastructure that keeps the country working. Projects included the stabilisation of a large landslide that was threatening to close the M25 motorway, and the design of bridge foundations and steepened slopes for improvements to the A3 at Hindhead. I was also responsible for all the engineering geology for a tender for the construction of new larger-capacity locks on the Panama Canal.

How did this lead to your role at the University?

Having worked in industry for nine years, I decided I’d like a change. I had been doing some work on ground heat exchange, which was something industry was becoming interested in. I decided to come to Southampton to do a PhD, sponsored by Mott MacDonald, to explore it further. That was in 2009, and I’ve been here ever since!

Partway through my PhD we gained funding to allow us to install some instrumentation into some actual energy foundations, so I was employed as a research fellow while working on the PhD. When that funding was coming to an end I wrote various fellowship applications and was eventually successful, along with also obtaining a Faculty role.

What’s your experience as a female academic and researcher at Southampton?

I’ve always found the University of Southampton a very welcoming place to work. I’ve been lucky to have some very good colleagues and very good senior support. I had support from mentors when I was preparing fellowship applications and I’m now a mentor to others.

I find the flexibility offered by the University a real bonus. I don’t have children but there are other things I’m passionate about in my life and I have other family commitments, so a bit of flexibility goes a long way.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Gaining a fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering was a big standout for me, because it’s so competitive.

Why are initiatives to encourage greater gender equality in engineering so important?

We need to draw from the full breadth of the talent pool to get the best people to come into the field, whether in industry or academia.

In society at large there’s a tendency to think that engineering isn’t ‘women’s work’. A survey conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering showed that around three quarters of parents thought certain subjects better for boys and other subjects better for girls. Science and engineering topped the table for boys, while girls were pushed towards English and humanities. This shows the kind of gender stereotyping that still exists. Consequently it’s important to show that the industry is welcoming to women and that there are fantastic career opportunities there. Although it’s not just about women of course – it’s about making everybody feel that they can be welcome and useful in this sector.

Also, people often don’t understand that engineering is actually a very creative discipline involving the whole process of design and innovation. If girls at school realised that it might be more attractive to them.

Are you involved in initiatives to encourage more women into engineering?

I’m a member of the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect Committee of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The Committee has recently changed its focus and frames its work in terms of creating a fair and inclusive workplace in which everyone is respected. This approach aims to benefit women and other groups too – for example, people tend to think of childcare as a women’s issue but that’s not always the case, and people of both genders can have other sorts of family responsibility to fulfil.

The Committee is looking at the Institution’s internal policies and representation on its other committees. We’re also starting to consider ways to influence practice in industry.

What would you say to women thinking about going into engineering?

Give it a go! Don’t be afraid to do what you think you want to do. Do your research and get more information about it, and do some work experience if you can. Also, if you’ve already gone down a certain path you can still change. If you look at where I am now you might say that I did the ‘wrong’ undergraduate degree – you don’t necessarily have to take the traditional route.

Pile heat exchanger heated up

A numerical simulation of the temperature change around a pile heat exchanger as it is heated up (due to cooling a building) at a constant rate.

Watch the video
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A ground source heat pump system using foundation piles as heat exchangers
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